Ron Davies famously said, “Devolution is a process and not an event.” Since May 2011 Wales has had primary legislative powers – one of the first steps to full autonomy over its own affairs. If Wales is to become independent, including as part of a British Isles Customs Union, in my view as a Masters of Economics and Social Science and former town and community councillor, a number of institutional changes need to occur. These institutional changes themselves will be a process and not an event. Many of my suggestions below are within the scope of the powers the Welsh Government has that were granted by Schedule 7 of The Government of Wales Act 2006. The only thing needed is the political initiative.
The central use of tax varying powers
Any independent country needs to be able to raise its own revenue. This need not be done using the income tax system as is often presumed. The Welsh Assembly has the powers to change the way local authorities collect tax through the precept. That is, the Welsh Government could change council tax to be based on something other than property band and force local authorities to give the tax they collect direct to them.
The creation of ‘The Bank of Wales’
An independent country needs its own central bank. Scotland is well placed to have this if it becomes independent as ‘The Bank of Scotland’ can issue Stirling bank notes. Wales needs the same right to do so. There is no reason why Stirling can’t be the Single British Currency, in the same way the euro is the Single European Currency.
I would say that a financial institution does not need to be a bank to issue bank notes. So it might be that the Principality Building Society, who I save with as it happens, could be given the right by the UK Government to issue bank notes and use the brand name ‘Bank of Wales’. Any Stirling notes Principality gets in from customers issued by the Bank of England, it could reprint under the name of ‘Bank of Wales’, perhaps using the same serial number of the one issued by the Bank of England, who they would simply have to notify.
Independent countries also need to borrow money, so this is a role Principality also could play. In the meantime, the Welsh Government could legislate to give some of its financial powers and those of local authorities and other public bodies to Principality where it would be best for these decisions to be made independent of politicians and civil servants. This could be decisions made over the spending of European funding, including that currently done by the Wales European Funding Office.
The creation of a ‘Welsh Court of Justice’
An independent country needs to be able to make decisions about the enforcement of its own laws. A Welsh legal system now exists, so any dispute of the interpretation of Welsh law should be decided firstly in Wales. This could be created in the first instance by the Welsh Ministers transferring their decision-making powers for ‘judicial-like functions’, such as the interpretation of its laws and policies to, for want of a better word, a Quango, which has the same public appointment procedures as other Courts in the UK. Any tribunals currently under the auspices of the Welsh Government could be transferred to this ‘Welsh Court of Justice’. This could include the Planning Inspectorate, SEN tribunals, etc. Final decisions currently made by Ministers, Civil Servants, Councillors, etc. that affect someone in Wales’s civil rights could be made by this Court.