Indyref2: Why the Supreme Court's judgement will also have consequences for Wales

Credit: PA

Adrian Masters asks whether the Supreme Court's ruling that Scotland cannot hold a second independence referendum without Westminster's consent could in turn lead to increased support for Welsh independence.

Support for independence is much lower here in Wales than in Scotland but even so the Supreme Court’s decision will have an impact on our politics. 

In the short term, it takes the pressure off for leaders like Mark Drakeford who don’t support independence but fear Wales’ position in a United Kingdom without Scotland. 

If there had been a referendum next October as Nicola Sturgeon planned and if the Scottish people had voted to leave the UK - two big ‘ifs’ I know - then Mr Drakeford and others who think like him will have been confronted with that choice sooner rather than later. 

However today’s ruling means that there won’t be a vote in Scotland in 2023. 

It doesn’t mean, though, that the issue has been settled in Scotland nor that that similar questions won’t continue to be asked here. 

Mark Drakeford has previously spoken in favour of a second Scottish independence referendum. Credit: PA

Mark Drakeford has yet to comment on the Supreme Court ruling but he has already said that he agrees with Nicola Sturgeon on the principle of her claim.

In July, he told BBC Radio 4: “I’ve always been clear that if you have a government that is elected by its people with such a proposition in its manifesto it should have the right to implement that manifesto. 

“The Scottish National Party, much as I disagree with them on the issue won an election on the basis that they would seek another referendum. How can that be denied to the Scottish people?”

'A wake-up call'

And that is exactly what Nicola Sturgeon is saying, as are senior Plaid Cymru polticians.

The party’s leader in the UK Parliament, Liz Saville Roberts, said the ruling "exposes the fundamentally undemocratic nature of Westminster rule. It is time for the UK Government to guarantee the right to self-determination for all the devolved nations.”

She went on to say: “This should be a wake-up call for the First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, who views the United Kingdom as a voluntary association of four nations which choose to pool sovereignty. 

“That is clearly not the case under this Conservative Government, nor will it be under a future Labour Government in Westminster.”

It’s very similar to the language used by the SNP’s Parliamentary leader Ian Blackford, who told the commons: “If the Prime Minster keeps blocking that referendum, will he at least be honest and confirm that the very idea that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations is now dead and buried?"

That tells me that you can expect to hear that language a lot in the coming months and years, an attack not on the law - there’s been no criticism of the Supreme Court - but on the political system. 

In turn that will put Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour in a tricky situation, given both the views that he’s expressed that I quoted above and the fact that the UK party leadership under Keir Starmer has expressed the opposite view. 

I’d expect Plaid Cymru and SNP politicians to exploit that difference of opinion between Labour leaders.

Support for independence isn’t as high here in Wales as it is in Scotland, with the latest ITV Wales Barn Cymru Poll showing that 24% would vote 'yes' in a referendum compared to 52% who would vote 'no'. 

But for most of the time that I’ve been covering Welsh politics, support remained below 10% - so there clearly has been an increase.

The Conservatives are banking on the 52% who are opposed, but none of this means that things will be easy for the Conservatives in Wales. 

I have a hunch that the majority of Welsh Tory members are either highly sceptical of devolution or downright opposed to it. 

During her time as prime minister, Liz Truss did not contact Mark Drakeford. Credit: PA

Many of them have welcomed the tough approach pursued by Boris Johnson and, briefly, Liz Truss, which sought to work with the Welsh Government when it could but show an increasing willingness to override it when it couldn’t. For instance, in the replacement for EU funding known as the Shared Prosperity Fund which cut out the Welsh Government’s role altogether. 

Rishi Sunak has tried to reset relations and the signs have been encouraging. 

He made early calls to both Drakeford and Sturgeon and attending a meeting of the British-Irish Council, the first Prime Minister to do so for some years. 

After the Sunak-Drakeford meeting, a Welsh Government spokesperson felt the need to go beyond the usual “constructive” description and tell me that it was “worth noting that the feeling is that the relationship is back to normal with the UK Government after a strange couple of years.”

But for all those Welsh Conservatives who would welcome a return to “muscular unionism” there are plenty of others who see the dangers of such approach. 

They see the increasing expressions of support for independence or more devolution and the loud patriotism of Welsh football fans and worry about being painted as “anti-Welsh” in the positions they take. 

The Welsh Tory leadership has been making tentative steps towards a “clear blue water” approach, echoing Rhodri Morgan’s “clear red water” phrase (coined by his adviser, one Mark Drakeford) which he used to describe the difference between his brand of Welsh Labour and Tony Blair’s.

Andrew RT Davies set out a series of policies: no more politicians in Cardiff Bay, a fair share of rail funding as a result of spending on HS2 in England and a St David’s Day Holiday. 

UK Government ministers have poured cold water on the second two but have no difficulty supporting the first. 

Politicians often say that those who raise these issues are obsessed with the constitution or party structures, but they are dynamics underlying Welsh politics and it is worth noting them. 

Wales may not be on the cusp of independence but the pebble dropped in Scotland is already making ripples here. 

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