Wales fears diminished voice after Scottish referendum

Cardiff High Street

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Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s Scottish independence referendum, there is little optimism that it will be good news for Wales.

Whether Yes or No, Wales will face an uncertain constitutional future, with its voice much diminished as London grapples with the fallout, say politicians and academics.

At a conference in Cardiff last week, the best that Leighton Andrews, minister in the Labour-run Welsh government, could offer was the prediction the UK was “heading towards a looser union”.

Vaughan Roderick, the BBC’s Welsh affairs editor, says in the past “constitutional change in Wales has always been driven by the politics of the Labour party”. But he said the UK was set for a “constitutional open season like nothing we have ever seen in the UK”.

Last week Carwyn Jones, the Labour Welsh first minister, tweeted that “whatever further devolution is offered to Scotland must be on offer to Wales and Northern Ireland”, only to qualify this hours later by pointing out he only wanted new powers if Wales first got a better funding deal from London.

Wales feels disadvantaged by the way the devolved regions are funded by the so-called Barnett formula.

The first minister is also very hesitant about taking on new tax powers, as offered to Scotland in a bid to secure a No result. For Cardiff, tax powers are seen as a Conservative party trap to allow a future Westminster government to cut funding.

Lee Waters, director of the Institute for Welsh Affairs, which organised the conference, says additional devolution is a fraught issue for the wider Labour party. Welsh Labour MPs at Westminster fear it could weaken Wales’s influence in London, by leading to revived calls for cuts in the number of Welsh MPs. In a rump UK, dominated by England, this could have a bearing on whether Labour can win a future general election.

In some respects, Welsh attitudes to self rule have always been more cautious than those in Scotland. The original devolution referendum in 1997, which led to the creation of the Welsh assembly, only passed by a whisker.

Independence is backed by about 10 per cent of Wales’s 3m population – and not even by all those who vote for Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party

Roger Scully, professor at Cardiff University, believes the main reason is that Wales has a much weaker economic position, with no oil revenues and therefore little leverage with London. It remains reliant on budget transfers from London for the bulk of public spending.

In the absence of another big idea to galvanise popular support for the devolved institutions, Gerry Holtham, a leading Welsh economist, says the main focus of Welsh politicians has been to demand more money from London – a populist stance when there is a Tory government.

However all the conference speakers predicted Wales’s opportunities to extract a better financial deal would be much diminished after the Scottish vote, particularly if English MPs start looking for similar largesse for their regions.

The worst case scenario for Wales is if Scotland quits the union, and under a Tory government, the rump UK then votes to leave the EU – Wales being still a big beneficiary of regional EU aid.

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