Report at midway point in exploration of Wales’ future suggests 3 viable constitutional routes for the country.
The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales has over the past year, gathered evidence on how Wales is currently governed from over 2,000 Welsh citizens, expert groups and community-led organisations. Today, it has released an interim report into its work.
Co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, the group of 11 commission members covers a spectrum of backgrounds, expertise and political views. The group was brought together by the Welsh Government in October 2021 but works independently from it.
3 viable constitutional routes
In its report, the commission argues that the ‘status quo’ is not a viable option for providing stability and prosperity for Wales.
The report goes on to conclude that there are 3 feasible and alternative constitutional routes for how Wales could be run that could improve the lives of the citizens of Wales. These are:
- Strengthen and secure the current devolution settlement.
- A federal approach with a new UK constitution which creates equality between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- Independence, where Wales would become a sovereign country, eligible to apply for full membership of international organisations, such as the UN?
Devolution under pressure, but worth protecting
The commission believes that the current devolution process which began after the 1997 referendum has been a major step forward for Welsh democracy. But its interim report identifies significant pressure on the current ‘settlement’, citing an ‘imbalance of power’ for Welsh people in the ability to influence things that affect them.
The report lays out 10 significant pressure points for devolution. The ‘vulnerability’ of the devolution settlement and the supremacy of the Westminster parliament in making decisions about the future of Welsh democracy are stated as critical issues. The persistent weakness of the Welsh economy is also listed as a fundamental issue which, relative to the UK, continues to underperform.
Co-chair of the commission, Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams said:
“Despite investment, the Welsh economy still lags, which indicates there is a structural problem that needs to be addressed. It tells us that the Welsh economy isn’t doing well under the status quo. But what, if any, constitutional options would enable Wales to become more prosperous and improve the lives of people in Wales? This is something we have to continue to explore.”
Lack of UK constitution ‘virtually unique’
The commission’s report highlights that the United Kingdom is virtually unique in not having a written constitution. The commission details that an “unwritten constitution” takes for granted the “sovereignty” of Westminster, which adds significant constraints to people of Wales and their elected representatives to determine how they should be governed.
Professor Laura McAllister, co-chair of the commission, said:
“The Union has been allowed to function without fixed checks and balances on power, and this has never been more evident than in the last 3 years with a UK government that has a large majority and has been less willing to share power with other institutions. Our exploratory work over the last year has given us a sharp reminder that the lack of written constitution does not guarantee stability for Wales nor good governance.
“More than ever, it is clear that the challenges with the way Wales is governed can only be addressed by acknowledging the inter-dependence with wider constitutional issues in the UK. We’re very realistic that 2 of 3 constitutional routes we’ve outlined in this report are only achievable with a written constitution.”
Through the commission’s online consultation, Dweud eich Dweud: Have your Say, over 2000 responses were gathered that gave early insight into citizens’ perspectives on how Wales is currently run.
The most popular constitutional preference was independence, favoured by 55% (1096) of the 2000+ respondents to the online consultation. While this is significant, the commission has acknowledged that this may be due to pro-independence groups encouraging their supporters to respond.
Rowan Williams continued:
“We knew the online consultation was likely to generate responses from people who have already formed their opinion, and as such, we received strong views from either end of the political spectrum. In that context it’s not surprising that independence came through strongly. So as a commission, we can use this to form a picture of who hasn’t engaged with our work yet.
“Whatever your thoughts on the conclusions of the interim report, there is still time to have your say and shape how Wales could be governed in the future.”