Being a “four-nation Briton” I think Carwyn Jones’ view that the current constitutional settlement is no longer sustainable is absolutely correct (“Carwyn Jones: Referendum deal proves UK status quo ‘unsustainable’“, Oct 16).
If one considers that the Welsh Government’s powers to make English and Welsh equal in the Assembly were challenged by the Welsh Office recently then a “devo-max” outcome is what is needed as a minimum.
I’m not convinced, however, with the conclusion that to have a united Britain requires the United Kingdom. Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg exist quite peacefully within the European Union as independent sovereign states, why can’t the four British nations do the same? From a constitutional point of view I think independence for Wales is the right thing to do in theory, even though I expect it would not be what I would like in practice.
An independent Wales would no doubt be run by the same state socialists it is now, meaning we would be constantly relying on the EU for hand-outs. But that is the price of true democracy – which is to govern ourselves.
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.
As a recent covert to supporting independence for Wales I am not surprised that only 10% of those surveyed from Wales would agree to it in light of the polarised debates on the subject (Voters would say “No” to an independent Wales, February 2). Things will change though.
I am not a separatist for wanting Wales to be independently constituted – I am as British as I have always been. I want joint British and Welsh nationality, and the current settlement does not give me that. Nor am I a nationalist for wanting independence – I am as much of a British and European Unionist as I have always been. I want a British Isles Customs Union (BICU), where each of the four British nations is equal rather than Wales being legally constituted as a province of England.
Independence within the EU could actually make our British union stronger not weaker – we just need to drop the archaic United Kingdom constitution. In such a set-up it would be illegal to discriminate against someone because they are Welsh. And Welsh firms would be expected to be treated as favourably as those in England when tendering for work in England and not charged more tax as present (Western Mail, November 16, 2011).
I do not think Wales should have a seat on UN like Plaid – in fact I think the EU should sit as one block. I don’t think Wales would need its own passport office as Labour seem to – We can share all these state entrappings, including the DVLA and other registrars within BICU, as Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg do with Benelux. If they can be independent in the EU while dependent on one another – why can’t we?
I must contest F S Wusteman’s claim that an independent Wales would not have an independent voice in the EU (Letters, January 26).
If one were to look at the current EU Treaty (TFEU) there are 62 areas in which every EU country has to agree unanimously before that law can be passed – one of these is Article 113 relating to indirect taxation like VAT so no member state has to give up its tax regime as they suggested.
The problem Wales has is we are not properly represented in the EU Council of Ministers in which only David Cameron and his UK Ministers have a right to vote on behalf of the UK. This body must agree to every piece of EU legislation before it is made law – and in many cases it can completely overrule the European Parliament if it disagrees with them.
Wales has no right to veto EU law that could, for instance, affect our manufacturing – we are at the mercy of the UK Government.
Readers will recall me calling for a British Isles Customs Union of the four British nations, which while all independent, would agree to common laws which could include a common position on EU law (Letters, October 22, 2011). If England voted to leave the EU but join the EEA it would have to implement EU law but have no say in making it. But with the BICU Council of Ministers they could do both.
In the meantime, while the argument for independence is being won in principle even if not in detail, as looks likely in Scotland, there is a way all British nations can get an equal voice in the EU decision making processes without any new primary legislation from Westminster.
Section 109 of The Government of Wales Act 2006 gives the Welsh Government the power to ask for new powers from Westminster, which could include the right to direct the UK Prime Minister to veto any EU directive that does not meet Wales’s interests. Scotland and Northern Ireland could be granted the same power.
These provisions could lead to a more united British Isles, where each nation can represent its own citizens’ interests while co-operating where this is in the interest of all citizens in the British Isles.
I recently proposed a new type of settlement where each of the four nations of Britain could be independently constituted as nation states yet members of a “British Isles customs union”, or BICU (Letters, October 22).
Rather than each nation have its own overpaid head of state or, worse still, keep the outdated monarchy, our head of state could be based on a “rotating presidency”.
The president’s primary role would be to chair the Council of Ministers and work to cut down the costly duplication of legislation so instead of four laws on say banning smoking or regulating marriage, there would be one law with different provisions for each nation. It could be chaired by Carwyn Jones one year, Alex Salmond the next, etc.
This “constitutional presidency” would mean we could ditch the “constitutional monarch”. Mickey Mouse is not the Governor of Florida is he? Yet he is their top tourist attraction bringing millions into the economy each year. So why do we still have one of our top tourist attractions – The Royal Family – as head of state? Disney Pixar is the most profitable company in the world, trading in fantasy around “princesses” and “princes” – why don’t we sell them the Royal Family, so they can run them 100% as a tourist attraction for taxable profit? The “Queen” could still open the Welsh legislature, but in a ceremonial way, little different to the ways some towns still employ town criers, who operate more for cultural reasons than any practical constitutional role.
I have previously expressed my objections to independence for Wales and primary legislative powers. The reasons have been because of reduced scrutiny of legislation due to unicameralism (Letters, April 14, 2004), unnecessary duplication of laws (Letters, October 1, 2002) and lack of effective use of time due to having to implement EU Directives on top on Welsh law (Letters, February 20, 2004).
Others have said independence is unaffordable because of entrappings of the state, requiring passport offices, driving licence agencies, and customs and tax offices. Welsh nationalists often draw parallels with Catalonia as a model for independence. I would however suggest another one – Benelux – the union between Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. There is no reason why all the British nations (including Ireland) can’t be independently constituted as nation states, whilst being both members of the European Union and a “British Isles customs union.”
These “member nations” could share state apparatus, like a council of ministers and supreme court, from which BICU governments would make laws applying to all nations in the case of the former, and from which they would provide judges to resolve inter-governmental, EU and international law issues in the case of the latter. We could still have British passports and hold joint nationalities as British citizens and Welsh citizens. Our driving licences could still be issued by the DVLA , but could have “CW” for “Cymru Wales” on them instead of “UK”. It would be a big improvement on the current settlement, as not only could a new Act of Union give us more exclusive rights within the BICU, but because each nation could be independent members of the EU, the people of Wales would have greater rights to be treated equally in England than they do now. We could be a member of the euro like Ireland, and that may mean more manufacturing returning to Wales while England keeps the pound.
Plaid Cymru confirmed my fears that they want to turn the Assembly into a mini Westminster on Friday, when Janet Davies AM admitted to the University of Glamorgan Business School that she would like to see Wales have independent status with full law-making powers.
Assembly Members are currently able to spend two days a week helping their constituents and carrying out work in their communities.
If Plaid Cymru got their way, this time would have to be spent debating Parliamentary Bills and European Directives. The Assembly has shown that it can be very effective at policy delivery. Senior citizens and disabled people now have free bus travel, and more than 43,000 people in Wales will benefit from the Assembly Learning Grants this autumn.
We elected the Assembly Government toimprove our communities and standard of living. It is not its job to waste hours of time debating law when our MPs are more than capable of acting on behalf of us in Parliament. It would be madness to make any constitutional changes to the Assembly at a time when it’s beginning to show its relevance to the people of Wales