Monday 22 September 2008

Independence - Labour starts the debate

How disappointing that Roy "Woy" Jenkins is not around to pay tribute to Huw Irranca-Davies, a Labour minister with far too much time on his hands it appears. Despite the poverty of his argument, it's a welcome contribution to the debate about the future of Wales.

Irranca-Davies defends the Union with these thoughts:

“When the idea of independence becomes mainstream, as we’ve seen in Scotland, it’s a dangerous time socially, economically and politically. This is far from harmless fun for constitutional anoraks, it’s a recipe for anarchy."

Sounds like a minister rattled and veering dangerously off-message regarding Scotland too.

"There is a worrying trend in Welsh politics with the re-emergence of the debate over independence, without much challenge."

Oh, oh - shades of Don Touhig here.

“It’s time for those who believe in a strong Wales and a strong UK to step up and take this challenge. Look at some of the benefits we’ve had over the years in terms of public sector jobs. In Llantrisant, we’ve had the Royal Mint, relocated by Jim Callaghan. Take the DVLA, everybody accepts that is has always been in Swansea, it’s there for a reason, located there as a deliberate policy of the UK government. Those are historic examples, but if you bring it right up to date there have been thousands of jobs relocated to Wales under the Lyons review, and there is a huge investment in St Athan coming under a direct MoD contract.
“If Plaid Cymru, Adam Price or anybody else want to enter the debate about what independence would mean for Wales, they have to explain how those jobs would be defended.”

Adam Price et al can speak for themselves, but the examples he poses are interesting. Is he saying the DVLA and Royal Mint will disappear if Wales became independent? That is the implied threat with consequent job losses.
With the Royal Mint, this is highly unlikely as it supplies coins to more than 100 countries around the globe. Make that 101 when Wales becomes independent.
An independent Wales would still need a DVLA, albeit smaller, but that loss is far outweighed by the extra work created for a civil service dealing with pensions, child benefits, taxes and other government services currently provided in England for Welsh citizens.
The re-location of jobs to Wales promised under the Lyons Review doesn't create new jobs for Welsh workers.
Lastly, the St Athan "investment" - if it happens at all (and part one of the huge Private Finance Initiative project has already fallen by the wayside) it will represent a huge investment of public money into a private venture. Even if the project happens, the economic benefits for Wales are arguable - a number of low-paid unskilled jobs. The skilled trainers' jobs will all be re-locating from a number of English bases.
If the economic case for the Union rests on these examples, then it is flimsy to say the least.

The economic case for independence has to be based on the understanding that Wales will do things differently to Whitehall and Westminster. Even the toothless Assembly has shown that this is the case. Independence, if it is to mean anything, will move social justice up the political agenda.

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