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The Welsh Government has established the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, which will consider the issue of the region’s independence in the context of future relations with the rest of the United Kingdom.
According to the message published on the Cabinet website on October 19, the Commission will be co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and former Archbishop Rowan Williams and will consider and develop options for “fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part and all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy and deliver improvements for the people of Wales.”
At the same time, Laura McAllister stated that everything is supposed to be on the table.
“So it would be ludicrous to remove any options at this stage. Independence means different things depending on different contexts,” she said.
The Commission was created on the initiative of the ministers of the Welsh government who are members of the Labor Party. The Nationalist Party noted that the new body will allow for a broad conversation about the future of Wales, and said they intend to cooperate with the commission to discuss the issue of independence. Welsh conservatives have called this topic irrelevant.
At the same time, in another administrative-political part of the United Kingdom – Scotland – the issue of independence is more acute. In September, Scotland’s first minister, head of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, announced her intention to hold a new independence referendum by the end of 2023, despite strong opposition from London.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, choices fall to be made that will shape our economy and society for decades to come. So we intend to offer the choice. We will do so only when the COVID crisis has passed but our aim, COVID permitting, is that it will be in the first half of this Parliament – before the end of 2023,” she said, presenting the Scottish MPs with the government’s agenda for the coming year.
The situation in Northern Ireland is also not easy, where people are increasingly beginning to think about the idea of uniting the island. According to a trade agreement between the EU and the UK in December 2020, Northern Ireland, which left the EU as part of the kingdom, remained a member of the community’s customs union. The dual status avoided the emergence of a border between Ulster and Ireland, which is an EU country, but required control procedures in ports for the transport of a number of goods from other parts of the United Kingdom. Due to bureaucratic difficulties, the supply of British products to Northern Ireland was significantly hampered, and this caused discontent among the population. The European Union insists on maintaining the de facto customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the Irish Sea.
In June, the first minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster was forced to resign due to pressure from party members. They criticized her for fulfilling the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated under the Brexit agreement. According to the politician’s opponents, the authorities of the region were unable to convince London that the document in its current form would only lead to increased tensions in Northern Ireland.
According to some experts, the European Union has no reason to provide Scotland and Northern Ireland with exclusive preferences in the framework of relations between the UK and the EU. Some observers believe that the only way for these territories to maintain trade and economic ties with the EU and keep up its living standard is to secede from the UK. In addition, they believe that London, in principle, is not interested in the state of the economy of Scotland and Northern Ireland, since its priority is to solve its own problems and realize its ambitions.
Analyzing the situation in Wales, Kent Matthews, Professor of Banking and Finance at Cardiff Business School, noted that the existing arrangement suits both Westminster and Cardiff despite the often crying from Cardiff that Westminster does not provide sufficient resources to Cardiff to meet its policy objectives.
“Despite the calls for independence, the Cardiff administration knows that in the present arrangement, they hide behind the cover of central government austerity for failing to produce the ‘cradle to the grave’ socialism of ‘old Labour’ policy. Any attempt to enhance the fiscal attractiveness by lowering taxes for businesses or income tax will have an immediate effect on revenue and the current fiscal rules will not allow the government to borrow in the capital markets to income smooth. Similarly a rise in taxes will increase revenue in the short term but the Treasury will reduce its contribution one-for-one,” Kent Matthews said.
Thus, in his opinion, the rules favour the status quo.
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