Carwyn Jones calls for talks now on saving the UK

Senedd flags
Flying the flag for the UK: the Union Jack next to the Red Dragon at the Senedd Photo: ITV Wales News

The First Minister, Carwyn Jones, is arguing for urgent action to save the UK in a speech to the 'unlock democracy' movement at Westminster. He says a constitutional convention is needed now so that the Scots know what will happen if they vote 'no' in the independence referendum. If they vote 'yes', the convention would then have to decide the future relationship between Wales and England.

While decisions on their national future must be a matter for the people of Scotland, we in Wales would enormously regret any decision by the Scots to opt for independence. The UK that the departing Scots would leave would be fundamentally unbalanced. It would be unbalanced demographically – England would constitute nearly 92% of the population of the new state, leaving Wales and Northern Ireland to divide up the remaining 8% between us. As importantly from a Welsh perspective, a residual UK would be unbalanced politically; at present we share with the Scots an approach to economic and social policy questions which is broadly social democratic/ communitarian in its ethos, whereas the inclination of the current UK is for more market-based approaches as far as England is concerned. Losing the Scots would significantly weaken the Welsh voice in these debates.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Mr Jones made it clear that he expects the devolution process to continue to transfer more powers to his government.

The Kingdom will also be “looser”, in my view, by which I mean that the process of devolution in each part of the UK will continue. The Prime Minister has already said that, in the event that the Scots vote No in their independence referendum, the powers of the Scottish Parliament can be re-examined, and by implication expanded further. In Wales, the UK Government has appointed a Commission, under the chairmanship of Paul Silk, a former Clerk to the National Assembly, to review the devolution settlement and make recommendations as to the respective responsibilities of Westminster and Cardiff Bay as legislatures for Wales. It would be surprising if that Commission recommended no change, and it will be pressed by some interests to recommend a new devolution settlement for Wales, one closer in form, and perhaps substance, to that which the Scots have enjoyed since 1998.

For me, devolution is not about how each of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are separately governed. Rather it is about how the UK is governed, not by one but by four administrations, and which are not in an hierarchical relationship one to another. And the consequence of that is the administrations of all four territories, including the UK Government in respect of England, have their separate responsibilities and accountabilities, which must be recognised and respected by all the other partners, as part of the joint enterprise of the governance of the UK. So, a Kingdom which is politically diverse, looser, and combines several centres of democratic accountability: that is my broad vision of where we should be going.

If the Scots decide to stay within the UK, we know that there will be adjustments, by which I mean more powers, for the Scottish Parliament. The candidates for the new settlement include the so-called “devo max” and “devo plus”, either of which would represent a radically different position for Scotland within the Kingdom. Could that simply be a matter for discussion and agreement between the Scots and the UK Government, or should the other members of the UK club be involved as the terms of membership of another of them are renegotiated? I believe that all parts of the UK should be involved in that discussion.

The First Minister says he is intervening now because he's concerned that David Cameron's tactics for keeping Scotland in the UK are wrong.

I am anxious that those who are committed to the UK should be proactive in developing a vision for the UK in which Scotland can see its rightful place, without our waiting for the outcome of the referendum to be known. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister does not share that view. While he is open to a comprehensive conversation about the kind of Union we want to see, he considers that that should take place only after the Scottish referendum debate has come to a conclusion. He believes that we need first to focus on winning the case for the Union in Scotland. I do not agree. Unless an attractive alternative for the UK’s constitutional future, based on partnership between the different parts of the UK, and developed by the sort of broad-based Convention I have described, is developed ahead of the referendum, then from a unionist viewpoint it creates a risk that could easily be avoided.

For Carwyn Jones, there are twin dangers. One is that the UK government's efforts to keep Scotland in the UK could mean that Welsh concerns are marginalised. The other is that the Scots do vote for independence, leaving Wales trying to convince England to offer a more equal relationship within what is left of the United Kingdom.