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Welsh independence and devolution: Report says it’s viable but a challenge

Independence is a viable option but Wales would face a significant challenge in raising enough tax to pay for services, a Welsh Government commission has concluded.

The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales also found that devolving more powers and creating a federal UK were also viable.

Chaired by academic Laura McAllister and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the commission was a Senedd election manifesto commitment from the Labour Party and was set-up in 2021.

The final report sets out three alternatives for Wales’ constitutional future: independence, enhanced devolution and a federal UK: but does not endorse any one option.

It also called for devolution of policing, justice and rail infrastructure.

Prof McAllister and Dr Rowan found independence would offer the potential for long-term positive change but Wales would face a significant challenge in the short to medium term.

While experts disagree about the scale of the fiscal deficit, the most recent calculation by the Wales Governance Centre found a £14.4bn gap between tax and spending.

A federal UK would offer a desirable “middle way”, the commission found, with more potential benefits than enhanced devolution and less risk than independence.

But the cross-party commission warned that federalism would face fundamental practical obstacles as it relies on an appetite for change in the rest of the UK.

The commission found that enhanced devolution, which would see Wales gain further powers, would provide economic stability and lower risks.

But the report said it would be an evolution of the current model rather than radical change.

Greater powers for devolved institutions is currently the most popular option among Welsh citizens, the commission found, but support varies by age and political affiliation.


Prof McAllister pointed out that almost a quarter of a century has passed since powers were first devolved as she called for a national conversation about Wales’ constitutional future.

She said: “Many citizens we have spoken to were not even born at the point that devolution began, while many others have seen changes to how Wales is run in the last 25 years and have opinions on what can be done better or differently.

“Through our work, it became clear that the status quo is not sustainable and the needs of the people of Wales are not being met. If Welsh devolution, even as it stands, is to be protected, these changes must take place urgently.

“We can then look further ahead at these three possible routes for Wales’ future, each of which clearly have both challenges and opportunities.”

The 158-page report makes the following recommendations:

  1. Democratic innovation: build capacity for democratic innovation and engagement
  2. Constitutional principles: draft a statement of constitutional principles for Wales
  3. Senedd reform: conduct a robust review of the impact of forthcoming reforms
  4. Inter-governmental relations: ensure parity of esteem between UK governments
  5. Sewel convention: require consent for any change to devolved powers
  6. Financial management: remove constraints on Welsh Government budgeting
  7. Broadcasting: give Wales a stronger voice on broadcasting policy
  8. Energy: establish an expert advisory group and devolve the Crown Estate
  9. Justice: devolve the justice system, starting with policing, probation and youth justice
  10. Rail: transfer responsibility and fair funding for rail infrastructure to Wales

Dr Williams said the report is the result of two years of open discussion with the people of Wales as well as the advice of experts.

“This dialogue has been hugely valuable, but there is much more work to be done,” he said.

“We need to make sure everyone has a voice in deciding the future path of their nation – the national conversation we have begun has to continue beyond the life of this commission.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the report deserves careful consideration and the Welsh Government will be reviewing it in detail.

The Tories described the report as constitutional navel gazing, with Darren Millar, the party’s shadow constitution minister, calling for a laser-like focus on health and education instead.

Lauren McEvatt, the Conservatives’ representative on the commission, dissented from the recommendation on devolution of powers over the justice system.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said the groundbreaking report is a significant step forward in terms of the constitutional debate in Wales.

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Welsh independence and devolution: Report says it’s viable but a challenge

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Credit: Cwmbran Life