Thursday 22 February 2007

Neighbours from Hell?

In his new book 'Neighbours from Hell?', Mike Parker - an Englishman who has made Wales his home - disagrees with the tired old argument that Wales, as part of the UK, gets much more than her fair share of money, and that the economy would collapse if Wales gained independence.

OK, we may not have Scotland's Oil, but isn't Water 'the New Oil' in the 21st century? And Water is something we have plenty of...

The central thrust is always the same: that Wales (and Scotland) get way more than their fair share of money and power, and that the poor 'taxpayers of England are forever giving hand-outs to the other parts of. the UK. Some more rabid commentators take their thoughts further and regularly describe Wales as the 'Albania of the British Isles' (or of Western Europe), and declare that the Welsh economy would collapse without the munificence of the English tax-payer.

The figures show that the Wales-to-UK proportion in population, public expenditure and tax revenue are all fairly close, and that Wales, despite being one of the hardest-hit areas in western Europe, receives considerably less per capita than Scotland, Northern Ireland, or parts of England. In a way, however, that's not the point. Although the foaming-at-the-mouth English nationalists, who stalk the internet and are for ever ranting on radio phone-ins, would like to believe the same old rubbish that has been spouted for most of the last two hundred years, it is patently untrue. Even in the current situation, in the aftermath of the swingeing destruction of Welsh heavy industry and with an economy that is relegated to the status of marginal there is much potential in Wales. It exports gas, oil and refined oil, electricity, food and many industrial components. There are thriving information technology, specialist research and cultural industries. Perhaps most importantly, every pundit is pointing to water becoming the essential commodity of the next few decades; something that Wales has been exporting in huge quantity for over a century now (interestingly, English consumers generally pay considerably less for Welsh water than do customers in Wales). Many valuable minerals still lie within the Welsh landscape. Wales has all the ingredients for a successful, integrated economy, and all the necessary enterprise to make it happen.

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