Another Union Is Possible


LeanneWood by Leanne Wood AM, Leader of Plaid Cymru   

Not for the first time in history, the Welsh are getting involved in the struggle for an independent Scotland.  Our last significant involvement centred on the campaign led by William the Welshman – or Wallace, though one or two Welsh archers were probably on the other side too. One thing is for certain: the future direction of my country is yet again linked to the fortunes of Scotland.  We are both at a hinge point in history.

Today’s debate, of course, is not one that looks to the past. The potential is all in the future. The Scottish referendum is an exciting opportunity, not to discard but to redefine the ever-evolving relationships between the nations of these islands.

Last week, the Labour First Minister in Wales said that he saw this changing union as a chance to welcome nuclear subs  to the coast of Pembrokeshire in the event of their banishment from the Clyde. It's a somewhat dystopic vision of a rump British state lamely hanging on to its Cold War relics that few in Wales will relish.

Westminster’s nuclear obsession - and the imperial hankering after "great power" status of which it is a symptom -  is another piece of proof that political union has passed its expiry date.  It's high time for a re-draft.

Of course, Alistair Darling is right, it’s not just geography we share. We have a language in common, familial and friendship ties, a history and future at one and the same time both plural and shared. Scotland and Wales, Celtic nations both, border a single country, a millennium and a half of interaction with which has shaped our respective cultures like no other. England is not just a neighbour to us. She is our sister nation too.

Perversely, it was Ed Miliband’s recent intervention that attempted to divide through the politics of identity. But it didn't make sense. Feeling Welsh or Scottish was never dependent on the existence of a Welsh or of a Scottish State. So people's common sense of Britishness doesn't need a British state to sustain it either; the ancient Brythons knew little of the Act of Union.

The concept of Britain has proven itself to be as adaptable in the past as should it be in the future. Those of us who believe in a new partnership of equals are interested in what Britain could mean tomorrow, rather than attempting to pause at today’s Britishness, or worse yet, yearn for a mythical Britishness of the past.

If the people of Scotland vote for an independent country in 2014,  then such a new Britain can emerge. I am determined that Wales will not be a bystander at that important junction.   Our journey on the constitutional path may not immediately mirror the Scottish experience, but let’s not forget that within these islands, different countries enjoying differing forms of self-government are not unusual. We have two sovereign states, three devolved administrations and three crown dependencies in these isles. Each nation will have a unique contribution to make in the new 'social union'.  

We shall, of course, need to build a new architecture of collaboration.  The British-Irish Council - our version of the Nordic countries' own forum for co-operation - is already acting as a laboratory of innovation, from plastic bag taxes to minimum alcohol pricing.  With a seat for everyone at the table there will be plenty of areas where we will be able to pool and share solutions and creativity in a strong partnership of equals, which. within a generation, I am sure, will include an independent Wales.  Instead of clinging to the straitjacket  of the single state it's time we all began to embrace this future Britain, a  Neighbourhood of Nations, sovereign, democratic and free.