Jane Dodds writes: Status quo or independence aren’t the only options for Wales – a federal UK is possible

The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown down some fundamental challenges to politicians about the future of our society, our economy, our healthcare system, and the nature of work.

Among those challenges, the pandemic has shown that we need fundamental political reform. The sight of MPs queueing around the Palace of Westminster to vote, when every other democratic Parliament – including our own here in Wales – functions remotely, has brought home the archaic nature of the Westminster system.

To face the challenges of the post-coronavirus world, we have to do so much better.

For us in Wales, managing coronavirus has posed some important questions about the functioning of devolution. Health is devolved, and we have our own lockdown rules, with the Government clear decisions about the future of those rules will be taken in Wales. However, the key funding decisions are largely taken in London.

There have been mixed messages from London, where the UK Government at times appears to have barely acknowledged that Wales (or Scotland and Northern Ireland for that matter) have their own administrations and rules.

Despite the best efforts of the Welsh Government to deliver a clear message, many people in Wales get their news from the London-based media. As a result, many people in Wales, and in England, have sometimes been confused about the fact that the rules are different here.

Liberal Democrats believe the relationship between Wales and Westminster has to be reset.

We have long argued for the full implementation of the Silk Commission recommendations, including the devolution of criminal justice to Wales.

We have seen how difficulties can arise when an issue like Covid-19 cuts across the boundaries of the devolution settlement. The Welsh Government has responsibility for the lockdown, but without the means to fund decisions taken independently of Westminster.

And this follows a pattern. We have seen how the current Conservative government has undermined the principle of devolution – from the failure to provide Barnett consequential on HS2 expenditure, to Boris Johnson’s desire to take replacement EU funding out of our hands, to Welsh Government being excluded from the trade negotiations with the EU.

Most recently, following votes in the UK Parliament, the future of Welsh agriculture is now deeply uncertain despite it being a devolved issue. With Welsh Conservative MPs voting with the UK Government, food hygiene and animal welfare standards are now up for grabs in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

We have even seen Conservative MPs in England taking to Twitter to argue that devolution should be abolished, all so their constituents can drive to Welsh beaches during lockdown. Disrespect for Wales and our devolved institutions appears increasingly endemic amongst the Conservatives.

Liberal Democrats want to defend and reset the devolution settlement, to ensure that the key decisions about our daily lives are taken by those elected to represent our communities.

We want to see a federal United Kingdom in which the rights of the devolved nations are not just maintained by conventions, that an English-dominated Westminster can overturn on a whim, but in binding and legally enforceable constitutional settlements.

There is no doubt that Westminster is broken; but as a party we are determined to fix it.


* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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  • Hear, hear.
    For too long the pro-independence movement in Wales have gone unchallenged and have been allowed to set the narrative.

    We need people challenging them and providing a positive (and IMO less devisive and damaging) alternative.

    If left unchallenged they will set a dangerous narrative. More effort needs to be put in to calling them out…

  • Well said. The basis of our current constitution is parliamentary sovereignty – the monarch, Lords and Commons together being all-powerful. So powerful, in fact, that Parliament can abolish the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru tomorrow, but it can’t bind itself for the future; that it’s governed by its own conventions collected in a book called Erskine May that most of us have never heard of, interpreted to us by high priests; that if the Prime Minister decides to send all the MPs and peers home (i.e. prorogue Parliament), no one knows what to do about it; and we aren’t sure whether general elections every five years are a right or merely a convention that the Prime Minister could ignore. Poor, deluded Britain with its exceptionalism! We aren’t better than other countries, instead our rights and freedoms are frail. We need a constitutional convention to formulate a new constitutional settlement based not on the parliamentary sovereignty nonsense but on a framework of law, citizenship and individual rights. I’d like to be there, arguing for a federal Britain based on decisions taken as closely as possible to those they affect, states or cantons running most of their own affairs while the national government has only a residual role over things that can’t be done at a more local level: for example, international relations and defence. It’s called subsidiarity and it’s been around since Althusius in 1603. It recognises individual liberty which we believe is the foundation of legitimacy. And it works: the world’s most successful democracies are organised that way.

  • Chris Bertram 12th Jun '20 - 9:14am

    This is all fine, but, apart from a very few areas, Wales isn’t listening to us. We have no MPs, just one AM and huge areas are devoid of Lib Dem councillors. Before by-elections were halted, it had seemed the exception rather than the rule for there to be a Lib Dem candidate – and if we don’t stand, people can’t vote for us. This in a country where we have historic roots, and had 4 MPs not so very long ago, including one in the capital.

    “Liberal Democrats believe the relationship between Wales and Westminster has to be reset.” Maybe we should try to reset the relationship between Wales and the Lib Dems first.

  • Yes Chris, another example of the party grossly exaggerating its strength, importance and for the umpteenth time since 2010 living in its own goldfish bowl. We are an unimportant side show, made worse by our own failure to do anything since the general election.
    I have been reading the statement by the new Director of the Social Liberal Forum, it is quite inspirational stuff and it is based on a realsitic assessment of where we actually stand, not where we think or dream we are, its feet on the ground not in the sky. Well worth a read.

  • Chris Perry 12th Jun '20 - 9:37am

    The British Government and the BBC have always identified with England to the exclusion of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Would a Federal Structure rectify this?
    The 2016 referendum should have required a majority in all four Home Nations and Gibraltar before such a major change could be made and not imposed on three of the parties against their wishes.

  • We are still an over-centralised country(ies). We should move towards a federal arrangement with each part determining what powers and responsibilities it wishes subject to consultation with those involved. With modern technology it is much easier for smaller areas to be more autonomous. It also allows different approaches to be compared and for people to vote with their feet.

  • Clive Sneddon 12th Jun '20 - 12:41pm

    I agree with John Probert that a federal flag should be a unifying symbol. That was the intention of James VI and I when he invented the Union flag for his three kingdoms. The omission of Wales in 1603 was because Henry VIII had already created England&Wales in 1536. The key to a successful federal UK will be making sure no nation feels excluded. Not everyone has yet accepted Wessex’s conquest of Cornwall in 700 AD, or the Wessex King Athelstan’s invention of the English and England in 927 AD, in his case no doubt with similar motives to those of James VI and I.

  • Thomas Robinson 12th Jun '20 - 8:11pm

    Forget it. England has not the slightest interest in Federalism.
    Why? The current arrangements allow de facto England to make all the significant decisions and they will not be giving that up-EVER!

  • Antony Habergham 13th Jun '20 - 11:31am

    A properly federal association should have roughly equal constituent parts. A Union of the four nations would be massively dominated by England, unless each were given veto powers, or equal weighting. Which would be grossly unfair to the voters of England – It’s bad enough now, with Ms. Sturgeon constantly on TV acting as a wannabe mini-Merkel, despite only speaking for a minority of the Scottish electorate of under five million. I’d vote, and march, against ANYTHING like that. And I’m a federalist.

    UK regional devolution, mapped to the former EU constituency areas, would be the best solution. I appreciate that some of the nationalist UK factions might object, claiming some special privileges due to once having been independent, but why should 5-million Scots have greater privileges than 5-million Yorkshire-folk? If they wish to have these they should go back to being truly independent. After all, it’s been three hundred years in the case of Scotland, nearly 700 in the case of Wales. Why cant the just over 1100 or thereabouts count for the North East? Hardly an order of magnitude different.

    To be honest, I’d love to sit back and be able to observe Scotland independent inside the EU, irrespective of the effect on the UK. Small and insignificant I’m sure, and quickly put in it’s place, unable to strut the world stage as they like to try to do now by virtue of being ‘shackled’ to a UK which is at least of a little more significance in world affairs. And the advantage of Ms. Sturgeon not constantly on the news ‘speaking for Scotland’.

  • Charles Smith 13th Jun '20 - 2:19pm

    The UK faces sanctions from the European Parliament if Britain dares to exclude European fishing vessels from its waters, in a shock threat from MEPs. The threat comes from the European People’s Party (EPP), one of the biggest blocs in the European Parliament. This comes despite formal confirmation from the UK that the transition period won’t be extended.

  • Hear, hear.

    Unionists supporting the current state of affairs, or wanting to remove devolution, perhaps don’t see that they’re coming out in support of a very small sub-group of England dominating all decisions whether for the good of rest of England, whether it’s good for Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, or whether it’s good for UK at all. On ITV News they had brief clip of person driving from England to Wales during lockdown with excuse being “don’t we own Wales?” This lack of understanding, or lack of respect, is apparent in this Conservative government and is weakening any hope for a continuing and productive union.

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