Friday 5 June 2020

Blaming Boris isn't enough

One might think that Welsh Tory MPs would be embarrassed by the way that the UK Government has handled the pandemic, but it seems that most of them are only too happy to sign up to a letter demanding that the Welsh Government (which is, of course, in no sense answerable to members of the Westminster parliament in any event) explain why it has dared to act differently. But then anyone supporting the farce to which the UK Government has reduced the workings of the House of Commons is probably too thick-skinned to understand what embarrassment is. They're also ignoring the potential political danger in that the latest polls suggest that the increasing levels of incompetence in London are also leading to more people listening to, and supporting the actions of, the Welsh Government in Cardiff. And in Scotland, the Sottish Government is enjoying amazing levels of support. It’s almost as though listening to the questions and attempting to give straight answers is proving more effective than bluster and lies. Who’d have thought it?
In practice, the differences between the responses of the governments (apart from the approach to displaying a bit of honesty) aren’t as great as some have painted them – they’re more questions of timing and emphasis than of substance. And ultimately, London has the whip hand – as the Chancellor has made very clear, he will change the rules around financial support to individuals and companies in step with the changes in England, and will not vary that if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland decide to work at a different pace. That exposes the weakness at the heart of devolution – (s)he who controls the purse strings can oblige compliance even in areas where responsibility is formally and legally devolved.
Inevitably, many independentistas are looking at what has happened elsewhere in the world and asking whether an independent Wales could not have done better. Given the unenviable position of the UK at the top of the league for deaths per million, and its world-leading record of recklessness and stupidity, an independent Welsh government would have had to try very hard indeed to do worse. There are conditions and caveats though. It’s easy to look at the performance of, say, New Zealand and ask why we couldn’t have emulated that, but being a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean does confer a certain advantage when it comes to imposing a travel lockdown to control the level of infection entering the country. Whilst an independent Wales could have simply closed the border (which many EU countries did), closing a long land border with very many crossing points is on a different scale to imposing controls at ports and airports. A better comparison would be with the Republic of Ireland – an independent state which also has an uncontrolled land border with the calamitously-run UK. The Republic hasn’t managed to replicate the performance of New Zealand (which one wouldn't expect), but it has undoubtedly done better than the UK in managing the pandemic. They could probably have done even better in controlling the pandemic if they’d been able and willing to take the politically unacceptable step of closing the border with the UK, but the economic cost of doing that would likely have been far higher.
As in so many things, independence is not a panacea; in itself it would not have prevented Wales suffering from the pandemic. It could, though, under a leadership focussed on protecting people rather than capital, have ensured a lower level of infection and death than we have suffered to date. The exceptionalism of the English government has a lot to answer for in the course of the pandemic, but those in Wales who continue to argue that we’re too stupid to take control of our own affairs (and they’re still at it, even after watching the performance of Boris Johnson) also have to take some responsibility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might also compare our performance on Covid-19 with that of Slovenia; a small country with porous land borders close to an area with a major outbreak of the disease.