Another Path

Christopher Harries

The agitation for Welsh independence continues, Yes Cymru boasts of a surge in membership while the academic Laura McAllister continues to write about the future of the Union.

Two- time Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate McAllister has previously written of her belief that the Unionists would ultimately be the ones who destroyed the Union, now this analysis could have some merits.

There indeed appears to be a crisis of confidence within the ranks of those who identify as Unionists. Missteps in response could inadvertently fuel the separatist movements rather than dampen them.

Some Unionists have come to believe that the Union can survive through constitutional reform with enhanced devolution that would create a confederal, United Kingdom.

Such an approach would be misguided, moves towards such a body would further weaken the integrity of the United Kingdom. The confederal approach ignores the reality of the last twenty years, devolution seen as the means of reconciling national identity within the United Kingdom has merely created a viable framework for independence.

In addition to creating a viable framework for independence, devolution has also created a cycle of agitation. Cardiff Bay may have responsibility for devolved powers however irrespective of the devolution settlement Westminster receives the blame for Wales woes. Just look at how the campaign group Yes Cymru often asserts that Westminster is failing Wales.

Any challenge to this narrative receives the response that despite devolution Westminster is responsible for funding and so any failings are excused due to inadequate funding. So the cycle of blame continues despite Westminster having passed competencies to the devolved institution, with Westminster now presented as a miserly impediment.

At the same time as being presented as a miserly hindrance, the notion of Westminster funding infrastructure projects like the M4 relief road is criticised, as an assault on devolution. So one way or the other, Westminster will be subject to flak, acceptance of the status quo will not get the validation of the separatists.

So the time has come for Unionists to chart another path. This path requires Unionists to be more assertive and reclaim the debate. To do so changes the nature of the relevant independence debates.

The Union is not merely a development body to fund infrastructure project and the constituent nations. Those of us, who have lived across the United Kingdom know that it is a paradox, four nation-states yet at the same time one. Different in their own way but at the same time bonded by history and culture.

If the separatists can frame the United Kingdom as a mere political union, it is disposable. Nationhood is a romantic notion, so Unionists must counter the lure of independence by asserting the reality that the Union has evolved to become a nation in its own right.

To reframe the debate to reflect reality allows Unionists the opportunity to fight this debate on equal terms. Language alone will not suffice, however, and so Westminster often maligned must become savvier to avoid fueling the separatist narrative. The government of the United Kingdom must be must not be perceived to treat any of the constituent nations differently.

When the First Minister, Mark Drakeford wrote to the Chancellor before the implementation of the Firebreak lockdown requesting the Job Support Scheme start a week earlier than planned to provide support to those impacted by the Firebreak lockdown. The Treasury rejected the request, the Secretary of State for Wales suggested on social media, that the Welsh Government when requesting this also failed to ask for an extension to the Furlough scheme. Did Treasury officials lack the initiative to propose an extension of the Furlough scheme in the circumstances?

Whether this is entirely accurate of developments, it certainly fitted a narrative. A narrative where England is treated differently to the other constituent nations, decisions are made, implemented and then funding allocated out as a consequence via the Barnett formula.

In the Letters page of The Spectator last week, was a piece by Mr Wheeldon from Peniel. In that correspondence, Wheeldon set out the eminently sensible suggestion that the Westminster government should look to intervene where a devolved institution was failing to deliver like health or education. This transference

To change approach can safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom, changing perception both in rhetoric and action. The time has come for Unionists to make the case that the United Kingdom is not just an ‘insurance policy’. Westminster must be more proactive and intervene where necessary assuming responsibility for services if the devolved institution is failing to deliver for the people.

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