Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Small doesn't mean failure

"Wales is too small; we can’t afford it” is one of the most common objections to the idea of Welsh Independence.  Adam Price’s paper on the question is a very welcome contribution to the debate.
There is a danger of reading too much into it – hyperbole about how rich Wales ‘would’ have been is as unhelpful as continued carping about how poor we are.  It is, I suspect, impossible to ‘prove’ to the satisfaction of all that Wales would be better off as an independent country without rerunning history.  But it is equally impossible to ‘prove’ that we would not be, and if both sides in the debate were to move away from such axiomatic assertion, then we could have a much more rational discussion about the pros and cons.
Adam’s paper shows very clearly that the idea that any country is ‘too small’ to run its own affairs is a silly one, and that, on the contrary, it is the smaller countries in Europe which have, on the whole, performed best.  Had Wales been independent, and had we performed as well as other independent countries, then we could indeed have been better off.
There are a number of big caveats in that statement though, and it is important that those of us who want to see one particular answer to the question don’t over-hype what the research is telling us.  There is not – there can be – no guarantee that an independent Wales actually would have performed better in practice.
Any country attaining its independence does so in a context, and whilst it is at a particular stage of development.  All countries are unique in that sense, and each must find its own way forward.  The context of the future will not be the context of the past, and what has happened historically is not always the best guide to what happens in the future.
Having said all that, Adam has, I think, completely destroyed the argument that size is, in itself, a necessary barrier, and highlighted some factors which seem to explain why small countries can, and frequently do, perform well.  There are lessons for us to learn as we develop an economic map for the future.
What I hope that he has achieved most of all is changing the basis of debate.  We need to move away from the sterile ‘yes we can, no we can’t’ argument and look in more objective detail at what we’d need to do differently, and how we move towards that. 
And we should all bear in mind that building a successful Welsh economy is as important for Wales as part of the UK as it is for Wales as an independent country.  It isn’t just a nationalist project, and those who try and pretend that it is are doing a major disservice to Wales.  Some of them seem even, at times, to want to follow a sub-optimal (for Wales) economic policy in order to justify their political goal of continued union.
Economic success no more leads automatically to independence than independence leads automatically to economic failure; those who wish to maintain the union need to find better arguments than that Wales is small or poor.


Boncath said...

Have yet to digest The Flotilla Effect 70 pages but respect your ability to digest and precis it succinctly
Plaid definitely needs to reconnect with its more abler supporters who have been marginalised by an overdose of political bland ness and lack of direction from Cardiff and the consequential loss or disaffection of many long term supporters

Spirit of BME said...

On a very fast read of this document some interesting comparisons are made.
When it comes to small nations success three words come to mind, - Location, Location, Location. - Although off shore banking does not follow this rule and the more distant you are the better.
The comment on Ireland and the Baltic States, I would contend that they ceased to be small states when they entered the Euro as the lost economic control – Club Med has always been basket cases.
Iceland went bust two years before the official crisis when the US banks pulled out, to avoid hard decisions the politicians allowed the “bright young things” in their banks to turn their country into a Hedge Fund. When the crunch came and not being in the EU they took the right decisions.
As this year unfolds and especially next year, the Welsh voters will rue the day they voted to support the English Parties and pay off the English Debt created by the Bank of England, things are about to become bumpier – fasten your seat belts.