A question which often comes up in relation to independence is whether it would make people in Wales better or worse off. It’s a very easy question to ask, but a great deal harder to answer.
I can certainly envisage an independent Wales in which the energies and talents of the people are harnessed positively and constructively to build a better future for all who live here. I can also envisage an independent Wales in which we elect the same old politicians to do the same old things and Wales continues to limp along behind the UK average. Choosing independence does not, in itself, guarantee choosing a different way of doing things.
By the same token, I can envisage a future for Wales within the UK where either of those two outcomes are possible as well. Whilst we can definitively say, in empirical terms, that the status quo isn’t working terribly well for Wales, it’s impossible to be entirely certain that the alternative wouldn’t be just as bad in simple economic terms, because that depends on what we do with independence, not on the mere fact of it.
That in turn means that the only answer that I can give those who want me to say whether Wales would be better or worse off with independence is that ‘it all depends’. If we simply replicate the structures and policies which are currently the norm, then we can hardly expect to make much difference – if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got. If, on the other hand, we make the best use of the tools that would then be available to us, then there is no fundamental reason why we should not do a lot better. We are no more innately poor or stupid than any of the other nations in Europe, or indeed the wider world.
The question becomes one of probabilities, in one sense. Is it more likely that taking responsibility and doing things for ourselves will concentrate our minds and efforts on improving things in Wales, or is it more likely that someone else will do that for us? Do we place our trust and faith in our own ability to turn Wales around, or do we sit back and moan about others not doing it for us?
I can’t prove, in completely definitive terms, which produces the best outcomes; but I have a strong belief that taking responsibility for ourselves is very much more likely to produce a better outcome over the long term.
For those who want to reduce the whole question to one about whether we’d be materially better off or not, and to receive a definitive answer to that question, I have to accept that my answer is unlikely to be an adequate one. It’s an honest answer, though; more honest than the position of those, on either side of the debate, who claim to know with absolute certainty that the option which they favour would be the best. But simple economics is not, and has never been, the prime motivation of most of those of us who want Wales to become independent.I can understand why some supporters of independence ‘in principle’, when faced with a question to which they can’t give a sufficiently positive answer, prefer to punt the whole question into the long grass, and present it as an aspiration for the distant future rather than as a serious alternative way forward. It’s a cop-out though; and it’s not at all clear how or when they would ever feel able to put the question on the agenda. But, as things stand, we are effectively abdicating responsibility for our future, and complaining about what others are doing (or failing to do) to us and for us. I want us to take responsibility ourselves with the aim of doing better. That question of accepting responsibility is about a lot more than mere economics.