With Indyfest coming up on the 16th of September, here are 10 reasons why it’s time to support independence for Wales…
1. Wales’ vote has no influence on who governs us
Wales only elects 40 out of 650 MPs, which is 6% of the total. And before the next General Election there are plans to cut the number of MPs in Wales to 29.
It doesn’t really matter how Wales votes – it is England, with 533 of the 650 MPs, that chooses the next Government. In fact, Wales’ vote has only influenced the makeup of the UK Government at two elections – 1964 and 1966.
Wales hasn’t voted Conservative at any point since the 1860s – before most the population were given the vote – but has been ruled by the Tory Party for half the time since then.
The only way for our country to ensure that we have control over our who governs us, beyond the handful of meagre powers devolved to our own Senedd, is independence.
2. It’s the only way to rid ourselves of an undemocratic Westminster establishment
Whatever your opinion on the positives and negatives of Brexit, the result indicated that the people of Wales were tired with the establishment and wanted a change.
We heard a lot during the campaign about how the EU Commission is unelected and undemocratic. But the truth is that Westminster is even worse!
It has a completely unelected legislature in the House of Lords. And the archaic First Past the Post voting system ensures that a party can win a majority with the backing of only three in ten of voters.
This voting system also ensures that we have little choice between Conservative and Labour if we want to influence the makeup of the next government.
Our Senedd in Wales, while not perfect, is already superior in that every member is elected, and a proportional representation system ensured that the votes of the majority count.
But Westminster retains control over the vast majority of powers that govern our lives in Wales.
The Westminster establishment isn’t going to change the rigged system that keeps them in power.
The only way for the people to take back control is independence.
3. Westminster doesn’t care about Wales
Imagine that you’re the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. You’re in charge of 70 million people, 14 million of whom live in three of its largest cities.
The economy is largely driven by London, so for understandable reasons, you keep throwing investment at that city. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In that context, why would Wales even register? Why would 3 million of those 70 million people, who live in an under-developed economic backwater, keep you up at night?
There’s no reason to blame Westminster for its neglect of Wales. There’s no particular reason why they should care about us.
It’s not Westminster’s fault that we choose to remain in a union in which we’re inconsequential, at best.
However, from our point of view – us who have to live in the poorest country in Western Europe – this state of affairs is not sustainable.
If you started off in the valleys, you would have to walk 1,000 miles before you came across a poorer community. You would have to walk to western Poland! And the rest of Wales isn’t much better off.
The UK is one of the richest nation-states on earth, but that wealth is centralised in London, and very little of it trickles out to us. Our communities have been allowed to stagnate and die.
If we’re going to improve our lot at all, we need a government that cares about us. Unfortunately, the UK Government has made it completely clear that they have no intention of investing in our prosperity.
Infrastructure is a good example. Over £2,500 is spent on infrastructure per head in London a year. Wales comes in at the bottom of the pile, with just over £100 spent on infrastructure per head.
On the same week it was revealed that the cost of the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, HS2, had ballooned to £104bn, the UK Government announced that they were ditching their promise to electrify the Great Western Mainline from Cardiff to Swansea.
London is getting Crossrail and HS2, and will then get Crossrail 2 and HS3. Meanwhile, Wales is the only country in Europe alongside Albania and Moldova without a single mile of electrified track, and by the time these projects are finished, it may well be the only one.
The Catch-22 argument is that the UK Government is only meeting demand. Investment in London’s transport links boosts the economy which creates more demand which justifies investment in better transport links.
Meanwhile in Wales, a lack of investment results in low demand which is used to justify a lack of investment.
But this is a circular argument in which Wales will always lose out. We will never break out our economic rut without public investment in infrastructure in the first place.
Infrastructure is just one example where the UK Government’s continued neglect means that we can’t prosper as a nation.
As long as we remain in this union, Wales will be forever stuck on the sidelines, a rusting coal carriage from the industrial revolution with no practical use today.
If an institution isn’t giving you the attention you need to invest and develop, the natural step is to build your own institution in order to meet your own needs.
4. Small is beautiful
Within the context of the rest of the UK, Wales seems to be a small country. After all, we have a neighbour that has a population over ten times our size.
But a small population is no barrier at all to success as an independent nation-state – in fact, it is key.
A small nation can be flexible as a speedboat, responding quickly to a changing economic climate. A large nation is more likely a super-tanker, with a slow turning speed, and more passengers that want the boat to go in different directions!
Within Europe alone there are 18 independent nations with a smaller population than Wales.
Iceland, a rich, tiny nation of 300,000 people, had its economy decimated by the financial crash in 2008. By 2011 it was out of recession and today it’s back to enjoying staggering growth of 7.2% GDP.
The Republic of Ireland, our nearest independent neighbour, with a population of less than 2m more than Wales, has a GDP per head of £50,000, double Wales’ GDP of around £23,000.
There is absolutely no evidence that Wales’ size would hinder its economic success – quite the opposite.
It’s being a small, ignored, nation within a larger nation-state that has damaged our economic prospects.
5. We could invest in our economy
Wales can’t afford to be independent, is the usual cry. There’s too much of a gap between what the country raises in tax and what it spends.
Yes, there is a deficit there. But if Wales can’t afford to be independent, neither can the UK. The UK has a deficit of £100 billion a year and is in debt to the tune of £1.83 trillion.
What about the United States? It has a yearly deficit of £440 billion and a debt of £18.96 trillion.
The joke is that the money Wales is given every year ‘because we can’t pay our own way’ is added to the UK Government’s deficit – money it must borrow from elsewhere because it can’t pay its own way.
Only about 50 of the world’s 200+ nation-states – many of them oil-rich nations – have a budget surplus.
Yes, an independent Wales would probably have a small deficit to start with. But pretty much every country has a deficit.
As long as your deficit doesn’t reach the point where your borrowers worry that you’ll default on your debts, as was in danger of happening to some countries after the financial crash in 2008, you’re OK.
And a lot of what is claimed to be ‘Wales’ deficit’ – around £14 billion – is actually Wales’ share of money spent on transport, infrastructure and the military across the UK.
Yes, money spent on things like HS2 and the Olympic Games in 2012 is counted as money spent on Wales.
As discussed above, very little of the money spent on the UK’s infrastructure projects actually find their way to Wales, so losing that investment would make little difference.
The UK government also claims to spend £1.7 billion on defence in Wales every year. Wales wouldn’t need to spend that much on its own army. Ireland spends less than 0.5% of GDP – a few hundred million – on defence.
Like Ireland, Wales probably wouldn’t be invading a Middle-eastern country any time soon!
As an independent country, Wales would be free to borrow its own money. The ability to borrow to spend would allow us to invest in things like infrastructure which creates further wealth down the line which pays for the borrowing.
Wales could certainly afford to be independent. While severely underperforming compared to independent neighbours such as the Republic of Ireland, we would be a comparatively wealthy nation compared to most nation-states.
We already have a trade surplus of around £5 billion a year, and could start charging for goods such as electricity and water which we currently export to the rest of the UK for free.
The question isn’t really whether Wales could afford to be independent – we certainly could. The question is, can we afford not to be independent?
Wales is simply handed a block grant from Westminster and told to spend it. Apart from offering companies cash to set up shop in Wales there’s very little that can be done to encourage economic growth.
We can’t even borrow the money needed for badly needed large infrastructure projects without the UK Government’s consent.
An independent Wales could:
- Set up a development bank
- Invest in infrastructure such as transport and broadband
- Take advantage of our natural environment to develop large energy projects to generate electricity that could be sold to our neighbours
- Develop a competitive rate of tax in order to attract industries.
- Join the EU if that was to our advantage or set up bespoke trade deals that would benefit us
Westminster doesn’t want us to do these things – they don’t want a competitor taking jobs from the South East of England. They want a subordinate.
We could be much richer, and only an independent Wales can do it.
6. Devolution alone isn’t working
Since 1999, some powers have been devolved from Westminster to the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. These include powers over health, education, and some economic matters.
However, the truth is that what Wales can do with these powers is very limited.
For example, from 2019 onwards Wales will be given some power over income taxes. However, it will only be able to vary them a limited amount, and only with the UK Government’s consent.
And there is a long list of powers Westminster refuses to give to Wales even when they’re devolved to English cities. For instance, policing is set to be devolved to Manchester but MPs decided Wales couldn’t have the same thing.
Energy generation, such as the building of energy-generating sea lagoons, is another power you would think it would do no harm to devolve to Wales. But alas, no.
Broadcasting is also retained at Westminster, meaning that the news people in Wales see reflects very little of their own lives and is usually decidedly London-centric.
When Wales has decided to plough its own furrow and do things differently from Westminster, it has faced opposition. For instance, when Wales put forward a plan for an opt-out organ donation law, which could save thousands of lives, the UK Government tried to block it and the case was referred to the Supreme Court.
People complain that devolution hasn’t achieved much. But it’s a little bit like tying someone’s hands behind their back and then asking them to build a country.
Like a young person dealing with an overbearing, controlling parent, the only way for Wales’ to escape Westminster’s dominance is to grow up and move out – declare its independence.
7. What is unique about Wales is being destroyed
Wales has its own culture, it has its own language, and its own politics. We have our own national institutions, such as the national library, museum and universities. Our country already has all the unique linguistic, cultural and political characteristics that make up any independent nation-state.
Unfortunately, there are many who would rather that Wales’ differences with the rest of the UK ironed out. They consider Welsh nationhood to be an ‘alien’ element within a British nation-state.
It’s also about power. The UK establishment may not care enough about Wales to ensure that our country is well-run and prosperous. But losing Wales would result in a loss of power and face.
From the UK establishment’s point o view, the best way to stop Wales from becoming independent is to destroy the national characteristics that are the foundation of its claim to being a country – its culture, its language, its institutions.
This isn’t just about the Welsh language – all communities in Wales have their own uniquely Welsh culture of which they can be proud.
Cultural variety is a good thing. We don’t go on holiday abroad to see the same culture as we would at home, and tourists to Wales won’t come here if we’re exactly the same as everywhere else, either.
Over hundreds of years, Wales has slowly been absorbed by a manufactured British identity, a process that will not stop until it’s a county of a country called Britain, not a country in its own right.
The only way to stop that happening is through independence.
8. To protect our sports teams
We all support Wales in the football and the rugby. Who can forget the national euphoria when we won that first Grand Slam after 27 years, in 2005, or when Gareth Bale and his team took us to the semi-finals of the Euros in France in 2016?
Having a sporting team is not, of course, the be all and end all of being a nation state. And there is a danger that many shout ‘Wales!’ for 90 minutes in the stands but don’t concern themselves with the economic and social problems that make Wales so poor 365 days of the year.
However, it must be noted that, within the context of the UK nation-state, the Welsh football and rugby teams are a historical anomaly and there are many who would like them to be integrated within ‘Team GB’.
We have already seen this in action with calls for UK football and rugby teams at the Olympics, which FA Wales has opposed as it could put their independent status within FIFA under threat.
And with Scotland and Northern Ireland packing up to leave the UK, the rationale behind separate sporting teams will continue to diminish.
If Wales disappears as a cultural and political entity, the Welsh football and rugby team could become UK teams, or just ‘England’ in the same way as the cricket team.
Unless we strive for independence, we’ll all soon be supporting England with one or two Welsh players thrown in.
9. An immigration system that works for us
Whatever system of immigration is decided upon when the UK concludes its Brexit negotiations with the EU, you can be sure that it won’t have Wales’ best interests at heart.
Whether you believe that we need the same, more, or less immigration is beside the point – the important thing is that it works for Wales.
Because of our highly-centralised economy, Wales suffers from a brain drain that tends to draw our best and brightest out of the country.
There is an argument therefore that we should have our own immigration system that prioritises those skills – such as doctors – which are in short supply in Wales.
There are also many that argue that as Wales’ population ages we should encourage a younger population to move to Wales that puts less of a strain on our services.
There is also the issue of housing associations potentially moving people, against their will, to Wales’ towns and rural areas.
Whatever your view on these issues, surely if we are to abandon a system of EU freedom of movement, Wales should have a say in what replaces it. It will only have that say if we’re independent.
10. Westminster would take Wales more seriously
Perhaps you’re still unsure about Welsh independence. Perhaps you’re ‘Indycurious’, or even opposed. However, there is a good reason to support a Welsh independence movement even if you’re not yet sure if Wales should become an independent country.
At the end of the day, Wales’ inability to get Westminster’s attention derives from a lack of political clout. There are only two things that the establishment at Westminster fears:
- Losing power
- Losing part of the UK
Wales can’t threaten the first – we only represent 6% of the votes in the UK. How we vote doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
But Wales can threaten to leave the UK. The vast majority of Westminster politicians are staunch British nationalists, who fear the continued break-up of the UK more than anything else.
This is why Scotland has been able to command so much attention over the past ten years. It’s not because of how they vote – even 56 SNP MPs didn’t seriously threaten the Westminster status quo.
No, the reason they’ve commanded so much attention is that they represent the Westminster establishment’s worst nightmare, which is to lose a part of the UK.
The thought of Wales breaking away as well, even if they don’t care how Wales gets on the rest of the time, would be enough to make them reconsider their neglect of the country.
Wales would become the subject of debate in the corridors of power and the media, and the country’s problems given serious consideration at long last.
Westminster is incapable of solving those problems – only an independent Welsh Parliament could do that – but it would represent an improvement on the current tendency to ignore Wales completely.
The UK is going through its largest upheaval in hundreds of years. The Government is pressing ahead with plans for Brexit, against the wishes of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland is on the brink of independence while the possibility of a ‘hard border’ between N. Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has reignited calls to unite the island as one nation-state.
If Scotland and N. Ireland do leave the UK, Wales faces becoming a ‘mini-me’ to England, unable to forge alliances with the other devolved nations to push forward a devolved agenda forward.
Wales faces becoming an economic backwater, with power and economic might even more centralised in the South East of England.
While every other country in the UK is acting in its own self-interest, Wales can’t simply sit back and wait to see where the chips land. We too need to put our own best interest first.
The only way to control our own destiny in these fast-changing times is independence.
If not now, when?
This article was originally published by Nation.Cymru.