Monday 18 July 2016

I have been a Federalist since the end of the 1970’s but it is time to consider Wales’s relationship with England in a post Brexit world.

Over the last 20 years Wales has faced many a cross road – but nothing like what it is coming up against now.

We must be very careful that Wales does not end up as an annexe of England – or ‘For Wales see England’

It took over 30 years after the Carmarthen by-election of 1966 for Wales to get its own Assembly – that is after 8 General Elections and 2 Referendums.

Yet twenty years on our Senedd does not have anything like the powers of the Scottish Parliament and in truth it is a constant struggle to be granted additional powers - as witness the last few years.

Meanwhile devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament increases at regular intervals and it is by now a powerful devolved body.

Just as the economic, business and industrial structure of Wales has changed significantly in the last quarter of a century so has its demography – with 30% of the people living in Wales born outside of the country.

Forty eight percent of people living in Wales live within 25 miles of Offa’s Dyke and 140,000 people cross that border every day to work. The equivalent statistics for Scotland is 4% live within 25 miles of the English border and some 30,000 cross it every day.

But it is not only the economic and demographic scene that is changing but also the political composition of Wales. So that by today near enough 35% of the people of Wales voted twice over the last year for centre-right parties. 

The growth of UKIP is hard to accept – a party with its roots firmly located in England.
Then our people get their main news form London/Westminster axis.

The Welsh people are not regularly exposed and certainly not over-exposed to news about Senedd matters, despite the fact that it is responsible for key policy areas such as health and education

A recent survey shows that whilst the Western Mail carries the most comprehensive coverage of the Senedd, fewer than 4% of people in Wales regularly read it; when asked to name their main newspaper, just 1% of respondents said The Western Mail.

The Daily Mail, by contrast, is almost ten times more likely to be named as a main daily newspaper and is read regularly by four times more people in Wales than The Western Mail. The Guardian is read by 10%, Mirror and the Sun around 6% each with the Telegraph and Times at some 5% each.

The BBC News at Six or Ten is watched by nearly 37% of respondents regularly, while 30% of people tune into the BBC News channel. ITV’s Evening News or News at Ten and Sky News are viewed less often – 11% and 13% respectively – but still rank as key sources relative to other news produced in Wales.

Possibly the final warning sign for me was the fact that Wales voted to leave the EU – the country that has benefited most from being a member.  Our agriculture, less prosperous areas, the rural and tourist economy as well as the education and business sector has received considerable investment and support.

Now with England and Wales voting to leave the EU whilst Scotland and Northern Ireland did not there is emerging a range of significant constitutional issues.

Therefore Wales has to be very careful that it does not become and annex of England sometime in the future after possibly Scotland has left the UK Union and a new framework could possibly be created for the island of Ireland.

So we live in tumultuous times and the events of the last couple of weeks has thrown up surprising outcomes – A Prime Minister and his henchman gone, Theresa May the new PM, three Brexiteers in charge of international and EU relations and a cull of Cameron’s cabinet with senior people dispensed with notably Gove.

The uncertainties are numerous and that is there is no strategy  for the future other than PR and bluster. Culminating in the new Chancellor saying that  the UK might not have left the EU by even 2022.

Then Prime Minster May is desperately wanting to arrive at an accommodation with Nicola Sturgeon as to the way ahead and when to venture opening the Article 50 can of worms – and big worms at that!

In the middle of all this Wales and its politicians must be ever so alert and wake up from its slumber.

The early signs are not good – it can’t be steady as she goes any longer, as it has been since the Assembly was created. Softly, softly I don’t think will work now.

As a people we need to think long and hard as to the future and plan now for all eventualities.

This is why I spoke at the Yes Cymru Rally in Carmarthen last Saturday and in support of its principles. However to succeed it has to be firmly rooted in a non-party and cross-party campaign. 

Otherwise it will be become a party political football as in days of old.

There is time in the coming months to move forward positively and develop a strategic plan for action.To win the hearts and minds of the people of Wales.