But how poor is Wales, in reality? One of the things that the Yes campaign did quite effectively in Scotland was to argue that Scotland’s GDP per head put the country amongst the league of the wealthiest, not the poorest. Where would Wales sit in that table?
There are plenty of different rankings of countries to be found, and they show slightly different rankings for countries. This Wikipedia page for instance shows several different ways of calculating relative wealth. If we want an absolute measure, then which one we select becomes an important decision; but if we’re only after a relative measure, it really doesn’t matter a great deal which we choose.
Wales isn’t listed, naturally enough – it’s a list of sovereign states – but if we use as a rule of thumb the claim that Wales’ output per head is about 70% of that of the whole UK, it’s easy enough to work out where Wales would come on any one of the rankings here if we were listed separately. The answer, depending on which list we choose, is around 30th.
Yes, on a simplistic measure of GDP per head, Wales would be one of the 30 or so most prosperous countries in the world – with another 150 or more which are poorer than us, including such outposts of unsustainable independence as Russia. Even within the EU, there are a basket of countries which are worse off than Wales would be – and, as far as I’m aware, no-one is arguing that they’re “too poor” to be independent member states.
We have, perhaps, become too accustomed to seeing the glass as half empty; comparing ourselves to the richest areas and finding ourselves wanting. It’s an inevitable result of an approach which simply demands that we get our fair share, and given that we’re not getting our fair share now, it’s not a wholly unreasonable tactic. It needs to be tempered though with a more positive message about what we can do, and about what Wales could be if we assumed responsibility ourselves. And that’s the message which has been lacking for too long.
There’s more to economics than GDP, of course. And the transition from where we are to where we could be will neither be quick nor easy. But continuing to see ourselves as poverty-stricken victims is not the right starting place, when, for most of the world’s countries and population we look like a very wealthy country. The question is about how we take control of the wealth we have and build on it by taking responsibility for our own future. Arguing that we’re not ready to do that is simply perpetuating what we are. We can do better than that.