20 years of Welsh devolution.
Wales decided 20 years ago to devolve its Government from Westminster by the tiniest of margins. In fact by only 6,300 votes on a 29% turn out. This statistic is very interesting particularly when the Welsh Government chooses to support a Customs Union in the Brexit negotiations which ignores the majority (over a million votes on a huge % turnout) opinion as expressed in the Brexit referendum. However as Welsh people come to terms with the Welsh Assembly it is time to take account of what has or has not been achieved.
Firstly, Wales is virtually a one-party state, the nation overwhelmingly supports the labour party which has been in power since devolution and is likely to remain as the leading political party for the foreseeable future. Plaid Cymru, is showing some ingress but still remains a substantial minority
The matters that have been devolved include education, health, and transport. The record of achievement over the twenty years has not been covered in glory. Health and transport are particularly poor and compare really badly with the rest of the UK.
About the only initiatives that can be discerned by the devolved administration so far have been the free prescriptions for the elderly and the charging for plastic bags as a gesture to environmental improvement.
Sadly, Wales’ health service is seen as the worst in the UK with two hospitals under special measures and the North East Wales/Chester elective surgery debacle that continues. Rural Wales is in crisis both for the supply of GP’s, and hospital staff shortages are acute throughout the country.
On transport the Government has been dithering about the M4 relief road around Newport, seemingly for ever, which emphasises the Governments lack of enterprise and initiative. Leadership has been and remains poor, indicative of a safe house for labour.
Instead the Assembly has been paralysed by risk aversion and inertia. Inward investment has been relatively poor and Government support for enterprise dire. It is as if the Welsh Assembly is more concerned with the disbursement of aid, rather than the generation of income. Some would argue that this typifies the Labour/ Tory divide.
The Assembly is bitterly opposed to Brexit because Wales is designated as one of the poorer parts of Europe and deserves support grants, understandable in the shorter term. Clearly the Assembly believes that it is better to beg in Brussels than London, despite the UK’s enormous contribution to the EU coffers.
The belief in the idea of Welsh independence from London seems at odds with the desire to be subservient to the European Union. Some find it odd that smaller nationalism for Wales sits comfortably with a tiny country inside the behemoth that is the EU.
The desire for independence is a minority view, but as in all these matters including the original referendum, apathy rules and the voluble independence lobby that won 20 years ago and will probably win again, it is certain that they are gaining ground.
So, what are the prospects for Wales over the next 20 years, Brexit or no Brexit?
Firstly, we want to be certain of our relationship as a nation of the United Kingdom. Being British, is this our primary persona? or is it being Welsh? Does independence mean the separation of the nation state from its UK status?
It is probable that the vast majority of those both born and living in Wales would wish to remain British. Does this mean that being Welsh is somehow of lesser worth? I don’t think so. Being Welsh and British sits well with most, not only because of the common English language, customs and history, but because of the economic facts of life. That is not to say that the historical exploitation of Welsh minerals and labour do not matter, they do.
We are a small nation which currently relies on Westminster for much of our national purse, The Welsh Assembly has new powers of tax policy and we are yet to see how that is exercised. However, the basic tenet remains true that Wales does not, as it presently stands, earn its corn.
Is the way forward then, towards financial independence, or are we to move towards an independent government dependent on another financially superior country or union?
It is really important to get the objective in proper focus and to be realistic about the prospects of success. We need to establish realistic goals.
It seems to me that the financial health of the nation comes first whether in or out of the EU. Let us put aside for the time being the ‘Brexit’ issues and consequences. If Wales is to move forward it must improve its wealth creation. This does not mean an economic free for all, but it does mean that government of whatever hue, does develop strategies to improve the Welsh national income. From that improvement will follow the quality of life for all the people of Wales.
Wales has certain advantages not shared by the rest of the UK, not least its natural beauty and its rich agricultural heritage, not to mention the richness of its national and international cultures.. The travel and leisure industries are improving but much remains to be done to put Wales nearer the top of the European tourist destinations.
In agriculture the picture is much more complex, and there are extensive areas where neither arable or livestock are suitable. A strategy to marry these fringe areas into tourism would surely make sense.
To make Wales accessible through to the western and northern coasts is crucial to opening up the Welsh hinterland, via a good communication system. The tardiness of the Assembly government to address these issues is lamentable.
The great festival of Eisteddfods International and National are unique and truly something to shout about. The WNO, the orchestras and choirs and theatres of Wales all need to be encouraged to put Wales on the Culture map of the world. The Millennium Centre in Cardiff is a beacon for cultural progress, we need more investment and international awareness as in the likes of ‘Cardiff Singer of the World’.
Wales must not allow Cardiff to be the centre of all things. Sure, we want and have got a capital city to be proud of, but we also need thriving centres for west to centre to north, which will attract industry, skills and investment.
First among equals is most obviously roads and communication systems. Wales has to grasp the nettle and open up its lovely face to welcome industry, technology, tourism and advanced agriculture.
To achieve these goals are the ones that count. Yes, let us be proud to be Welsh, but better even to be proud and successful as a nation.