The time has now arrived for a Wales Constitutional Convention.
Over the last 18 months, along
with my colleague Alun Gibbard, I have been engrossed in the writing of a book,
soon to be published, on the story of devolution and the nationhood of Wales from
1880 to 1980. The book will be called ‘Whose Wales?’. It trails the
contributions of the political parties to that turbulent century.
So my mind is full of the
details of the turmoil and divisions between and within the political parties
over the future of Wales.
Essentially the end of the nineteenth
century and early part of the twentieth century was a period where the debate
over the nationhood of Wales was very much to the fore. Then the period of the
two world wars coupled with the economic depression of the 1920s and 30s
inevitably took predominance and the debate was broadly, although not entirely,
silenced for over 30 years.
After the Second World War
under the determined campaigning of Jim Griffiths, Cledwyn Hughes and others inside
the Labour Party for a Secretary of State and a Welsh Office, then followed by the Campaign for a Welsh Parliament
in the mid-1950s devolution was once again back on the agenda. Then followed the establishment of a Secretary of State and
a Welsh Office in 1964, which was a seminal moment. It firmly established that
Wales was accepted after over 400 years as a distinct and separate arm of the
administration of government. In fact
one could say it recognised Wales as a land and nation – regions don’t have a
Secretary of State and their own offices.
Within living memory, we have witnessed
the turbulent decade after the Carmarthen, Caerphilly, and Rhondda West by-elections,
the Kilbrandon Report in the early 70s, and the heated and emotive devolution
referendum of 1979. That referendum was a resounding
defeat by almost a 4:1 majority and it killed off any prospects of devolution
in Wales for a generation, although, as I will show in another book out first
half of next year many of us endeavored to keep the debate on the agenda. The SDP/Liberal
Alliance in Wales in the 1980s, who consistently argued for a federal structure to the governing
of the UK in a period when the other parties had fallen silent.
to the creation of a Welsh Assembly with executive powers was again put into the
Labour Party manifesto for the 1992 General Election.
There then followed
a new momentum into the whole debate coming from the Scottish Constitutional
Convention and devolution soon came back centre stage. Eventually, it all led to
the 1997 referendum and this time, without a 40% threshold as there’d been in
1997, the vote for a Welsh Assembly went through on the filmiest of majorities
with 50.3% voting yes.
We tend to
forget the March 3, 2011, referendum in Wales on whether the Welsh Assembly should have full
law-making powers in the twenty subject areas where it had jurisdiction.
Overall, 63.49% voted 'yes', and 36.51% voted 'no'. The First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Today an old nation
came of age."
Indeed at the
end of 2013 he went further and said the current constitutional
arrangements were no longer functioning and the UK must continue down the road
to becoming a federal nation in 2014. He has repeated that call for a federal
solution several times since.
Of course the result of the
Brexit referendum in 2016 transformed the nature of the debate over the
governance of the UK. Indeed an enormous bibliography has been built up on the
subject as witness in the Facebook page of #WalesNationalConversation (@SgwrsCenedl
on Twitter). People like Dr. John Ball, Owen Donovan, David Melding MS, Glyndwr
C Jones and many others have contributed to ongoing conversation over the
Then the online publication
Nation Cymru has been at the forefront as well as of course YesCymru who,
without doubt, has injected a considerable amount of momentum into the whole
debate over the last four years with its campaign for Welsh independence.
It is also fair to say that
under the leadership of Adam Price, Plaid Cymru has emerged from a long period
of silence, essentially twenty years, over the future governance of Wales. His
regular call for independence has become considerably more heightened..
So in 2020, having left the
European Union, the future of the UK Union is increasingly coming centre stage.
It is clear that it is beginning to occupy the minds of the political parties and
not just the nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales. Indeed there is
developing a growing debate in England as to the nature of that country’s
The introduction of the Internal
Market Bill has further heightened the debate and nowhere more so than within
the Parliaments of the devolved nations. In essence the future of the devolved
settlement after twenty years is in
Here in Wales a succession of
Labour figures have raised their concerns and serious worries.
The First Minister has called
the bill an‘’ an enormous power grab – undermining powers that have
belonged to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for over 20 years … and that
it will do more to hasten the break-up of the Union than anything else since
Very recently Jeremy
Miles, the Welsh Government Brexit minister said that the Internal Market bill
is “an attack on democracy” which will “sacrifice the future of the union by
stealing powers from devolved administrations”. He then goes on to state that imposing a new UK internal market after the end of
the Brexit transition period will “accelerate the break-up of the Union”.
what needs to happen?
in the first instance, the endless speeches, articles and various campaigns have to
be augmented by concrete action, coupled with a meeting of minds on the way
ahead. We all know that the political parties are divided, and yes there are
internal divisions as well. It is well understood that there are differing
opinions over whether the future lies in devo-max, federalism, confederalism,
independence within the EU, or any other option. No more needs to be said on
that subject at present and in any case, it’s a distraction given the situation
This meeting of minds
needs to understand that choices between nationalism, socialism, liberalism or
anything else is not the central issue – it’s all about the future governance and the nationhood of Wales.
To my mind in this
crucial period the Welsh Parliament needs to clearly state that yes it is right
and proper that the people of Wales should have a say over its future and just
as what’s going on in Scotland it should prepare draft legislation to that
Adam Price makes the
point very well:
not asking the Senedd to support independence today, but asking the Senedd to
support the principle that the people of Wales should decide,"
Welsh Government needs to establish a Wales Constitution Convention of people
from all parties and none, linked to regional Peoples Assemblies. Personally, I
and several others have been advocating all this since 2016.
this is necessary so that Boris Johnson’s government and Westminster gets a
clear message that Wales means business and will not be brushed aside. Words
and platitudes do not measure up to the dangers that face us now.
be apposite if the message is heard on this day of all days – Owain Glyndwr