In classical terms, ‘independence’ means being completely free from the authority or influence of everything and everybody. However, I suspect what many individuals view the word to represent is utter freedom of expression, untrammelled by the rule of law and other significant influences.
When considering the use of the term 'independence' in the context of a nation community such as Wales, I would hazard that most people think of the freedom of action within the nation community in which one lives.
But no country in this complex and interconnected world can today claim to be truly independent in the technical sense, because such nations are rare in international law—unless subject to wholesale sanctions!
So what therefore do people mean by 'freedom of action' or 'freedom to decide'?
To me 'independence' means an acceptable and reasonable level of freedom within the context and environment our nation finds itself, including a gamut of extant treaty obligations.
Today, Wales by law is part of the condominium of a unitary state that is known as the United Kingdom and therefore exercises all its composite rights, duties and responsibilities—with devolution attached as a rather recent afterthought to the model.
Nevertheless, within such a concept there must be the capacity for Wales, as a land and nation, to enjoy and exercise a substantial and increasing amount of self-government, and to promote its own identity in relationships with neighbours and more broadly, internationally.
In other words, the United Kingdom is not a dull, grey and tired homogeneity, but a rich mosaic where the national patterns of the constituent countries must be allowed to flourish free from the extensive centralisation of powers held by Westminster and the Whitehall establishment.
So what is possible within the decade ahead? I have already argued (September 20th) on this blog for the need to establish a broad based Welsh Constitutional Convention to explore other constitutional models from federalism to confederalism.
I believe it is the best way forward to set up a forum in Wales along the lines of the 1990s Scottish Constitutional Convention which was a broad based coalition, including representatives from all political parties, local authorities, trade unions and small businesses etc. with the purpose of fostering a spirit of inclusion, democratic dialogue and consensus to arrive at the 'settled will of the people'.
I recommend we affirm:
· A commitment to ensure increasing self-government for Wales as part of the wider nation-building process and to greater sovereignty akin to Dominion Status. Although there was no formal definition of dominion status, a pronouncement by the Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the dominions as “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs. It was the term chosen to describe the position of the self-governing member states of the inter-war Commonwealth. The need to arrive at a similar position is much more urgent now in light of the United Kingdom’s possible departure from the EU.
· The continued need for close collaboration among the four nations of Britain, notwithstanding the precise constitutional status of the four. I believe that the SNP in Scotland campaigns with this point very much at the forefront when discussing ‘independence’, seemingly understanding the subtleties of the modern context more so than our politicians in Wales.
It is interesting to note that I am these days often reminded that Gwynfor Evans did not advocate ‘independence’ in a classical sense. I can only comment that if he had actually explained his position more candidly to his supporters and the wider audience in Wales during the 1960s and 70s, both he and I would have inevitably found some common ground and, who knows, the constitutional situation in Wales today would have progressed much further than the uninspiring cycle of middle management governance we now find ourselves locked-in through devolution.
The reality is that the word 'independence' was and is a dirty word in many circles and has been used to create divisions and fear, enabling our detractors to raise questions as to how an empowered Wales with greater responsibilities for shaping its own future could survive.
May I suggest we reframe the question along the lines of what relationship Wales wishes to have with its neighbours going forward, rather than how separate we should stand.