Politics Magazine

Radical Plans For Wales

Posted on the 25 February 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

Wales has an ill-deserved bad reputation. Yes, it did give us Neil Kinnock, but the country of over 3 million has contributed a wealth of talent to the UK. The amazing landscapes contribute greatly to British tourism. Large parts of Wales have suffered with the closure of coal mines, and the Welsh did not benefit from English levels of prosperity to begin with. Yes, overall Wales has suffered as a result of neglect from distant London governments.

Plaid Cymru, the Party for Wales, are significantly less successful than their counterparts in the SNP. Whilst Plaid Cymru does not advocate immediate independence for Wales, merely increased devolution until it has a stronger economy, the pro-devolution Welsh public have not overwhelmingly endorsed this approach, electing a Labour administration in the Welsh Assembly based in Cardiff. Could it be because PC’s leader is a “far-left socialist”, to quote the absurd claim of the even more unpopular Welsh Conservatives? (She arguably is to the left of Labour, but this doesn’t equate to extremism) The Welsh have never been afraid of socialists.

Nevertheless, polls show that 66% of the public support devolution of tax setting powers to the Welsh Assembly: they have said this for years, but the only difference is that Westminster is today minded to call their bluff. This is not out of any sympathy for “a people living for centuries under English oppression”, but rather out of a wish to support development of the economy to reduce the massive £18 billion gap between what the Treasury receives from Wales and what is spent there. There are complaints that we English “subsidise” the Scottish Government and their expensive policies like free university tuition (though we’re entitled to be bitter about the fact that students from Scotland and other EU states have no fees and yet English students are charged), lack of prescription charges and fees for social care. (Readers abroad: prescription charges are the only fees charged by the NHS, a small charge of £7.65 payable by those collecting prescribed drugs from chemists) but the “subsidy” per head is dwarfed by that for Wales.

I don’t see any problem with this state of affairs. Yes, I’d rather Wales was prosperous enough to balance spending and tax contributions, but as a constituent of the United Kingdom with limited devolution of taxation and spending powers, they are entitled to higher public spending in a similar way to that by which Liverpool spends more than it gives.

However, I don’t see how this claim can be justified if England finds the 40p tax band undercut, for example. Tabloids and rightwing reactionaries will make wild allegations about “paying Wales to take our businesses”, and it wouldn’t be easy to construct an effective counterargument. And in any case, Scotland is likely to compete with Wales on tax rates, whatever the outcome of next year’s referendum. And there is only a certain level of undercutting that can take place on England’s doorstep before it damages our tax base.

In conclusion, I think that this aspect of devolution is likely to hurt Wales, and Britain as a whole.

By Jack Darrant

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