The government have announced that after Brexit the Scottish Parliament shall have more powers. David Mundell announced the move in the House of Commons after questioning from the Scottish National Party. Scotland has been given a lot of attention because of the large cohort of SNP MPs at Westminster, and as such almost all discussion of devolution has been concerning Scotland. But this piece shall look at what the impact of Brexit will be on the Welsh devolution settlement and how the government should respond. In other words, what about Wales?
The Tories like to call the UK a ‘family of nations’, each of which is equally important. However the current devolution settlement illustrates how this patently not the case. Holyrood has responsibility over a number areas that the Senedd does not including the delivery of certain welfare provisions, the ability to raise income tax rates, and the ability to borrow money for capital investment. Also, the areas where Scotland and Wales differ are not ineffective. The ability of Holyrood to borrow money for investment gives the Scottish Parliament more political clout to make material improvements in peoples’ lives. This asymmetric approach to devolution proves that Scotland is treated very differently to Wales, and to be honest it is unfair.
The title of this article is essentially the question I would like to ask Theresa May. If the government has said that Brexit will provide more opportunities for devolution for Scotland, what about Wales? Will Wales be given the same right to more powers, and in the meantime will the current Wales Bill be amended to give the Welsh Assembly the same number of powers as the Scottish Parliament?
This question is important because it sets up a catch-22 for the Tories. If the Tories want to keep hammering home this idea of the UK being a equal partnership, they must surely support giving the Welsh Assembly the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. If more powers are sent to Cardiff, those people like myself would like eventually like to see Wales as a self-governing independent nation-state will be able to argue that London is an obstacle to democracy. Further, by giving Wales the powers to increase economic development, the old argument that Wales relies on England will be undermined. More devolution will give secessionists an important opportunity to challenge old ideas about Welsh home-rule.
Conversely, if the Tories deny Wales the same powers as Scotland it shows that devolution is being used as a tool to pacify those north of the border who want independence. Rather than devolution being part of an ideological commitment to decentralisation, powers are being devolved to Holyrood so that Scotland doesn’t go independent. Further, such a rejection would smack of English paternalism. If Wales is denied the right to the same powers devolved to Scotland, the implication is that Wales is unable to govern themselves in the same way that Scotland can. If Westminster self-admits that Scotland should govern itself in certain areas, there is no substantive argument that should deny Wales the same right.
As I have previously argued, Wales is often ignored when it comes to devolution because the other countries in the UK have a history of being, for want of a better phrase, louder in this area. The Troubles in Northern Ireland put the constitution at the forefront of all political discussions, and since the 2014 independence referendum Scotland has also become more vociferous in fighting its corner. No such event has occurred in Wales, and as such Westminster has been quick to disregard the country’s concerns.
The Conservatives need to decide if they genuinely believe in devolution or if they are simply reacting to events in order to preserve the union at all costs. There is nothing inherent about Welsh people that make them inherently unable to be self-governing, and as such Wales should be given the same constitutional position as Scotland. Welsh independence is not on the policy agenda for the overwhelming number of ordinary people but if the Assembly became much more powerful, and people could see what self-government could mean, this may well change. Asymmetric devolution in this way is, in my view, and injustice and the Left needs to agitate to correct this. Wales is too often ignored in Westminster but a loud call for equal treatment will get the government to stop and listen.