The way Wales is run must change - with independence an option, says report

The report has described independence for Wales as a "viable" option Credit: PA

The ‘stability and prosperity’ of Wales is at risk unless the way that we are governed changes, according to a report from an independent panel. 

Interim findings of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, which is co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, are being published today. 

The Welsh Government-funded report states that the status quo is not a “viable option” for Wales and that radical change is needed. 

In its interim report, the Commission says there are “significant problems” with the way that power is currently shared between Westminster and Cardiff. 

It sets out three alternative futures which it says are “viable” for Wales:  

  • Strengthening the current devolution settlement

  • Creating a federal UK with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

  • Independence

The Welsh Government says it “will carefully consider [the Commission’s] findings and look forward to its further work.”

But the Conservatives said ministers “should not be wasting time and resources on a commission like this.”

Describing independence as “viable” is likely to be hugely controversial and the Commission says it “acknowledges that there is as yet little clarity whether and how an independent Wales … could pay its way.”

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, a supporter of independence, says “the significance of this cannot be overstated.”

The Commission has spent the past year gathering evidence and says it’s heard from over 2,000 individuals, expert groups and community groups. 

It will spend another year looking in detail at the possible alternative solutions before publishing a final report at the end of 2023.

In its interim report, the Commission says the current devolution process, which began in 1997 and led to first the Welsh Assembly which later became the Senedd, is “under pressure.”

Among the causes of pressure are, it says, that the laws surrounding devolution are vulnerable and reliant on the “supremacy” of the UK Parliament to make decisions on them.

The Commission also identified what it calls the “persistent weakness of the Welsh economy.” 

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of the co-chairs of the Commission. Credit: PA

Co-chair Rowan Williams said, “Despite investment, the Welsh economy still lags, which indicates there is a structural problem that needs to be addressed. 

“It tells us that the Welsh economy isn’t doing well under the status quo. 

“But what, if any, constitutional options would enable Wales to become more prosperous and improve the lives of people in Wales? This is something we have to continue to explore.”

Forming the Commission was a key commitment in the 2021 co-operation agreement between the Labour Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.

The Welsh Government has welcomed the interim report’s publication. 

A spokesperson said, “We thank the commission for this interim report and the detailed work it has undertaken so far. We will carefully consider its findings and look forward to its further work.

“Our constitutional structures have a direct impact on the quality of services we all rely on and the strength of our communities. We are committed to ensuring Wales has a strong future, which works for all of us.”

However the Welsh Conservatives who form the official opposition in the Senedd have criticised both the findings and the setting up of the Commission itself.

A spokesperson said, “At this time, the Labour Government should not be wasting time and resources on a commission like this, especially when only last week they rejected again an independent inquiry into their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is important to note that the Welsh Government are marking their homework, with every member of the commission appointed by the Welsh Government, unlike previous commissions such as Silk.

“As a result of Brexit, in excess of 70 new areas of responsibility have been devolved to the Senedd. The current devolution settlement gives the Labour Government ample powers to improve the state of the economy, education and the health service.

“Any further devolution of powers would represent a distraction for the Labour Government. Their focus should be on using the sufficient levers they possess now to improve their record with Wales having the worst waiting times in the UK, the lowest GCSE results and a 50/50 chance of an ambulance arriving in time.”

Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price highlighted the fact that the report lists independence as a “viable” alternative for Wales.

Adam Price says the report proves the UK economy is both London and South-East of England centric. Credit: PA

He said, “This landmark report is the first government report to acknowledge that independence for Wales is both a credible and viable way forward for the constitutional future of Wales. 

“The significance of this cannot be overstated. 

“Not only does it reaffirm Plaid Cymru’s argument that the status quo simply isn’t working for Wales but makes clear that we are trapped within a UK economy that is overwhelmingly shaped in the interests of the South-East of England and the City of London and that this broken UK economic model does not deliver prosperity to Wales and offers no prospect of doing so. 

“Present devolution arrangements are unsustainable and cannot last. Federalism is dead-end. Plaid Cymru believes that only independence can deliver the greener, and stronger economic future and fairness that the communities of Wales urgently need and deserve. 

“That is why we are today publishing our evidence to the commission in full - which outlines a major development in Plaid Cymru’s thinking on independence and makes proposals for a sovereign Senedd as an interim step towards independence, in the form of a Free Association Wales. 

“We want to achieve independence as soon as we can. However, we acknowledge that independence will not happen overnight. As with our experience of winning the referenda to establish and strengthen our Senedd, we will build the road to independence with the political resources to hand, be they building-blocks, stepping-stones or bridges.” 

“We thank the Commission for their work so far and look forward to engaging with them further over the coming months, as we continue to converse with the people of Wales on creating a better future for our communities. 

“After all, creating an independent Wales is not the role of one party, but the work of an entire nation, all of its people and all of its perspectives.”

Jane Dodds says the Welsh Liberal Democrats welcome a federal system for the UK. Credit: PA

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said that “We agree with the report that the current settlement is unstable, with recent developments showing the vulnerability of the devolved institutions to unilateral decisions made by the UK Government.

“Our Party has long advocated for a Federal UK in which the nations of the UK are in a union of politically equal partners and we are pleased to see that the Commission is advocating this approach as one of the proposed options.

“Federalism works in countries like Australia and Canada, there is no reason it couldn’t work in the UK in the future.

“We as liberals do not believe in erecting more national borders, creating further divisions and limiting freedom of movement. The idea of independence would mean severe economic disruption for the people of Wales, not least the tens of thousands of people cross the border between Wales and England every day, in both directions, for work or just to go about their daily lives.

“The disruption caused by this option would make Brexit look like a walk in the park in comparison.

“We will continue to fight for an empowered Wales in a reformed, more equal United Kingdom.”

The Independent Commission’s report is not alone in examining the future of the United Kingdom. Earlier this week, the Labour Party published a report by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. 

Among his recommendations was the proposal that Wales should be given new powers over youth justice and probation.

Such a move would be part-way towards delivering Welsh Labour’s pledge to pursue the transfer of the entire criminal justice system, replacing the current England and Wales system.

The report also calls for the devolution settlement to be protected in law, to prevent future UK Governments from altering it.

It says that Senedd Members should be allowed the same privileges and protections that MPs enjoy for what they say in the Senedd chamber.

In the wake of last month’s Supreme Court ruling that the Scottish Government could not hold an independence referendum without Westminster’s agreement, constitutional questions are once again high on the agenda. 

The argument may not be as fierce here in Wales, but the politics of power - where it lies and who gets to make the decisions - will play a prominent part here too.