Chapter 8

A constitution for Wales

In 1997, the people of Wales voted, in a referendum, to support devolution. Two years later, the Welsh Assembly was established. In 2011, the people of Wales voted in another referendum, this time to increase the powers of the Assembly. In 2017, many of these powers were clawed back by the government in Westminster through the new Wales Act: no referendum, just a decision by a British government to undermine devolution in Wales.

Devolved power is temporary, and can easily be taken away. Independence would allow us to establish Welsh democracy on a permanent footing.

The Wales Act of 2017, which undermined our democratic rights in Wales, was possible because the UK doesn’t have a written constitution. The Welsh Assembly was created by passing a law in London, and its powers were reduced by another law in London.

The UK is one of the few nations of the world that doesn’t have its own written constitution. Instead, the UK’s “constitution” is shaped by decisions of English lawmakers and English court judgements, sometimes going back generations, even centuries.

When a nation gains its independence, one of its first collective acts is to write a constitution, setting out how that nation will be governed. It places responsibilities and limits upon the government. And it confers permanent, inalienable rights upon the citizens of that nation. Many modern democracies use their constitutions to guarantee universal human rights. They protect the individual, and guarantee citizens their freedom of speech and of thought, freedom of assembly, religious freedom, their right to privacy and a family life. Constitutions can also guarantee fair treatment through the criminal justice system, and the right to democratic participation.

Independence means a clean slate, and an opportunity to create and shape a new Wales, working to rules we choose to set ourselves. Many nations have adopted constitutions that go beyond guaranteeing basic liberal rights. A Welsh constitution could guarantee a right to free healthcare and education, for instance. Citizens could have the right to a decent home, placing a responsibility on all future governments to eliminate homelessness.

The constitution of Wales could also take its lead from that of Finland, which protects its citizens from discrimination on the basis of language, by placing a permanent legal duty on future governments to protect and foster the Welsh language.

The process of drafting a Welsh Constitution would begin as soon as possible following a successful independence referendum, taking place during the period of negotiation between the Welsh and UK governments. There are a number of ways Wales could do it: we could either leave it to politicians, form an independent panel specifically set up to write a constitution, or even “crowd-source” a constitution by opening the process up to the public.

Once agreed, constitutions tend to be difficult to change. In some nations, the constitution can only be changed by referendum. Other nations demand that a supermajority vote in parliament – usually two thirds of the members, in both houses. In the USA, amendments usually have to be proposed by two thirds of Congress, and then ratified by three quarters of the states. The precise process for amending the Welsh constitution would have to be decided while writing the constitution itself. But the fundamental importance is that a written constitution would place Welsh democracy on a permanent footing. Our rights would be guaranteed, and only the Welsh people themselves would be able to make changes to our own constitutional rights.

 

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