THE Counsel General and Minister of the Constitution has given a speech at a virtual event (at Wales Governance Centre – Constitutional Convention) looking at the constitutional future for Wales.
Mick Antoniw said that the discussion comes at a very important and crucial time in the history of Wales and the nations of the United Kingdom.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that that he wants the new Welsh Government to be ‘bold and dynamic’ in tackling the many challenges we all face over the coming years.
Mr Antoniw said that there is no challenge greater than that of the constitutional future of Wales.
He said that constitutional reform was important as a means for Wales to deliver what the Welsh Government have promised to the people of Wales and to future generations.
Speaking at the Virtual event Mr Antoniw said: “It is the means for improving prosperity and job security; it is the means whereby we deliver those vital public services that we have come to recognise as being part of our essential economy. It is the means whereby we build a fairer, more just and more confident Wales and the contribution we can make to the well being of the UK as a whole.; If I am right in this , then a failure by governments across the UK to address these constitutional challenges would be foolhardy and wholly irresponsible.”
The Minister called for radical reform and said that he wanted the Union of the United Kingdom has to work better in the interests of the people and the communities of Wales.
The Welsh Government believes in a strong, prosperous and progressive Union of nations
We see it as a voluntary association of four nations that has the potential to be a positive force for good – for Wales and for all nations within it.
Those calling for an independent Wales will be analysing the speech and most likely be unhappy that it did not go far enough to look at Wales going it alone.
The Minister’s direction was one of pooling of resources which support all of us in times of need.
He said: “If the UK means anything and is to have a future it must be based on principles of partnership, justice, the rule of law , of greater equality and a fairer distribution of wealth between all the nations and regions of the UK.”
Citing the furlough scheme as an example whereby Wales would not have been able to go it alone the Minister said: “Despite our many disagreements with the UK Government, there remain many areas of common and mutual benefit. Many of these do not work as they should, could be much more effective and much more progressive. Nevertheless they exist and provide a framework to build upon. In recent months the furlough scheme has become and example of the powerful and important support it can provide – support for individuals and businesses based on principles of common interest and collective support. Something that individually all the nations of the UK would have struggled to achieve.”
Mr Antoniw was clear in his belief that Wales was stronger as part of the Union. He said: “There are many differences, but the collective strength of what we can do together is something people across the UK I believe do recognise and value.”
The Minister highlighted the different approaches of the devolved governments surrounding Covid-19. Health and education are devolved issues and the Minister said that those government responses were not given the recognition and respect they deserved
He said: “That distinctiveness that actually makes us stronger, yet is too often seen as a weakness and a threat by the UK Government at Westminster.”
The Minister went on to highlight concerns about the strength and stability of the union stating that ‘for anyone committed to a long-term future for the United Kingdom, , how we address and rectify that fragility is one of the major questions of our time’.
Mr Antoniw continued by focusing on the UK’s Constitution. He said that the Welsh Government had been seeking to stimulate a debate about it’s future for over a decade.
The full and very real implications of the creation of legislatures in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has not been met by the UK Government with what it should have – a fundamental and honest look at the way the UK was itself governed against the backdrop of that newly devolved landscape.
Mr Antoniw expressed his frustration at Westminster and said that the Welsh Government had worked towards articulating its own vision for how a new model of shared governance could work.
He said: “The UK Governments has time and time again to recognise that there is a major problem, and address the major constitutional questions facing us.”
The Minister spared no punches in his speech labelling the UK Government as “A top-down unionism that believes that the problem will simply go away if it shouts loudly enough and waves a few flags around. A Government that is in denial.”
He said: “Instead of a constructive and collaborative relationship, based on fairness, social justice and subsidiarity, what we see from this current UK Government is an increasingly muscular anglo centric unionism.”
Speaking about further conversations about the future for Wales within the Union he said: “We want this Commission to facilitate a genuinely national conversation about the future of Wales within the UK. We want it to engage with citizens and with civic society.”
The Minister then set out his plans to engage with the people of Wales. He said that Welsh Government would establish a commission of citizens. They will be people who will represent the diversity of our society and communities and who will have the skills and ability to reach out and engage. Their task will be to seek to identify and build consensus about our values and the sort of Wales we want to be.
The Minister ended by saying “I remain of the fundamental view that it is possible to renew and revitalise our union. Convinced that we can find a way for it to thrive and prosper for the long-term. Not in spite of devolution, but very much because of it. However, this requires thought, imagination and co-operation. Genuine statecraft – on the part of all of us to think through honestly and creatively the challenges we face.
“Above all it requires an acceptance that the status quo cannot and will not continue. I am confident that the Commission will play a vital part in this renewal, and in making the positive case for strong devolution within a durable Union that, for all its current fragilities, remains good for Wales.”