Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Flightless pigs


A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the report on ‘radical federalism’ from a fringe group of Labour Party members. It appeared to me then (and re-reading the report hasn’t changed that view) that the proposal had more to do with finding a way of preserving the union than with addressing the needs of the people of Wales, not least because its assumptions about which powers ‘cannot’ be exercised at a Welsh level were axiomatic – pulled out of thin air with no attempt at explanation or justification.

This week, Nation.Cymru published an article by one of the report’s sponsors, Mick Antoniw MS, which ‘clarified’ his own view on the matter – and which seemed to move considerably further towards a position of acknowledging that ‘independence’ is an option. OK, he’s a member of the Labour Party, and had to get in the statutory dismissive jibe about independence being “a separatist model”. He does make some valid points, though – not least when he says that “…our understanding of independence must be more expansive and inclusive and go beyond mere structural concepts”. It has been a regular theme of this blog that the word ‘independence’ can mean different things in different contexts: for most independentistas, there is nothing at all contradictory about an ‘independent’ country deciding to share sovereignty with other countries on a voluntary basis which recognises the rights of each country. So, when he writes that, “Radical federalism and independence are not mutually exclusive concepts. What radical federalism proposes is an option which guarantees Welsh sovereignty but recognises that in the modern world in which we must share sovereignty where there is common benefit and mutual interest.” (sic), I find it hard to disagree. The devil, though, is in the detail.

Needing to share sovereignty doesn’t predetermine with whom we might decide to share it, yet the assumption that it means ‘with those other nations of these islands which happen to be part of the current UK’ seems to be taken as read. And defining “common benefit and mutual interest” is not at all the same thing as deciding from the outset – as the original paper seemed to do – that certain matters are automatically reserved to Westminster. Nor is it the same thing as saying that even on matters which allegedly lie wholly in the remit of the Senedd, Westminster would set the standards under which the Senedd must operate. Whist federalism and independence may indeed not necessarily be mutually exclusive, such a proposal is neither federalism nor independence. It is simply another form of devolution, where real power remains at the centre, rather than with the people of Wales. And it fails the test which Antoniw himself sets, i.e., “…guarantees Welsh sovereignty”. It does no such thing.

The big unanswered question to which the federalists are unable or unwilling to offer any sort of answer is how any federation can work when one part of it accounts for 85% of the population and votes. I cannot disagree with Antoniw’s statement that “The choices for England are for England and cannot be allowed to determine the choices we must consider in Wales.” However, the viability of any federation which includes both Wales and England depends completely on how – or, rather, on whether – that imbalance can be managed. I’d have a lot more time for the federalists if they came up with some workable and practical solutions which would be acceptable to any of the political parties which has any chance of governing England. Unless and until they can do that, federalism will remain a wingless beast of the porcine species.


CapM said...

It's a phase they're going through.
Sooner or sooner these federalists or federally curious are going to realise that Scotland is leaving the UK.
Then it will be revealed whether these federalists are either active independentistas for Cymru or active/passive assimilationists for England.

dafis said...

Bit rich for Labour to start "exploring" possibilities for the future configuration of UK or the British Federation ( a.k.a London and its outer colonies) This is pure manipulation - empty gestures aimed at arresting any move in a particular direction. It may work in Wales but I strongly suspect that it won't in Scotland unless SNP contrives to shoot itself in both feet when dealing with other internal issues.