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Summary

This is the final report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales. This chapter explains how we approached our inquiry and explains the report structure.

Our remit comprised 2 broad objectives.

Commission objectives

  • to consider and develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part
  • to consider and develop all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy and deliver improvements for the people of Wales.

Why this matters

Our inquiry shows that democracy in Wales – as throughout most of the contemporary world - needs urgent attention. Most people do not understand how their country is governed and who is responsible for what. Many feel that the system is not listening to their concerns and that they lack the information and understanding to discuss alternative constitutional options. There is a perception of powerlessness and distance between citizens and government, and a dearth of participatory structures that provide time and space for genuine public discussion and scrutiny. Many see democracy as beginning and ending with the ballot box and know little about the way representative institutions work.

It is important for supporters of the Union, of independence, and of any other constitutional future, to have their proposals discussed and scrutinised in an open and constructive manner. Without informed discussion, the popular debate will become ever more reactive and polarised.

Our research shows that, for many people, calls to change the system of devolved government arise not so much from systematic opposition to devolution, but from dissatisfaction with how the settlement is perceived to work. This in turn may arise from a lack of understanding of, or confidence in, the democratic process for initiating, debating and implementing change.

We hope that our inquiry and its legacy will move the debate forward, and help people understand the trade-offs involved in democratic governance by:

  • providing more information about how democracy works in Wales, so that people are equipped to engage
  • offering a model of democratic participation through multi-channel engagement in complex issues
  • starting a different debate, recognising that all options for future governance, including ‘no change’, offer opportunities, risks and costs
  • moving away from slogans to focus on the best future for Wales.

A constructive approach

In assessing the constitutional options we have applied exactly the same criteria to all potential models, including the current devolution settlement. We have taken a broad and a long view which we believe will stand the test of time.

Our inquiry shows that it is possible to examine the options for future governance objectively in good faith, avoiding the divisions that have characterised the debate in other countries.

We hope that our constructive approach will continue, as debate on the findings of this report carries into Welsh and UK public life.

Interim report

We published an interim report on our first year of work in December 2022. This report does not repeat that material.

In that report we explained our approach to engaging with the people of Wales, and set out our analysis of the current pressures on Welsh governance based on the evidence we received. We included a history of Welsh devolution and explained its main features, including the financial arrangements, as well as a series of papers on key aspects of the settlement. We considered the viability, benefits and risks of the current devolution settlement, assessing whether there was indeed a problem which required constitutional reform to resolve. We concluded that there was: continuing as we are is not a viable option because the powers of the devolved institutions are unstable, and vulnerable to being changed without the consent of the people of the Wales.

Constitutional options

In the interim report we identified 3 options for the future:

  1. Enhanced devolution 
  2. Wales in a federal UK
  3. An independent Wales

What we set out to do

Through our inquiry we set out to do 3 things:

  • engage with the people of Wales about the way their country is governed and the options for the future (set out in chapter 2)
  • consider how to strengthen Welsh democracy and the workings of the current settlement (set out in chapters 3, 4 and 5)
  • produce an assessment of the constitutional options that is as objective as we can make it, to enable an informed debate in which the people of Wales can determine their future (set out in chapters 6 and 7).

We want to make clear at the outset that we consider all the constitutional options to be viable. Each has strengths, weaknesses, risks and opportunities. The choice between them depends on the value attached to these, and the trade-offs people wish to make between those outcomes. These choices are ultimately for the people of Wales and their political representatives to make.

Views of citizens

Our first focus has been on the citizens of Wales, and how their lives can be improved by more coherent and sustainable governance. In this report, we use the term ‘citizens’ in an expansive sense, to mean all of those who live in our community in Wales. This includes those who do not meet the strict legal definitions of citizenship, but nevertheless are part of the present and the future of Wales.

From the start we have put the views of citizens front and centre. We have been encouraged to find that people are keen to contribute to the debate, when it is presented in practical ways that are relevant to them. The language citizens use to discuss governance is different from that of people who work in politics and public affairs. They are more likely to express their aspirations through their experience of public services, but this does not mean that they are uninterested in how Wales is governed. People care deeply about how their country is run and want it to work efficiently in their best interests.

Evidence and analysis

We have benefited from the advice of our Expert Panel (details at appendix 8) whose work has been invaluable. We have spoken to elected representatives and experts on governance and constitutional systems from across the UK and internationally.

We gathered evidence through 3 main methods, summarised below:

  • citizens’ views, gathered through 2 online questionnaires, quantitative and qualitative research, including citizens’ panels across Wales, online engagement, Community Engagement Fund groups and public engagement activities. Chapter 2 and appendix 7 provide more detail of our engagement activity.
  • written evidence and discussion with those experienced in Welsh governance, including representatives of the political parties, officials, third sector and business groups. A full list is attached at appendices 5 and 6
  • advice from academics and practitioners, through expert seminars on key topics, details of which are provided in appendices 4 and 5

Evidence from all these sources has informed our findings and conclusions.

To enable us to assess the case for each constitutional option, we asked the Expert Panel to design an analysis framework, based on the values we identified in our interim report and practical delivery criteria. We published this framework for comment in March this year and the final version in May so that our criteria were transparent and could be challenged. The framework can be found here.

Recommendations

We summarise our conclusions and recommendations in chapter 8. These reflect our evaluation of the full body of evidence we received. They are as robust as we can make them and reflect careful consideration and debate amongst us.

We make 10 recommendations, of which 3 relate to strengthening Welsh democracy. The remaining 7 are designed to protect the devolution settlement from the instability and vulnerability identified in our interim report.

Report structure

Chapter 1 is the introduction to the report.

Chapter 2 describes how we conducted a national conversation with the people of Wales, using multiple modes of engagement and qualitative and quantitative research.

Chapter 3 considers ways of strengthening Welsh democracy, in the context of an increasingly disengaged and polarised political culture across the world.

Chapter 4 reviews how the Welsh Government and the UK government work together and argues for essential changes to protect the devolution settlement and improve its operation.

Chapter 5 considers the boundaries of the Welsh devolution settlement and their implications for good governance and constitutional reform.

Chapter 6 explores the views of citizens on the constitutional options and considers the impact of potential changes in the structure of the UK on both the constitutional options and citizens’ perception of them.

Chapter 7 considers the long-term constitutional options available to Wales and presents our assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

Chapter 8 sets out our conclusions and recommendations.

Conclusion

We have sought to engage with all views, across the spectrum of constitutional preferences. We have heard from citizens, including supporters of each political party represented in the Senedd and supporters of none. We have heard from experts from universities and public life, from Wales, the UK and internationally.

We have brought the wide diversity of our own perspectives to the work, but have sought to keep an open mind and to carefully analyse the evidence presented to us.