Monday 7 March 2016

For better or for worse

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.


G Horton-Jones said...

This article deserves to be read in every home in Wales
Lets do it

Yes Cymru

Bored of Labour said...

‘Choosing independence does not, in itself, guarantee choosing a different way of doing things’.

I disagree with that statement despite welsh nationalists I know who are convinced Labour will deliver Welsh independence, independence will delivered by a Welsh nationalist party when welsh voters like 45% of Scottish voters will be far more engaged with day to day Welsh politics and campaigning and agitating for change.

You’ll notice I deliberately didn’t say Plaid Cymru because im not sure they currently are or ever were in favour of Welsh independence, but that’s another debate for another day, keep blogging your need more than ever.

Anonymous said...

It needs to be much clearer sorry John. What about public spending in the first three years of independence? We need to think about the questions which would come up in the referendum campaign, and in the election campaigns preceding that (We would need to get a pro-independence majority of AMs to get a referendum).

It does seem to me that we need other things before independence. A Welsh Parliament of a bigger size. Media changes. More public interest. Taxation and a legal system. Don't write people wanting these things off as waffling or being unsure, or indeed Plaid Cymru of 'not wanting independence'. It is a serious and honest view that we need more nation-building first.

John Dixon said...

"What about public spending in the first three years of independence?" There simply isn't one single answer to the question; it depends on the governement elected at the point of independence. If the electorate were to elect a Tory Government for instance, then taxation and spending would not look the same as they would under a Labour government. That's the key point to remember - it's not the act of independence which makes the difference, it's what we collectively do with it.

"It does seem to me that we need other things before independence.". Whilst having all the things you mention in place before independence would make the transition easier, they are not preconditions. By trying to make them preconditions, you are effectively saying that 'other people' must do them before we can do anything ourselves. It is my 'serious and honest view' that nation-building is being used as something of an excuse to avoid having the central debate on what we actually want the outcome to be. Looking back over history, how many countries do you think sat back and demanded all sorts of changes from those who previously governed them before they thought it safe to take control themselves? The reverse process is the norm.

The problem that those of us seeking independence for Wales face isn't the lack of institutions, it's the lack of aspirations. Institutions don't create aspirations, they give voice to them; it's the aspiration that we need most. And we will never create the aspiration in Wales to take responsibility for ourselves if all of Wales' politicians sing from the same hymn sheet and tell people why we can't instead of why we can.

Anonymous said...

So you can't actually answer what public spending would look like in the first three years of independence, fine. Which party do you want to form a government and trigger the referendum? That party would have to have a credible and importantly palatable set of spending plans.

I just think the stuff about "aspiration" is a very convenient way of avoiding the need there will be to win elections and produce a White Paper like Scotland did.

John Dixon said...

"So you can't actually answer what public spending would look like in the first three years of independence" No I can't. And neither can anyone else. If we take as a reasonable assumption that a referendum on independence can only be hald after we elect a government committed to holding one, then given that no party is going into the 2016 election with such a comitment in its manifesto, then it will be at least 2022 before such a referendum could be held. If producing a balanced budget for the years 2023-2026 now is a pre-condition for any argument for independence, than you've set an impossible bar to overcome.

"Which party do you want to form a government and trigger the referendum?" Whichever party or parties win an election on a manifesto commitment to hold such a referendum. At current none is doing that in 2016, and it seems unlikely that any will be doing that in 2021 either.

"I just think the stuff about "aspiration" is a very convenient way of avoiding the need there will be to win elections and produce a White Paper like Scotland did" Actually, I'm not arguing that there would be no need to do that, merely that it's putting the cart before the horse. In any event, one thing proven by the Scotland campaign is that even if you do all that, people will still challenge the budget on the basis of the udnerlying assumptions. There is simply no such thing as a 'neutral' set of figures on this issue.

Spirit of BME said...

The only comment I have to make on this subject is the following quote from a great man
"Any nation which gives up its freedom in pursuit of economic advantage deserves to lose both."

Thomas Jefferson, US President 1801-1809.