Sunday 10 August 2008

Independence on the agenda again - Tomos Livingstone

A good column by Tomos Livingstone in yesterday's Western Mail:

Independence on the agenda again

Aug 9 2008 by Tomos Livingstone, Western Mail

INDEPENDENCE, a taboo subject in the recent past even for those Welsh politicians who supported the idea, has stepped subtly back into the limelight.

Developments in Scotland, where a popular SNP administration rules at Holyrood, and David Cameron’s flirtation with a rights-for-England agenda, mean Wales has to take what used to be called “the National Question” seriously again.

Independence might not command much support among the public – 10-15% depending on which opinion poll you choose – but Plaid Cymru now feels confident enough to launch its Independence Initiative, a group within the party aimed at debating the idea.

Whereas once Plaid toned down talk of independence for fear of scaring away voters, this week we had Helen Mary Jones in full battle cry with a piece for this newspaper setting out the case for going it alone. So it seems a good moment to report briefly on some of my own research into the subject: namely whether the sums can be made to add up.

It’s incredibly difficult to get a definitive answer but there are some interesting pointers as to what a Welsh state’s balance sheet might look like. According to Oxford Economics, Wales raised £17.8bn in taxes (income, national insurance, corporation tax etc) in the financial year 2005-06. That would pay for public spending levels of around £6,000 per head; in fact, in 2005-06 Welsh public spending (by Westminster and WAG) was £7,666 a head.

Aha, I hear you cry: proof that Wales can’t afford independence. But every Government borrows to balance the books, and an independent Welsh administration would be no different. To plug the spending gap, Wales would need to borrow between £1.7bn and £3bn each year, depending on which economist or academic you ask (I’ve tried a few), plus the proportion of UK debt it would presumably inherit by leaving the Union.

Sounds like a lot, but bear in mind Welsh GDP in 2005-06 totalled around £42bn, according to the Office for National Statistics. You could borrow £16bn and still be within Gordon Brown’s golden rules on debt, although whether that would be prudent, still less whether any bank would lend the cash, is another matter entirely.

Plenty of other things need to be taken into account: EU funds would presumably still come to Wales; an independent Wales may decide to vary its tax regime one way or the other, skewing the figures; and try working out where defence spending fits into all this and you’re in for a fruitless afternoon.

None of this is intended to make the definitive case one way or the other. If anyone has a clearer body of work on a theoretical independent Wales, please tell me. I think it might become a pretty useful document in the decade ahead.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Independent Wales can win - Helen Mary Jones

Below is a copy of an article written by Helen Mary Jones in the Western Mail on August 5th 2008. Nice to see Plaid Cymru members openly discussing Independence. It's about time!

ON August 5, 1925, during the Eisteddfod in Pwllheli, a small group met to create Plaid Cymru, a movement formed out of the desire to put the interests of Wales first. They came from all parts of Wales. From small beginnings, our predecessors pressed the case for freedom for our nation. So, it is fitting that during another Eisteddfod, I write about the initiative that will step up our efforts to secure independence for our nation.

The founders of our party realised that Wales needed a party of Wales, because the London parties would always ignore our country. They had faith, as we still have faith, that the people of Wales have the talent, skill and courage to take our place on the world stage. That Wales can do it. They knew it would be a long road, but they never waivered.

Plaid Cymru has an ultimate goal, a vision for our country. Our vision is of an independent Wales standing shoulder to shoulder with the nations of the world and extending a hand of friendship both within and beyond these islands. Our vision of an independent Wales is rooted in the needs of the everyday lives of the people of Wales.

Our love for our country is matched by our confidence in our country, our people and our land. We are confident that steering our own course we can build a modern, just and prosperous nation – something that government from London has failed to do.

The London parties, the unionists, have obstructed us. They don’t want Wales to be an independent and free nation. They want us to think that we will have to rely on London forever. That we cannot stand on our own two feet.

They say Wales can’t; we say Wales can. They talk our country and our people down, because they want the status quo. They lack faith in the people of Wales.

The unionists say we are too poor to become an independent nation. That’s just not the case. Global experience demonstrates that, in today’s developed world, neither a country’s size nor its location are barriers to success. The only poverty that is absolutely self-sustaining is the poverty of our imagination, our self-belief.

Our opponents say we want to break up Britain. We seek not to break up, but to rebuild. Rebuild the nations of Britain on the basis of equality, strengthening the bonds of friendship between the nations of Britain. It’s not a surprise that some MPs are the ones who argue for keeping control in London – their jobs are at risk.

There are some who say that campaigning for an independent Wales is narrow-minded. But for hundreds of years those same people, the politicians in London have been telling us that only London knows best, that only officials and politicians in Whitehall can make things work. Aren’t they the narrow-minded ones?

There are those who argue that Wales’ constitutional status is an irrelevance. Yet, in Scotland, they will be scrapping the hugely unpopular council tax, relieving the tax burden from those on the lowest incomes. Such a change is not possible in Wales because of the limited powers of our current National Assembly. Strengthening our constitution is the key to delivering social justice for our citizens.

The London parties claim Wales is too small and insignificant to fight its corner on the international stage. But, half the members of the UN are smaller than, or the same size as Wales. In Europe, the smaller nations often perform best economically and socially. The citizens of small and medium-sized independent countries such as Ireland and Sweden are wealthier and healthier. The people of Wales deserve such a future.

Take Iceland as an example. It has a population of around 300,000 and is the tenth most prosperous country in the world (by GDP per capita) according to the International Monetary Fund. It is also the second most equal society in Europe. If Iceland can do it, Wales can. Norway is the third most prosperous country in the world. Ireland is the seventh most prosperous country in the world. The people of Wales could be just as prosperous as those small independent countries. In fact, eight of the 10 richest countries in the world have a population of less than 10 million.

The question the London-based parties always refuse to answer is what they think makes the people of Wales inferior to the people of Ireland, Iceland, Finland or Norway. They cannot answer because of course we are not inferior. We could be a real success as a small independent nation in Europe.

I believe we in Wales should take our place among the nations of the world as an outward-looking, equal and prosperous nation. The journey towards independence is one that must be led by the people of Wales, because it is the people who are sovereign. Every significant step along the way will be subject to a referendum.

Of course, our immediate job as a party is to continue to deliver in the One Wales government and secure a successful outcome in a referendum before 2011 for more Assembly powers.

But we need to keep sight of our ultimate goal. That’s why the launch of the Independence Initiative is so important.

There is no doubt that the London parties will oppose us until the bitter end, but our history tells us that by persevering we will succeed.

Helen Mary Jones AM - Plaid Cymru