I heard it argued again last week that, at a time of economic difficulty, people are only interested in economics, not in constitutional change. In the sense that people whose jobs are under threat aren’t queuing up to demand independence, it’s true, of course. It doesn’t follow, however, that debating constitutional change at a time when people are only worried about their jobs is the ‘irrelevance’ which some claim it to be.
Presenting the constitutional debate and economic policy as though they are alternatives, only one of which can be discussed at any one time, is a false choice. I can understand those who do not want more fundamental change arguing this way, but it seems completely incongruous to me for anyone who claims that they want to see fundamental change in the long term to be trying to argue that such change is irrelevant in the shorter term.
There are three major flaws with such an argument.
The first is that, if independence for Wales does nothing to address the economic problems faced by Wales then what is the point of Independence? There would be little point all in having independence if it is not part of the solution to those economic problems. I certainly would never have advocated it as the way forward for Wales unless I was convinced that relocalising the economy and taking the decisions ourselves was more, rather than less, likely to resolve the issues.
And if it is part of the solution to those economic problems, then times of economic difficulty are precisely the times when the case for more fundamental change should be put more forcibly, not kicked into the long grass.
The second, and probably more serious, flaw is that any politicians who argue that constitutional change is not relevant to the immediate economic situation are of necessity constraining themselves to proposing solutions to the economic problems which can only be implemented under current structures – which effectively means in Westminster. And it means that the solutions which they propose are never going to sound – or be – very different from those put forward by HM Government and HM Loyal Opposition.
The third flaw is that the proportion of people holding the view that we need change in the way we are governed, not just change in the policies being followed, will never increase if the argument is not put. I’ve never known any argument to be won by avoiding it.