by Henry Hill
Friday, 5
March 2021
Debate
11:29

Mark Drakeford’s unworkable vision for the Union

Devolutionaries cannot expect to gain Welsh independence with British cash
by Henry Hill
Mark Drakeford and Boris Johnson in one of their few meet-ups. Credit: Getty

Wales is often the forgotten frontier when it comes to the fight for the Union, eclipsed by more dramatic events in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, seems determined to change that. This week his Labour administration came out for ‘home rule’, and Drakeford personally attacked the Government for its “aggressively unilateral” approach to running the United Kingdom.

By this, he’s referring to measures such as the UK Internal Market Act, which has empowered Westminster to spend additional funds in devolved policy areas. This means extra money for Welsh and Scottish voters and there is precious little evidence they object to it — but it’s a threat to the importance of devocrats like Drakeford, and they know it.

If you want to see what their preferred model for a ‘new form of Union’ would be like, then Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s transport minister gives us an idea. In a recent appearance before the Welsh Affairs Committee, he said that the “perfect solution” would be devolved responsibility for spending and investment.

But as Robin Millar, a Tory MP and leading figure in the new Union Resources Unit, pointed out, there was no mention of responsibility for raising revenue. When it came to the cash, at least, Skates is a strong believer in the United Kingdom.

It’s important that commentators outside Wales grasp that the current Welsh Government is not simply a unionist one whose attacks on the British Government should be taken in good faith. Its ministers deny British nationhood and accuse their UK counterparts of ‘colonial attitudes’ for commenting on Welsh affairs. Labour is even running pro-independence candidates for the Senedd.

Nor should we neglect the important context that if recent polls are right, Drakeford will need to strike a deal with Plaid Cymru to hold onto his job after the upcoming elections. If the Liberal Democrats get wiped out, it could divide the Welsh Parliament into a red/green ‘nationalist bloc’ and a Tory/Abolish ‘unionist bloc’ — a development which will likely further polarise the two mainstream parties on the constitutional issue.

Federalism of the Drakeford school is simply the nationalism of the numerate. It wants to replace British institutions with intra-Home Nations horse trading and does not subscribe to the idea that ‘the British’ are a legitimate political community. But it simultaneously demands the continued existence of a ‘British taxpayer’, prepared to stump up for regional transfers to people who do not wish to be considered their compatriots.

It’s an unworthy and unworkable vision for our country. Even if endlessly handing over more power to the devocrats ‘worked’ when it came to keeping the UK together — and it obviously hasn’t — unionists have legitimate questions to ask about what sort of country they’re actually fighting for.

The future of the UK hinges on the existence of legitimate British institutions that deliver for every part of the country, and that impose reasonable restrictions on the devolved governments to maintain political consent for fiscal transfers.

Devolutionaries like to talk about ‘the best of both worlds’. But they need to realise that this cannot mean ‘Welsh independence with British cash’.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
36 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Drakeford’s only vision, like all such people, is to take as much money from the English as is possible while accruing to himself and his cronies as much power and money as is possible. We have known this for many years and there is nothing more to be said.

Last edited 1 year ago by Fraser Bailey
Martin Price
Martin Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Drakeford is in the pocket of the public sector unions. Giving him more power will be a disaster for Wales. I wish the Welsh electorate will see the need to remove him but I fear the economic dominance of the public sector in Wales will guarantee this will not happen. This imbalance of the public sector to the economy also means the country will never be able to pay its own way in the world.

Neil Papadeli
Neil Papadeli
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Price

There are Welsh success stories but I fear they would high tail it to England if Independence becomes a possibility – which, incidentally I don’t believe for one second. The Welsh have a healthy disrespect for political institutions, RFU and WAG especially; in my experience there is a tiny, tiny minority in Wales who believe WAG could run an independent nation.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

I have worked in factories and Engineering in Wales for the last 45 years. I have seen Wales get poorer and poorer in that time. Scotland has not declined in the same way because of North Sea oil – the revenues and also the attraction of other US support companies. Scotland has a good relationship with the United States, so good in fact that Little Jimmy Osmond used to come over every year for pantomime until his recent heart attack.
The politicians here only talk about independence (or the language). Most of the parties standing in the coming election favour independence. Nobody ever talks about money.
Every year there are about 7 or 8 surveys (paid for by the Welsh Assembly) to ask about independence. Usually, about 25% say ‘yes’, 45% say ‘no’ and the rest are ‘don’t knows’. The politicians then ignore the ‘don’t knows’, which arithmetically means that they are assumed to be 50/50, and recalculate to come up with a headline figure which is in the late-30s percent ‘favouring’ independence. They then crow to each other about this figure. Cloud cuckoo land, with each cuckoo trying to outdo the other.
What is the point of this? We need jobs, not surveys. Is there anybody real out there?

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Living in the Scottish Highlands for the last 15 years I don’t see much difference. There are a lot of public sector jobs (especially when you include defense) up here that are paid for by the British. There are probably an equal or greater number where the family hasn’t held a taxable job for a generation or two. Not at all sure what would happen in the event of independence.

croftyass
croftyass
1 year ago

Not at all sure what would happen in the event of independence.
Exponential growth as a member of the EU-Sturgeon say so!

SUSAN GRAHAM
SUSAN GRAHAM
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Good points, I am English and have lived in Wales for over twenty years and in all that time I have never – in public and private sector jobs – heard any ordinary person express any desire for independence. The politicians – and I use the word loosely – are the only ones pushing this mantra, no doubt mimicking Sturgeon, whose days are numbered, closely followed by Drakeford, and that Price fellow is a joke. There isn’t the anti English feeling here as there is in Scotland – mainly admittedly fed by the SNP. That is evidenced during the six nations – a Wales/England international has a carnival atmosphere, mainly good natured competition. The very idea of Welsh independence is delusional – the Assembly is no more than a town council who would struggle to run a bath let alone a country.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  SUSAN GRAHAM

I originally came from England but now I say that I am Welsh. There is a tiny amount of anti-English feeling in Gwynedd, and in South Wales the feeling is more anti-Margaret Thatcher. So I agree.
I can only say that either:
a) The politicians have a secret plan and they are not willing to share it until independence comes along or,
b) They are corrupt, meaning that they talk about independence because they can’t think of anything else to say.
I have to say that I am in favour of independence but not until there is a clear way forward which everyone could buy into. If Drakeford said, “Our plan is to do x and gain income from y and improve the layout of the country by z – so that then we can be independent with confidence.” – I think that most people would vote for it. Otherwise we would always be a poor relation of England.

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

My Welsh friends are are very vituperative against the Welsh politicians. Big fish in a small sea is too polite. But, why wouldn’t you love being a Welsh (or Scottish) politician?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

Either the Welsh Devolution Bill should be repealed immediately or the block grant to Wales reduced to the same per capita spend as England’s.
Off course the same should apply to Scotland although that may mean a repeat of Culloden.
Frankly, it is an outrage that the English taxpayer is expected to continually subsidise these ungrateful parasites.
We have a Tory Government with a thumping majority, so now let us see it act like one.

Last edited 1 year ago by Charles Stanhope
Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago

Maybe the British should apply the same formula as the English did with the Scottish Lords. Offer Nicky a great big pension and preferably a nice house in Australia – sorry but she’s got to go somewhere.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

How very cruel.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
1 year ago

What a grudge against Australia!

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
1 year ago

Maybe St Helena? Napoleon’s old place could be re-purposed.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The main thing is that the UK government does not come up with a policy of appeasement. The obvious reason for this is that the appeasement would continue to feed the cuckoos politicians. At the moment there are also complaints that the UK taxpayer is not giving enough money to Wales – the comparisons are always Scotland and Northern Ireland but never England (see Mr Stanhope below). At the moment the UK taxpayer is subsidising Wales to the tune of about £4,500 per head. Where would this money come from after independence? One of the many surveys asked, “Would you vote for Independence if we then had an automatic entry into the EU (meaning somebody to give us money). The positive figure was higher but that is never going to happen.
Wales complains that the money is not enough but we have free prescriptions, extra money to poor families, no tuition fees for students, special grants for students to travel. If there is more money, there is more to give away. The UK needs to turn around and say, “You are the Welsh Assembly. It is your job to get more investment into Wales.”
In the election I am confident that the true Welsh people, not the well-off middle classes will also ask this question.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The challenges you throw down are perfectly fair to us in Wales. As a former member of Plaid, I sadly have to admit that Plaid has no answers for you. But I do. We have to start by raising our own taxes. We have to face the issue of a shortfall in revenue, to which there are answers, not that we hear them. It is degrading to depend on Westminster subsidy, though not to Welsh Labour. Having tackled (not necessarily solved 100%) the tax question we can turn to the Constitution. Call a Wales Convention get it to write down what the Welsh actually want. And pass it, obviously, even if London’s not happy. Oh, and bring back the WDA of course!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Good to hear some sense. Gave up on Plaid years ago.
Agree on taxing but with a small caveat. At the moment, a relatively high proportion of Wales’ population (compared to England) is working for the government. To carry this forward to independence, that proportion could rise. So to increase taxes when you are paying the wages does not produce wealth.
About 4 weeks ago in the First Minister’s broadcast there was a tame question about the loss of British Volt to the Newport area, which is the loss of 3-5000 high wage jobs. Drakeford just shrugged and said, “There’ll be other opportunities”. There is a lot of industry available to Wales which is ignored. There doesn’t seem to be a forum to discuss it.
I am pro-independence but not if the only idea is that we swap the UK-taxpayer for the EU (which won’t happen anyway).

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

That’s the Greek solution: the only taxpayers are those working for the government and their wages come out of taxes …

Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton
1 year ago

That would be “intra-Home Nations horse trading” with English taxpayers’ money of course. That “special relationship” thing.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

I apologise for copying the paragraph below which I typed an hour ago on another thread.
“I think Drakeford is on the way out. I had a call from the Labour Party yesterday – for Covid reasons they are canvassing for the election by telephone this year. The first question was, “How do you rate Drakeford’s handling of the Covid 19 pandemic?” You can imagine that the average answer will be about 2/10. Why ask that question at the start of the canvassing?”

Martin Price
Martin Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I don’t see it the same way Chris. The BBC coverage of Drakeford’s handling of the pandemic has been totally supportive – making it out to be almost Churchillian – it will take the electorate to see through this as well as the Labour legacy.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Price

I agree but at least they didn’t give him his own daily show unlike up here.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Price

The BBC always loves a Scottish or a Welsh nationalist.

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
1 year ago

Why on Earth doesn’t the UK simply go for a federal structure ? A United States/Kingdoms model with national governemtns and a Federal Government. Each national Governemtn able to set its own national laws and raise taxes. A new ‘Federal ‘ Government to replace Westminster and with powers etc agreed by each nation – including an English national Government. Stop this ‘devolution’ line of thinking .

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
1 year ago

Simply because England is too big, too wealthy by comparison and would hold all the power.

geoff.stockham53
geoff.stockham53
1 year ago

People will begin to believe that nobody in Wales has ever paid any tax! The peoples of these islands have distinct identities and cultures. There is no such language as British nor I suspect a British culture(substitute English). The English assume too much. The wealth of these islands has been created by all e.g Welsh iron, steel and coal with English cities being supplied with Welsh Water at reduced rates. Time to grow up.
PS and once again England failed to beat Wales at rugby, carry on complaining and claiming “we wuz robbed”

David Waters
David Waters
1 year ago

Of course the Welsh pay tax. Just not enough to cover the cost of public spending in Wales. Either the Welsh should pay more tax, or have less public spending, or some combination of the two. They could then seriously contemplate independence. Without that, forget independence and abolish the assembly.
We can forget the inane nineteenth-century arguments. And the rugby reference is childish – regrettably, Wales has little to identify itself as a nation other than the 15 men in red and a small, difficult language spoken by a minority.

geoff.stockham53
geoff.stockham53
1 year ago
Reply to  David Waters

Typical myopic, arrogant and elitist opinion. Sensible people will understand both national and regional variations. It is pretty obvious that even in England there are wide disparities. England (Westminster) only ever consider themselves and their elites at the expense of others, same as it was for those glorious days of Empire!!!!

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
1 year ago

As things stand, Wales could not stand on its own financial feet. Nor could Northern Ireland, Scotland, the North East of England, Cornwall, and heaven knows where else. Fiscal transfers are necessary and desirable. They would end if the Scots or the Welsh insisted on independence. It would be impossible for any political party to go into an election in England promising to continue those transfers. It is possible, though hardly likely, that Scotland and or Wales would be admitted to the European Union. Would the Germans take on the liability for the fiscal transfers? If they did, look out for the Greek treatment. Devolution was planned as the answer to the threat to Labour posed by the nationalists. By no objective criteria has it been a success. Jobs for politicians and quangocrats appears to have been the one growth area.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  David Waters

It is estimated that each person in the UK needs £12,000 to support them – for services like schools and roads and police and health, etc. Wales gets about £7500 of this from direct taxes paid by Welsh people and is paid £4500 per person from HQ (the British taxpayer). Some of this central tax (but not a lot) comes from Welsh income tax. So Wales needs a gift of about £15 billion per annum to keep going.
Before everybody gets heated about this, just about the same is true for Lancashire and Yorkshire which are about as poor as Wales.
Scotland does best out of this because its provides about £9,500 per person internally but gets more money on a per capita basis than Wales or Lancashire or Yorkshire from the central taxpayer. Northern Ireland is the poorest.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The grant to Northern Ireland is by far the greatest on a per capita basis. Why?

Blackmail, the threat of violence is never far below the surface, as was seen recently over EU customs incident in Larne.

Until we are free of Northern Ireland this will always be the case. Additionally our Imperial Masterthe US watches our every move.

What a pity we didn’t abandon the place in 1922 as we should have. That wretch, David Lloyd George has a lot to answer for.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago

Yes I agree. But I guess that somebody from Northern Ireland has to say something as well.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
1 year ago

“There is no such language as British?” … or Scandinavian … or Belgian … or Swiss … so what? We all communicate with English.
“There is no … British culture?” You obviously have not travelled much; I have lived and worked in 23 other cultures and I identified British culture by its absence thereof.

nicktoeman4
nicktoeman4
1 year ago

If the rugby ref’s decisions had been the other way around the Welsh would have complained at least as much. The ref. has since ackowledged he got both the first two Welsh try decisions wrong. Wales played a steady and canny game that might have won the match anyway, we’ll never know, but England may have condeeded so many penalties because of trying extra hard to make up for those 14 mistaken points.
Off topic, but so were you Geoff.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

There are two reasons why you think there is no British culture:
1) Because you live in Britain and it is normal for you, it is part of you. So you don’t see it.
2) Britain is one of the oldest civilised countries and it has had its fair share of invaders. So the north is ex-Viking, the south is more French, the west is more Celtic, etc.
I am Welsh and I know that there is no central Welsh culture either. My wife is from a mining community in South Wales but a lot of her family live in North Wales. There are no proper roads between the two. North Wales (Gwynedd) lives on tourism, South Wales is desperately poor because it was industrial and the industry has gone. The very north of Wales is commuter belt for Manchester and Liverpool. There is a Welsh language spoken in Gwynedd but it is a lot different from Welsh in the Rhondda. Yes, it is the same language like Geordie and Scouse and East London and Kent and Birmingham. Dialects where people can barely understand each other.
I believe in Welsh independence but not because of some mythical culture. I believe that Wales will always be poor because of the rule from London, just like Lancashire and Yorkshire but they are very unlikely to get independence. If you believe in Welsh independence think about money and incomes, not about poetry and rugby.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
1 year ago

Some might say that you let your nation down by writing so immaturely?
Yes there is a past history but there will be no reparations ( unless the UK taxpayer is subsidising Wales as it does is thought as such!). I am Welsh, born and bred, educated here and decided to stay and work here and bring up my children here, and pay my taxes here and help make the place work. 64 years have passed me by and I witness how an almost unaccountable socialist cabal further hold back any real progress towards policies for economic prosperity . I honestly believe that if the Devil asked the “Bay Cabal” whether it would choose a Monolingual Welsh speaking nation over a thriving economically sound they would go for the former. Drakeford always was a Nationalist. Narrowmindedness rules OK.

Last edited 1 year ago by hugh bennett