Posted: Fri 17th Jul 2020

Senedd rejects proposals to pave way for Welsh independence referendum

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jul 17th, 2020

Earlier this week the Senedd – Welsh Parliament –  voted to state Wales’ interests are “best served by its continuing membership of a reformed United Kingdom”.

It came as a proposal to seek a constitutional right to legislate to hold a binding referendum on independence during the next term was rejected.

Plaid Cymru’s Siân Gwenllian MS tabled the below motion for debate and a vote that proposed that the Senedd:

A similar action paved the way in Scotland for the independence referendum, with last night’s vote in the Senedd revolving around the right for the entity to seek such powers, rather than put forward a motion for a referendum.

This was explained by Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth MS in his opening remarks, “We are not asking the Senedd to support independence today, but asking the Senedd to support the principle that the people of Wales should decide. We’re calling for Welsh Government to seek the constitutional right to allow the holding of a binding referendum on independence.”

The proposal had several contrary amendments put forward, each proposing to alter the main proposal in varying ways, some with an explanation of why by the proposers. Due to the nature of business some amendments were deleted before a vote was held on them.

Below are the amendments put forward, and excerpts from speeches made:

Darren Millar MS said, “I find it very ironic that Plaid Cymru, who’ve spent four years arguing that Wales is stronger and more secure as part of a union on nations, the European Union, against the will of the public might I add, is now calling for Wales to go it alone in the world and to divorce itself from the very union that protects our nations collectively.”

“Now, we know that, over 20 years, support for independence has largely stagnated. The only political party in favour of Welsh independence that stood in seats, not all seats, at the last general election in Wales secured less than 10 per cent of the vote. That’s a smaller share than Plaid actually won in the 1970s. So, ymlaen, comrades, let’s see where this argument actually takes us. It’s not just Plaid that’s in a pickle on devolution either. Labour is in a mess too. You lot claim to be a unionist party, the First Minister himself has said that socialism is incompatible with Welsh nationalism.

“Independence would be bad for Wales and it would be bad for the United Kingdom. It would make us less resilient to global events and catastrophes. We would be less secure. And of course we do know that, as a net beneficiary of the UK Treasury, Wales would be poorer. For every £1 spent in England on devolved matters, the Welsh Government currently receives £1.20. In 2017-18, Wales had an estimated fiscal deficit of nearly £14 billion. That’s almost the total sum of the Welsh Government’s annual block grant.”

Neil Hamilton MS said, “I’m very surprised to hear Darren Millar agreeing with what Carwyn Jones said to me the last time we debated these matters, that devolution was the settled will of the Welsh people. Because, of course, if the 1975 referendum on membership of the EU had been the settled will of the British people, Darren Millar would not have been campaigning to have another referendum in 2016. And the truth of the matter is that, in a democracy, nothing can ever be the settled will of a people, because one generation can’t be bound by its predecessors, and it would be quite wrong to attempt to constrain it.”

“To that extent, I’m in favour of Plaid Cymru’s approach that, if there are a large number of people in Wales who want to vote for independence, why should they not be allowed to express that in the democratic way, by having a referendum upon it? So, I’ve no objection to that happening. I’ve no doubt that it would be rejected by the overwhelming majority of the people. But what we have seen in recent years is that, after 20 years of Labour and Plaid government in Wales, there is no great affection for the devolution settlement that we’ve currently got. The Assembly never actually reached 50 per cent turnout in an Assembly election, and I doubt very much whether it will get to that level in the election next year if it takes place. So, there is no such thing as the settled will of the Welsh people, because the Welsh people themselves change, generation upon generation.”

“The most extraordinary thing about Plaid bringing this motion forward today is that, although they call themselves a nationalist party, they don’t actually want an independent Wales at all, as Darren Millar pointed out. They’re against the devolution of powers over agriculture and fisheries, environment et cetera, to Cardiff, because they still strive to constrain Wales within membership of the European Union. Their idea of independence is that the major political decisions that Wales has to observe are made in Brussels; that our laws’ final arbiters are based in Luxembourg; and our monetary policy and interest rates should be determined in Frankfurt. So, the idea that Rhun ap Iorwerth would have infinite borrowing powers in an independent Wales is absurd unless Wales were to have its own independent currency. So, is that now the policy of Plaid Cymru? I doubt it very much indeed. That was the hurdle over which Nicola Sturgeon couldn’t jump in the Scottish referendum on independence. :

Gareth Bennett MS said, “Today’s debate is on an important subject, which is: should we continue to have an Assembly or Senedd at all? And the simple answer to that is, ‘Yes, we should continue to have it, if it has the democratic backing of the Welsh people’. If it doesn’t have that backing, then we shouldn’t have it. Democratic consent is everything.

But we do need to hold referendums, roughly every 15 to 20 years, so that we can ascertain what the public actually think, because, sorry, Darren Millar, there is no such thing as the settled will. Opinion changes over time, so we do need to measure it. I would say that the amendment I’m moving today, with the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, is simply following the logic of Plaid’s motion. Plaid assert, in their motion, that, I quote, ‘The people of Wales have welcomed the ability for Wales to act independently.’ ”

“Well, who are these people of Wales? Does everyone in Wales think the same? Plenty of people in Wales think that coronavirus has exposed the massive confusions that arise when you have four different Governments operating within the United Kingdom. Plenty of people have been discovering that they don’t really want four Governments, they don’t want four different NHSes across the UK, they want one NHS. They don’t want four different sets of Government rules or for different furlough schemes, they want one set of rules and one furlough scheme, and so on. An awful lot of the people of Wales now see devolution for what it is—a costly inconvenience, and those people of Wales should be entitled to have their say.”

“In my party, of course, we want to abolish this place since we think it is a waste of public money, but we do not say that our idea is more important than what the Welsh people want. Of course they’re not; we simply say that we should have a referendum and then do precisely what the Welsh people tell us to do. After 23 years, it is high time that the people of Wales are allowed to have their say once again.”

Welsh Labour’s Former First Minister Carwyn Jones said, “May I first of all turn to what Plaid Cymru have said in their motion today? There is a constitutional convention already, which states that if a party stands on a manifesto commitment in favour of a referendum on independence, then there should be such a referendum. We’ve seen that in Scotland. So, in a way, we don’t need to have this debate today.”

“I listened to Neil Hamilton. I have to say, he seems to forget his role in destroying the Welsh economy in much of the 1980s and 1990s. If I had stood here and said 18 years of Conservative Government were an absolute disaster and that is a reason then to get rid of the UK Government, he would say, ‘No, no, no. It was because people voted for the Conservative Party in Government’, and that’s a legitimate viewpoint. In the same way, it’s a legitimate viewpoint to say that people have voted for a Labour-led Government in Wales over the past 21 years, otherwise the risk lies in saying that somehow people are too stupid to understand how they voted, and that is the reality of it.”

“Now, I very much welcome what Darren Millar said, in some ways, because I think it’s important that the Welsh Conservative Party becomes a proper Welsh Conservative Party with a proper leader, which you don’t have yet, with a proper leader, and then outlines and puts itself forward as an alternative Government, whilst accepting the institutions of devolution. I think that’s very fair—as long as you remain an alternative government, from my perspective, but I think that’s absolutely what is right for the Welsh body politic. I try to be as objective as possible.”

“And so my argument is basically this: I think there’s an alternative. I believe in a sovereign Wales, but I believe that we can share that sovereignty with the other three entities within the UK. It’s a kind of confederation. Now, I grant you that shared sovereignty doesn’t have the same resonance electorally as ‘Free Wales’ or ‘Rule Britannia’, and it’s a difficult concept to explain, but I say this to Darren Millar in the spirit of debate: I think we’ve moved well beyond constitutional tinkering; this is fundamental to the future of the UK. It’s because of the constitutional inadequacy of the UK that we have these tensions. We have an opportunity now to set things right, get a constitution that works, where everybody understands where they stand and who does what, an equal partnership of four nations and one where sovereignty is held by each of the four nations but shared for the common good in areas where it is right to do so. I do fear that, if we don’t go down that path, in 10 years’ time, the UK will be a memory, and that is something, personally, that I’d regret.”

Neil McEvoy MS said, “I can’t say the Welsh Government has done a particularly good job over the last 21 years. It’s not surprising, because we’ve had one-party rule, propped up by Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, so I would agree with statements that we’ve not done well over the last 21 years. But we have to differentiate the institution and the political cartel that is running devolution and the Senedd at the moment. In a healthy democracy, Governments change, and I think it will be a sign of political maturity in Wales when Wales is governed by a different party.”

“Those who believe that in a healthy democracy people should directly have the opportunity to make the laws that govern them and that’s why I’ve put amendment 8. Introducing modern direct democracy is a key initiative of the Welsh National Party. It’s something that many countries have, such as Switzerland, and rather than just having a vote once every five years and letting Government take every decision for you, modern direct democracy means that people can take decisions for themselves. If enough signatures can be secured, then a local or a national referendum could take place that would be binding. It’s government by the people.”

“We also need a constitution and a bill of rights to ensure that minorities in our country are protected, along with the rights of individuals, and that’s why I’ve introduced amendment 7. I’ve called for a Welsh constitution and a bill of rights. The UK famously has no written constitution, but I think one is badly needed, and we can take the lead here by introducing one for ourselves in Wales. I’d like to see that happen with a national convention set up with a citizens’ assembly tasked with drawing up a constitution and a bill of rights before they’re voted upon by the public.”

The Leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price wrapped up the debate by saying, “At the heart of this historic first debate, this parliamentary session’s last debate, is the simple, but fundamental, proposition that the decision on whether Wales should become an independent nation must rest alone with the people of Wales. We believe that Wales’s right to determine its constitutional future, including the right to become an independent country, should the people of Wales vote to do so, should be enshrined in law.”

“Specifically, this requires conferring on this Senedd the power to choose when and whether to call a referendum on Wales’s constitutional future, giving practical effect to the right of the people of Wales to choose the form of governance best suited to their needs, and also how, and who with, they want to pool their sovereignty.”

“Democracy is, by definition, government by the people. But, then, we have to decide who the people are, and, for us, the answer is obvious. The people are the people of Wales, who live within its borders and collectively form a nation which enjoys the right to self-determination that is a basic tenet of international law, a founding principle of the United Nations charter and, as Mick Antoniw said, of the Socialist International. So, we hope many Labour Members will join us in supporting our motion tonight.

“This sovereign right of the people of Wales to determine their own future is the cornerstone of this Senedd. But, currently, our accumulative legitimacy, the powers we hold, are not ours by permanent right in a formal sense, but loaned to us by another Parliament that describes itself, without irony, as ‘supreme’, even as it crumbles slowly into the Thames. That is a constitutional conceit with which the Labour Welsh Government has said it firmly, firmly, disagrees.

“So, when we affirm in this motion the right of the people of Wales to decide whether Wales should become an independent country we should reasonably expect this Government to support Wales’s claim of right. But what we have from the Government is a parliamentary wrecking ball tonight, a ‘delete all’ amendment that removes all reference to the right to determine our own future. It says nothing about the voluntary nature of this union and it introduces the lion and unicorn mythic pairing, so beloved of progressive unionists—a reformed United Kingdom.”

The main proposal was defeated 43 votes to 9, with Welsh Labour’s amendment number 4 being carried 29 votes t o 24.

The full debate transcript can be viewed here.

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