For the Union

Christopher Harries

The apocryphal story of King Canute and the tide, tells of the monarch who demonstrates the limitations of his powers compared to that of the almighty. This story often misrepresented with Canute actions seen as futile, with the king presented as believing that it was in his authority to control nature.

The misrepresented usage could be an example to describe the state of modern-day unionism. To some unionists, there seems to be a sense of futility. To them, the days of the United Kingdom are drawing to a close and so it is futile to resist. Polling conducted by Lord Ashcroft of English based supporters of the Conservative Party suggests they would be willing to accept the break up of the United Kingdom.

Douglas Ross MP leader of the Scottish Conservative Party was right to call this out in his speech to the virtual Conservative Party Conference. For too long, unionism in England has been in retreat to the detriment of the United Kingdom. As Ross stated it is time for the Conservative party to rediscover unionism. Symbolic gestures and rhetoric will not suffice.

In Wales, Paul Davies MS the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament has stated his desire to respect devolution. Davies aspires to delineate the competencies of the Welsh Government so that the Welsh Government is not assuming competencies that are exercised by Westminster.

Ross in Scotland and Davies in Wales, are just some examples of a much-needed change in ethos. Coupled with announcements from Boris Johnson that the UK government will try to take forward the much needed M4 relief road as well as the fixed link between Northern Ireland and Scotland. It appears that Conservative politicians are coming to realise that a change of emphasis must occur if the Union is to survive.

It is right for Westminster to step up to deliver for the people of the United Kingdom. For instance, the devolved Welsh government stood for election on a manifesto that included a pledge to build the M4 relief road. The Welsh government has failed to deliver on this manifesto pledge to the detriment of the people of Wales, so it is right for Westminster to look to deliver the project.

As part of a more assertive approach to the Union, the Westminster government must address the replacement for the EU Structural and Investment (ESI) funding, to do so would allow Westminster to be seen to deliver for people across the United Kingdom. The Union must be about more than just finance however an alternative to ESI funding would help dispel some of the myths that Westminster has scant regard for the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.

An assertive form of unionism can help safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom. One that acknowledges the unique nature of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom while actively delivering for its people.

No More Politicians Without The People’s Say

Rachel Banner


Last week, Italians voted to reduce the size of their Parliament by a third, a move which Movimento 5 Stelle claims will save the country €1 billion over 10 years. In contrast, amidst the economic precariousness wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Labour-Plaid axis in Cardiff Bay continues to gripe about ‘needing’ more Senedd Members  at the estimated cost of £12 million per year. Wales, for a country of 3 million people, has 60 MSs and 40 MPs.

Ever since the Richard Commission published its report in 2004, the demand for more politicians has been a regular refrain. It’s understandable: a whopping 17.7% pay hike, chauffeur-driven cars, the opportunity to get multiple family members on the payroll, £8 -12,000 extra for Committee chairs – why would such perks not prove a siren voice to thrusting devocrats?

Over these twenty devolution years, there has been one, albeit brief, moment when Bay politicians stopped calling for more AMs. On the contrary, they positively didn’t want them! This miraculous hiatus occurred around the time of the 2011 referendum. Indeed, First Minister Carwyn Jones affirmed that Wales wouldn’t need more than 60 AMs in the event of a Yes vote. 

In March 2010, the then Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones went further. Not only would there be no need to increase the number of AMs if new powers were gained as a result of a referendum, but there might even be “cost efficiencies”. She would also, she declared, “rather no public money be spent on funding two campaign groups than if public money was used to peddle lies”.Fast forward to 2016 and  Ms Jones, now Presiding Officer, stunned us all with her Damascene conversion: “There are no more hours in the day, you can’t be in two places, or in two committees, at the same time…we need more members.”

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to proponents of a larger Senedd that their demands for more Members presuppose one-way traffic on the powers question. If, as the Welsh Government claims, devolution is being rolled back by the Internal Market Bill, we actually need fewer Members of the Senedd, not more.

The truth is that until the separatists get their way – or until grievance narratives no longer serve Welsh Labour well – even a thousand new Senedd Members will not be enough to quench the incessant demands for more powers, capacity and cash.

Here’s a challenge to the Cardiff Bay establishment: put your argument for more Senedd politicians to the people in a referendum. Don’t, this time, resort to cosy consensus, slipping it discreetly into your respective manifestos and interpreting that as a mandate to increase numbers. That is not consent.

A National Union

Henry Hill

What are the benefits of being a United Kingdom? This is the question that unionists are urgently trying to answer as pressure mounts for a second independence referendum in Scotland. The orthodox strategy, honed over the two decades since the advent of devolution in 1998, increasingly boils down to ‘cash’. The Union allows for the ‘pooling and sharing’ of resources across Britain – and thanks to the vagaries of the Barnett Formula, usually to the disproportionate benefit of Scots!

We saw the apex (or nadir) of this approach during the 2014 referendum, when proposals for a dramatic transfer of fresh powers to the Scottish Parliament, combined with keeping all the cash currently distributed via the Union, was sold to voters as ‘the best of both worlds’. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to recognise what a self-defeating strategy this is, implying as it does that the only good thing about being part of the UK is the money. It boggles the mind to see many of the sages behind this approach now telling us that we need a case for the Union that doesn’t rest on cash alone!

After all, what else is it supposed to rest on? The unfortunate result of two decades of ‘devolve and forget’ is that across vast areas of policy the Union doesn’t actually do very much. With territorial devocrats drawing bright red lines around whole areas of policy, especially education and health, it’s difficult to argue that being part of the UK actually delivers better outcomes on a huge range of issues which really matter to voters (beyond, of course, paying for them).

Likewise, the emotional foundations of the Union have been worn away. Decades of sustained campaigning by nationalists (and I include the small-n Labour variety in that) has seen the strength of the British identity dwindle year-by-year. As a result, emotive appeals to our shared nationhood – a potent weapon in the separatist arsenal – may fire up our base but, it is alleged, alienate swing voters.

Put all that together and the almost inescapable conclusion is that the case for the Union must rest on… the cash. Which, as pretty much everyone agrees, is not enough. Pass Go, try again.

Unionism’s traditional hierarchy, who have staked their reputations on devolution, will find this a hard pill to swallow. The temptation to fight the next referendum on the promise of yet more powers (perhaps packaged as ‘federalism’) will be very strong – and if it is fought soon, they will
have the tactical exigencies of an imminent campaign on their side.

But we need to wake up to the longer-term reality: if the case for Britain isn’t going to rest on cash alone, we must start the long-overdue work of building up those other pillars. That means actively trying to win the affections of the people for the Union – and that in turns means having the Union actually do things which ordinary voters notice and care about.

If we don’t, then eventually our shared identity, the essential cement of our state, will be completely worn away. And once there’s no such thing as a ‘British taxpayer’, there will not even be any cash.

Power Grab?

Christopher Harries

According to the devocrats the UK Internal Markets Bill is a power grab and assault on devolution by Westminster. Welsh Government Minister for European Transition Jeremy Miles told the BBC, that Westminster having such powers would “sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations.

If the devolved institution has never had such powers, how exactly is this a power grab?

And if such powers being held anywhere but the devolved institution truly posed a threat to the devolution settlement, you must question why the devocrats did not rail against the European Union holding such powers.

Where was the outrage about a power grab when tax powers were devolved despite the question for the 2011 Welsh Devolution referendum clearly stating that the Assembly cannot make laws on tax whatever the result of this vote. Strangely the devocrats did not object to this power transference facilitated by the Westminster Government without any instruction from the people of Wales.

Nor did devocrats object when Westminster imposed abortion on Northern Ireland.  In fact, Plaid Cymru and the SNP representatives in Westminster had no qualms about voting to impose abortion on Northern Ireland – yes the vote occurred when the Northern Ireland Assembly was deadlocked but surely this was a violation of devolution?

Once devolved governance via the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored the legislature voted to reject the changes to abortion law. This put the decision voted for in Westminster against the clear will of the devolved institution. Did Plaid Cymru or SNP representatives in Westminster lament the role they played in this assault on devolution in Northern Ireland?

Ignore the faux cries of the devocrats this is a tantrum as Westminster has not meekly bowed to the devolved institutions.

Stop Taxpayers’ Funding Nation Cymru

Christopher Harries

We have previously raised concerns about the website Nation Cymru receiving public funding, given the partisan nature of the page.

Concerns over such an entity receiving public funding have previously been justified based on the token articles by figures from across the political spectrum.

Yet a visit to Nation Cymru today added substance to the concerns previously raised. At the top of the page was an advert for the Plaid Cymru politician Llyr Gruffydd MS.

Now one should applaud the team at Nation Cymru for seeking to raise revenue via advertising to stop being on the public teat yet surely such advertising undermines the argument that the page is non-partisan?

Based on the presence of the page running advertising on behalf of a political figure and party it does not seem right for that organisation to be in receipt of funding from the Welsh Government and various third sector entities.

To this end, we call on the Welsh Government and the Book Council for Wales to cease all further funding for Nation Cymru.

NB. Yes the advert by Llyr Gruffydd MS is likely paid for out of his assembly funding.

The Narrative

Christopher Harries

On social media, Welsh Nationalists have become adept at building a narrative for the independence cause. This narrative is paradoxically one of a diminished, impoverished Wales as a result of the English yoke whilst simultaneously on the cusp of national greatness.

Too often the Welsh Nationalists seem averse to subjecting Cardiff Bay to the criticism afforded to Westminster. The narrative is often more important than objective scrutiny. Every perceived injustice a potent for the need for independence.

The latest outrage for the Welsh Nationalist cause was a photograph of a pacer train at Cardiff Central Station, with the message that Welsh taxpayers were paying for HS2 while being left to use cattle cars. Yet the person responsible for the post failed to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of this situation- namely that responsibility for the train franchise is devolved.

Be under no illusion that criticism of the social media post is somehow tacit support for HS2. This gargantuan white elephant project should have been scrapped, with the restoration of the Grand Central Line being a viable alternative.

Train services in Wales are operated by a subsidiary of the Welsh Government Transport for Wales which is responsible for issuance and upkeep of the franchise for rail services. In short, the ultimate responsibility for the state of the rolling stock is with the Welsh government.

Now to be fair to the operators of the franchise (Transport for Wales) they have taken steps to replace the antiquated rolling stock inherited from the previous franchise operators. Despite the commitment to replace the rolling stock, Class 143 Pacer trains such as those photographed and dispersed over social media will continue to be a sight at Welsh train stations for the next few years.

Maybe the advocate on social media did not understand the involvement of the devolved government, or maybe this was small detail was deliberately withheld as it was not in keeping with the narrative…

The NHS and The Union

Charlie Evans

The National Health Service goes right to the heart of who we are as a people. Founded in 1946 first in England and Wales, Scotland 1947 and Northern Ireland 1948, it is an institution rooted in the nation of the United Kingdom and the constituent nations themselves, no more so than when the country came together to applaud its workers on a weekly basis earlier this year.

Free at the point of use, but collectively funded through general taxation, many on the Left laud the NHS as some form of socialist achievement, solely the work of the post-War Labour Government. The reality was its formation was the work of Britons across the political spectrum and across Britain. Indeed it was Dr Somerville Hastings of the Socialist Medical Association who got the Labour Party to commit to a state health service in the 1930s, but it was the work of Liberal economist William Beveridge and Tory Health Minister Henry Willink that brought this reality even closer. Half of Scotland was already covered by state provision and it was under the Atlee administration where Tredegar-born Aneurin Bevan made this decades-old idea a living reality.

Many lament the four systems approach to the Health Service and see it as a failure of devolution, yet the four systems approach has been at the heart of the NHS through its history, accountability shared initially by the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

See the source image
Aneurin Bevan. Source: Daily Express

Many also lament what almost seems like the near religiosity, public worship of the Health Service- in fact I am sure I would have uttered the words “the closest thing to a state religion” in the past. However it is the one thing that does seem to unite the country- the initial community-spirit of those early coronavirus months did seem to invoke in us a sense of community and a healing of the old Brexit wounds, which now seems to have dissipated. But the NHS speaks to the success of the Union.

‘The NHS speaks to the success of the Union’

Pieces on the Prydain Review have sought to set out the framework to make the romantic argument for the Union as opposed to the boring mundane economic arguments of old. The NHS is the first of these romantic cases to be made. To the separatists, the Union is a mere expression of English imperialism and dominance, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland being the final colonies of England in need of liberation, not a liberation from foreign actors but rather a liberation of the self, to see the flourishing of Welsh identity to replace any sense of British identity. Save for the current failures of the health service, the story of the NHS shatters the myth of Britain being a failed project.  The NHS is a long-standing institution breathed and formed by the collaborative work of Britons across the Isles and is sustained everyday by public servants from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly.

If this does not demonstrate the success of Britain, then what does?

The Not So Generation Game

Huw Davies

And there we have it. In British politics’ biggest surprise, the Scottish National Party (SNP) have finally stated that they will put in their manifesto for next year’s Holyrood elections that they will legislate for a second referendum on Scottish separation. Of course I say this in jest.

But the serious point to all of this, is this just makes a mockery of the SNP. We have yet to fully get a grip of the ghastly coronavirus with Scottish cases back on the steady march and instead they put proposals forward for another referendum, or has been called in the past, a ‘neverendum’. Their priorities are simply wrong, and they are out of touch with the overwhelming majority Scottish voters.

Despite the rhetoric of the Nationalists, ‘Scexit’ is not a pressing concern for voters in Scotland. Most wish to focus on health and education, which are devolved and in the control of the SNP who have done a pretty rubbish job at it, rather than hark on about ‘independence’. This is the issue with Sturgeon and co- by making the destruction of Britain their sole focus, they take their eye of the ball on the day-to-day business of government. Business which Scotland has to get to in order whether independent or not. Surely, it is better to focus on that now and wait a generation for another vote like they promised in 2014?

Credit: The Sunday Post

Let us keep reminding the SNP that the original referendum was a once in a lifetime decision, as they themselves put it.

In any case, another referendum is not in the gift of Nicola Sturgeon. This power resides with the British Parliament, who must also agree to it too. Of course, you will expect the Nationalists to guffaw that Westminster is preventing Scotland having its say. But, in reality, this is our country they are trying to destroy, so it is only fair and just that we have a say in how they have a referendum, which would cause disruption to all our lives.

Let us keep reminding the SNP that the original referendum was a once in a lifetime decision, as they themselves put it. They may argue that the material circumstances have changed due to Brexit. However, if Scotland had voted ‘Yes’ in 2014, it would have left the European Union anyway despite what the SNP may have promised. If that was so, would that not also have been the grounds for a referendum to rejoin the UK?

Scotland needs immediate solutions to the stark problems ahead, not continuously playing the SNP’s ‘Once in a generation’ Game I hope the people of Scotland see through this next year and send the Nationalists home with just a cuddly toy.

Last of the Unionists

Christopher Harries

The state of the Union is never far from discussion. Commentators argue about the long term viability of the Union once the United Kingdom has left the European Union, some advocate federalism as the means of maintaining the United Kingdom.

Unionists must appreciate the severity of the situation and react accordingly. Accommodation and compromise has failed to dissuade the separatists, if anything such an approach has merely encouraged them. Devolution considered by some as the means to kill off the respective nationalist movements and safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom has created a viable framework for independence. 

Separatist parties and groups have been able to flourish in the vacuum created by Unionists being either unwilling or incapable to make the case for the Union. 

Some so-called Unionists advocate Federalism as the means of preserving the Union. What the advocates for Federalism fail to appreciate is that a federal state requires the constituent states to accept being part of the entity. Anything short of independence would fail to satisfy the Separatists it would be folly to think such a proposal would buy off the nationalists and safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Instead of deluding ourselves in the hope that a proposed federal settlement would suffice, we should instead heed the reality of the situation and focus on advocating for the Union. 

A romantic case for the United Kingdom must be made to complement the economic arguments. To denigrate the notion of a nation-state based on economics and scale ignores the reality that there are numerous prosperous small states in existence. The case for the Union is that a political union has evolved to become a nation in its own right. Within that nation, remain the various constituent nation-states with there own unique character and history yet they have become more. 

Nationhood has a romantic allure so the Unionists must learn to appeal to the heart. Failure to make a romantic case for the Union will ultimately condemn our nation to break up.