Why independence for Scotland and Wales is only a matter of time – Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price

Mark Drakeford, Labour's First Minister of Wales, has said his support for union is not 'unconditional' (Picture: Simon Galloway/PA)
Mark Drakeford, Labour's First Minister of Wales, has said his support for union is not 'unconditional' (Picture: Simon Galloway/PA)
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Brexit is the wrong answer to the right question, which is ‘why are our voices not being heard by the powers that be?’, writes Adam Price.

Under questioning in the Senedd from my party’s Brexit spokesperson earlier this month, the Labour First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, conceded that his support for the British state is not “unconditional”.

That admission was itself a significant moment: a sitting First Minister publicly recognising that independence for Wales could be seriously considered as offering the best future for Wales.

Just as remarkable was the fact that, in the moment, the significance of what he was saying didn’t seem to register with Mr Drakeford.

Nevertheless, during the next day’s First Minister’s Questions, he tried to row back on his comments, claiming that his is a “devolutionist party” while mine stands “unambiguously for independence”.

As I said at the time, we’re unambiguously in favour of independence, and he’s ambiguously in favour of it. It’s a definite maybe from the First Minister!

Notwithstanding his attempt to eat his words, he had been caught off guard, and had said what a growing number of people believe to be true: independence is a question of when, not if.

Since the European referendum in 2016, people across Wales have seen the Westminster parties tie themselves in knots over what version of Brexit they want to push through.

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This chaos has been a plague on the houses of both Labour and the Tories, and more and more people are looking on in horror, questioning whether this really is as good as it gets.

But of course, the truth is this didn’t start in June 2016. It started long before then, with a depressing democratic deficit which sees the interests of both Wales and Scotland side-lined.

That the interests of the peoples of our two nations, and indeed the wills of our respective parliaments, can be ignored in favour of Westminster’s own interests is no new phenomenon.

It is, sadly, a part of life in this United Kingdom.

Indeed, it was the democratic deficit itself which drove Brexit itself. The result of the first European referendum was, in my view, the wrong answer to the right question. The question being: why are our voices not being heard by the powers that be?

What the past three years have shown is that the land of milk and honey promised by the leaders of the Leave campaign was never possible. Indeed, any version of Brexit would wreak unimaginable damage on Wales and Scotland, risking thousands of jobs and crucial investment in our communities.

That risk increases exponentially when the next British Prime Minister takes office next week. If, as expected, Boris Johnson does indeed become Prime Minister, the occupant of 10 Downing Street will be a man who relishes the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

He is a man who has talked openly about cutting Scottish spending and seizing control of regional economic policy – rather than allowing spending decisions affecting Wales and Scotland to be made in our respective countries.

Let us be in no doubt that these are very serious times which require all of us to think very seriously and soberly about the kind of future we want for our nations.

The choice we face has rarely been starker. On the one hand, the insular, narrow nationalism of the British establishment and its obsession with delivering a nightmare Brexit come hell or high water. And on the other, a bright, prosperous future as independent nations at the heart of Europe.

I know what I would prefer.

More and more people are realising the sad truth that the current set up of the United Kingdom is incapable of serving either of our nations well.

One such person is, of course, the de facto Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington, who penned a memo which said that Wales feels “failed” by Westminster. Indeed, he said that “we cannot be complacent about Wales’s attitude to the Union and independence”.

His answer? To improve the “branding” on the few projects in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that are funded by the UK Government.

He sees that Westminster has failed us. He sees the series of infrastructure projects cancelled. He sees the fiscal gap. And yet he fails to do anything to remedy the situation.

His shallow response exposes the contempt in which the British establishment holds our two nations. ‘Slap a union flag on it,’ he might as well have said, ‘that’ll pacify them’.

Post-independence, our closest friends and allies will always be the other nations of the former UK, but let us not be fooled into thinking that the UK as it stands is a partnership of equals. It isn’t.

In a speech in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago, I proposed that the independent nations of Wales, Scotland and England adopt a model of cooperation based on the Benelux countries.

That would be a kind of post-independence union – a voluntary association of sovereign nations, sitting above each independent nation. It could include shared institutions such as a parliament, council of ministers, and court, all in addition to the respective national institutions.

Such a model would foster a more equal and congenial partnership between our nations than could ever be possible within the United Kingdom.

When Wales and Scotland do choose an independent future – and it is only a matter of when – I also happen to believe England would benefit from an equal partnership as much as our two countries.

This ongoing Brexit psychodrama has put the UK on hold: standing still, rudderless, without effective government. It is fraying, not just at the edges, but right through its body politic. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving on.

This won’t go on much longer. People can only take so much before they choose a different, better path. For both our countries, that path can only lead to one future: independence. It’s just a matter of a time, but it’s coming very, very quickly. It’s time the British establishment realised it.

Adam Price is a Welsh Assembly Member and leader of Plaid Cymru