One of the most galling phrases used by the Leave campaign in the UK EU referendum was ‘Take Back Control’. It’s a great sentiment, but in reality it’s just the UK political and economic establishment taking back control for themselves, not the people of Britain. Instead of the promised greater democracy, it seems that the Tory government will implement a Brexit on it’s own terms and ignore the expressed views of the electorate, leaving Wales to continue to suffer under the foot of powerful elites.
Last night, some interesting opinion poll data was released by ITV Wales. The poll suggests that post-Brexit vote, with all the craziness of the last week or so, that Wales had switched to favouring remaining in the EU. The poll also announced a growing consideration of Welsh independence within the EU, of 35% (up from the 5-10% it has been since the no vote in the last Scottish independence referendum). So can Wales ‘take back control’?
The problem Wales has it that it is currently one of the poorest regions in Northern Europe. Arguably our economy has not had the conditions to adapt to the move from heavy industry at the end of the 1970s to a globalised economy, where job creation has only really occurred in connected services hubs, like London and other major cities. However the argument for an independent Wales has been that freed from governance from London that favours service hubs to the detriment of the wider economy, Wales would be able to grow and thrive as one-nation. Whatever the Tories post-Brexit plan for the UK, with an increased focus on service hubs, deregulation and removal of social infrastructure, it looks like Wales will suffer, with no guarantees of continued regional funding. Perhaps it is really time for Wales to go it’s own way.
A self-governing Wales would be free to enter into it’s own arrangements with the EU. One option is to join the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) along with other smaller nations or full membership of the EU. The EFTA was originally set up by the UK to create a free market area outside the EU before the UK joined the common market in the 1970s. Membership of the EFTA offers tariff free access to the EEA (European Economic Area), easing tariff free trade with other European countries. The advantage of EFTA membership, as opposed to EU membership, is the possibility of certain opt-outs, retaining the benefits of devolution and not overly ceding to centralised decision making.
The UK EU referendum highlighted a number of issues that people are concerned about: housing, immigration putting pressure on jobs and stifling small businesses at the expense of multi-nationals. I think housing is the big significant one, especially for Wales.
I found out recently that Denmark, has it’s own opt-out from the EU housing market. In Denmark only citizens and residents can own residential housing. Wales could also have this opt-out. Wales could establish a constitutional right of Welsh citizens and residents to own their own home and establish rights for renters for security of tenure. Wales can have strong building regulations and build good quality, sustainable social housing, that residents of have ownership rights. Restrictions on second home and foreign owned residential housing would prevent Welsh housing being an asset market and instead simply be about providing homes for people to live in. One way to do this is to place high taxes on second and foreign ownership and furthermore restrict such ownership in every district to say 25% of the housing stock in each local district. Tourism is important for Wales, people like to stay in holiday lets rather than hotels, these policies would allow these industries to thrive, whilst supporting sustainable communities.
The advantages of taking control of housing are that allowing housing to be an asset market imposes restraints on the wider economy. Until the early 1980s, a full time worker would be able to buy a reasonable home for themselves for three times their wage, support a partner and raise children. The failure of abiding to the social contract of successive UK governments has left housing over-priced, maladaptive to changing requirements and of poor quality.
Taking control of housing has potentially enormous benefits, the main advantage being lowering housing costs, if you halve housing costs back to their long term average, this increases the disposable income of those in employment. Instead of being in housing debt, incomes would then significantly exceed living costs for ordinary people. Then, this luxury income can be saved and invested in the wider real economy, people can be more responsible for their own retirement and welfare. People will be more productive as they will be better rested and less worried. People would be able to move house quickly, easily and without penalty to exploit a flexible labour market. With secure housing, people can take bigger risks, they can set up their own businesses, without fear of homelessness. Reducing the cost of living, so significantly, will lower the living wage, whilst increasing disposable incomes, enabling the Welsh workforce to be competitive in a globalised world.
Their are many other advantages for Welsh independence and other means of reducing living costs. Control over energy policy will enable Wales to make use of it’s natural resources to become more than self-sufficient in renewable energy and less vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices. Agricultural policy can be set for the specific needs of the Welsh farming industry and it’s consumers. Wales can opt-out of damaging trade deals like CETA and TTIP and instead create new genuine free trade deals across Europe and the world. In short Wales can democratically control it’s own destiny, grow it’s economy and not be a poor powerless appendage to a wider world that seeks to exploit it. Wales can become a small but integrated hub of a globalised world. Wales can be open to the world, seeking out mutually advantageous relationships with our neighbours and partners overseas.
The transition may be tough, but we are in tough times already. We can create a socially democratic society of strong communities and robust efficient public institutions that actively support a growing culture of enterprise rather than capital that seeks to weaken it. A Wales where it’s young people want to stay and build, rather than go away with the aim of coming back. Self-government for Wales is the change Wales needs and offers hope for the future, we can once again be proud to be British.