I may not like some of the comments made by Gerry Holtham in his evidence to the House of Lords, as reported yesterday, but it is hard to disagree with those relating to the economic situation of Wales, even if some of his comments about Welsh, Gaelic and the Highland Clearances seem to be somewhat outside his usual sphere of expertise.
The Welsh economy is indeed a great deal weaker than that of Scotland, and we do indeed have a problem with a deficit budget. And we certainly don’t have any oil – well, none that has been proven yet anyway. He may even be right that the departure of Scotland will not improve the prospects for a renegotiation of Barnett, although that is more political opinion than financial analysis.
He’s very blunt about Wales’ negotiating position; we have no cards to play, so can expect nothing. And his line that we’ll get what we’ve always got, “which is nothing”, is similar to a point made by many in their critique of the current relationship of Wales with the UK.
With all of that I can, more or less, agree. I’m not so convinced about the conclusions drawn on the basis of the analysis however – mostly because they offer no constructive way forward. They seem to assume that this is the way things are, this is they way they’ve always been, and this is the way that they’ll always be. It’s a depressing prospect.
It would be too easy simply to blame the current set-up for Wales’ position. Of course the situation in which we find ourselves is a result of the policies followed over a lengthy period. It isn’t, though, that those policies were designed to do Wales down; it’s more that policies which only look at the bottom line for the UK as a whole have allowed the variation in prosperity to remain and grow. It’s a result of policy, not an intention of policy, although that’s little consolation to those on the wrong end of the policies concerned.
The question is how we bring about change, and simply carrying on as at present seems to be the least likely way of doing that. Apparently, despite popular belief, it was not Einstein who said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results”, but the misattribution takes nothing away from the relevance of the quote. It doesn’t necessarily mean that doing something different will bring a different result, of course; but surely doing something different at least deserves some consideration from the sane.
Greater autonomy for Wales carries no guarantee of a solution for Wales’ economic problems, but not having that autonomy seems almost to guarantee that we will be forever seeking mitigation of effect rather than solution. My conclusion has long been that taking responsibility for our own future has to be a better alternative than waiting for someone else to do something – at the very least, it gives us the focus on the problem which is currently lacking.