Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Understanding where the real difference lies

In an interview with the Western Mail’s Martin Shipton, Labour’s AM for Caerffili, Hefin David, said that there’s only an argument for independence for Wales if you could tell people that “if you leave the union of the UK you will be better off”.  It’s a statement which makes him sound almost open-minded on the issue; but in reality it demonstrates precisely the opposite and is essentially meaningless.  I could equally say that there’s only an argument for continued union if you could tell people that “if you stay in the union of the UK you will be better off” than becoming independent.  I could even sound very open-minded and fair by saying that I’d support the union in such circumstances.  It’s an easy enough statement to make.  But given two situations where one is the actual ground truth and the other is hypothetical, ‘proving’ that one will be economically superior to the other is by its nature a complete impossibility.  So, if I were to make such a statement, I’d be doing so knowing full well that no proof was possible, because any projections about the hypothetical future are inevitably based entirely on my own judgements and assumptions rather than on some objective provable truth.  If he were to be honest with himself and the rest of us, exactly the same is also true for David.
Whether an independent Wales would be wealthier or poorer depends not on the fact of independence, but on what the people of Wales, through their elected government, choose to do with that independence.  And my support for independence is based more on a belief that we should take responsibility for what happens in our small corner of the world, a belief that size isn’t everything, and a belief that a government which acted in the interests of Wales rather than those of the South-East of England could do a better job than on any certainty that we’d all be wealthier.  Those beliefs shape the assumptions that I make about the economics of the future and lead me to conclude that Wales can do better by becoming independent – but I cannot prove that it would be so.  After all, the people of an independent Wales might decide to elect a Labour or Conservative government which simply replicates current UK policy rather than choose to do things differently.  In the same way, those (like David) who believe that size is important and confers automatic advantage build a different set of assumptions into their economic model for the future and, unsurprisingly, come to a different conclusion – but they can’t prove it either.
There’s nothing wrong with either of those positions; but equally, neither of them is intrinsically ‘right’.  They simply start from a different ideological perspective.  The debate about the future of Wales would be of a higher quality and much more interesting if we could admit to those underlying ideological differences and the assumptions to which they lead rather than demanding that ‘the other side’ accept the economic projections based on ’our’ set of assumptions.  An apparent ‘open-mindedness’ which demands that someone ‘proves’ something to be true within the constraints of the questioner’s own world view isn’t open-mindedness at all; it’s simply dogmatic assertion.  For all the apparently open comments made by people like David, I don’t believe that they will ever change their minds because the real block isn’t economics at all, it’s their own view of what the world is and how it should be.

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