Thursday, 29 March 2018

Of chickens and eggs

There is much that I can agree with in the picture of Wales in 2030 painted by Adam Price in his reported speech at Plaid Cymru’s Spring Conference last weekend.  I’m very sceptical about the one part which the Western Mail used to headline its story – the idea of Wales having its own national airline – and I’ll come back to that tomorrow.  But the rest sets out a vision of a Wales significantly different from the one in which we live today.
In his analysis of the conference on Monday, the Western Mail’s Chief Reporter suggested that the vision “exists in a vacuum, robbed of any real political context”, not least because it didn’t really seem to take into account the impact of leaving the EU, or the unlikelihood of Plaid winning two terms in government in the Assembly in order to implement the proposals.  I thought that a fair point to make, but it wasn’t really addressing the most important question for me.  I’d certainly agree that one of the probable effects of Brexit in the short and medium term is that the degree of growth in the UK (and therefore Welsh) economy will be lower than it might otherwise be, but that isn’t the same as saying that there’ll be no growth at all.  It constrains, rather than prevents, investment in building a different future.  And it’s certainly true that the prospects of Plaid being called on to deliver seem more than a little remote at this stage.  That shouldn’t, however, prevent a party from setting out a vision of what Wales could become given the will, and this is a better vision than any of the other parties are currently offering.  It’s a change from the managerialism of recent years, when the message from all parties has seemed to be simply that ‘we’ can run things better.
The suggestion of an independence referendum in or after 2030 is also welcome, although I wasn’t entirely sure whether putting it in those terms was an attempt to put the question back on the agenda or an attempt to kick it so far in the future as to make debate unnecessary in the short term.  It can be interpreted either way.  It’s still a step forward from the position of recent years where Plaid basically supported the position of the unionists that Wales couldn’t afford independence, but it will take a lot more to undo the damage of that particular aberration.
The most important question for me, though, was the ‘chicken-and-egg’ one: is what Plaid is proposing achievable within the current devolution settlement, setting Wales up for independence at a later date, or does it actually require independence as a pre-requisite to deliver such an ambitious programme in so short a timetable?
One of the key differences between an independent state and a subordinate parliament operating entirely within the parameters set by its superior is that the latter is obliged to balance its budget and spend within its revenue, borrowing only within defined limits and obliged to repay those debts in full.  Independent states in control of their own currency, on the other hand, have no such constraints – they can create money as they wish, borrow as much as they like, and very rarely actually repay the money that they borrow.  The prime limitation on their freedom isn’t a set of rules defined by others, but the actual or probable inflationary effect of their actions.  (An EU state within the Eurozone falls somewhere in between those two positions).
When I look at the vision outlined by Plaid, I don’t see a programme which I believe can be delivered within the current powers and finances of the Assembly.  As a vision for what Wales could be in a fairly short period after independence, it works for me, and is the sort of longer term view which our politicians have been failing to provide.  But in the form in which it seems to have been presented – a vision of what we can achieve before independence – I doubt that it is realistic.  And there is a danger that suggesting that we can have many of the benefits of independence without actually becoming independent is not only a variation on Brexit cakeism, but also raises a negative question – if we can do all that without independence, why do we need independence at all?


Jonathan said...

Do you mind if I sharpen this up a bit?
Plaid has lacked any road-map. Now we have one.
Obviously it can't work within the present system. Plaid (LW anyway) being unwilling to work with the Tories means there'll be no shake up, let alone Referendum Bill. But who wants to keep the shot Assembly anyway? We'll get a better one.
We can't really see a clear path until Wales controls the revenue raised in Wales. Just how much will we have ourselves, and what will we need from London? Simply going through this exercise ought to wake us up and cut our dependence on London - as the Welsh Tories are saying. (Its not a matter of being a Tory, its a matter of self-respect).
And we can't really choose a clear path unless we are clear about Dominion Status ie being a State like a US one in a Federal UK. This really is a no-brainer - provided Welsh politicians take the trouble to work out a framework and make sure we absorb it and debate it in our own Legislature.
But I can see a way through, and I bet you can Borthlas. It just takes some guts to at least grapple with it all, rather than wring our hands.
Still on guts, when you come to write on Welsh airlines, I don't want to here all the problems. I know about those. We had two Welsh airlines remember, so the soil must be fertile. Answer me this. If we can have long-haul to the Persian Gulf, why can't we have long-haul to the USA. No insurmountable reason, surely?

John Dixon said...

"Obviously it [the road map] can't work within the present system" I basically agree with that, but a map which you know you can't use isn't much cop as a map. And trying to sell it as though it were useful looks more than a little shifty to me. But agreeing that the road map as presented is useless as a means of getting to the destination doesn't invalidate the destination. We just need a better map. The problem isn't even with developing a better map - I think we both agree that to be possible, even if we wouldn't produce identical versions. The problem is that the route will be much more difficult and uncomfortable than the route on the useless map, and there is a fear that people won't buy a useful map as a result. That's no excuse for selling a duff map - but it is a reason for concentrating more on selling the destination.