Hywel Williams: ‘Westminster must now consider Wales’ constitutional future — including independence’

Are we ever going to have a serious discussion in Parliament about Wales’s constitutional future, including independence?

Last week, the report of the Commission on the future of our constitution was published. The Commission was set up by the Welsh Government but is fully independent. It is chaired by the former Archbishop of Wales and then of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University. It has members from the political parties in our Senedd, including a member from the Conservative party, and others with no political links. So, as you would expect, they produced a substantial document reporting on a large scale and serious body of work undertaken over two years.

The report highlights that the current setup in Cardiff is not a viable option. However, it provides various choices for the future. A federal UK with each part having an equal status is a possibility, but this would require changes in all four parts of the UK – a difficult thing to achieve. Substantial changes to devolution, with more powers and funding being devolved to our parliament, are also suggested. The response to this from both Conservatives and Labour at Westminster has been lukewarm at best. Significantly, they note that independence is a real option but would need long-term work. There is a great deal to be discussed.

During Business Questions last week, I requested a debate on the Report from the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, perhaps at the end of the month when we usually have the annual St David’s Day debate. We are aware of the multitude of ongoing issues, from deportations to Rwanda, wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the crisis in the cost of living, to an election on the horizon. The governance of our country has never been high on the list of Westminster priorities.

But even so, the Minister’s reply was deeply inadequate. She said that if we had a debate, her side “will always turn up to defend the Union” – a statement not surprising at all. Devolved services were being run badly by Labour, she said, with no hint of recognition of the abysmal state of services in England too.

She concluded with the peculiar claim that, ‘It is a sad and sorry state that the most vibrant separatist party in the UK now is not the Scottish National Party, but the Labour party.’ If only that were true. Labour’s response to this landmark report has been just as dismissive as the Tories’.

Despite the 2022 Gordon Brown report committing a Labour Government to engage with the Welsh Constitutional Commission’s recommendations, Jo Stevens, UK Labour’s spokesperson in Wales, had already outright rejected one of its key recommendations before the report’s ink had dried.

On justice and policing, Ms. Stevens’ response was particularly disappointing. Speaking to BBC One’s Politics Wales programme, Ms Stevens said: “We have said that we will explore the devolution of youth justice and probation. “But we will not be looking at devolution of policing and justice.”

The Welsh Labour Government has long agreed with Plaid Cymru’s view that policing and justice would be fairer, more efficient and more accountable if run from the Senedd. Several reports, including the 2011 Silk Commission and the 2022 Thomas Commission, both commissioned by a Welsh Labour Government, have highlighted the urgent need to devolve policing and justice. But Starmer’s Labour, arrogantly, think they know better than all.

The justice sub-group of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales found evidence strongly supporting the case for full devolution, citing benefits such as better outcomes, improved value for money, increased transparency, and enhanced accountability. Why would any party that claims to want what’s best for Wales, ignore such evidence?

I will apply to the Business Committee for a debate on the future constitution of Wales. As Plaid’s Chief Whip at Westminster, I have already taken the matter up with the other side ‘through the usual channels.’ However, given both Penny Mordaunt’s reply in the chamber, and Jo Stevens’ reply in the media, I have no great hopes for early serious consideration of the report or any real action on its recommendations – at least not from Westminster.

It highlights a more urgent need than ever for the people of Wales to force Westminster to care about Wales by electing a strong group of Plaid Cymru MPs in the general election.

Politics.co.uk is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.