With no Scotland does the UK become too dominated by the English? Would it trigger a domino effect that would push Wales out of the union?
It was a little-noticed remark. While Alex Salmond’s battle with Westminster over the timing and legality of any referendum on Scottish independence dominated news bulletins, Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones waded in.
And according to the Labour politician, Scottish independence would demand a “fundamental rethink” of Wales’ position in the United Kingdom.
"It certainly couldn't carry on as it is now,” he told journalists. “You can't just take Scotland out and expect the UK to continue as before.”
John Osmond, director of the Institute for Welsh affairs, said the remarks were a turning point.
“A unionist turned himself into a federalist. Because he said that if Scotland were to become independent the rest of the UK couldn’t just carry on as it is. There would have to be a renegotiation of the relationships between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. What he is saying for example is that we couldn’t just carry on with a House of Commons completely dominated by English MPs.”
Jones has since made his unionist credentials clear, telling the BBC "Let's not pretend that it would be a good thing for Wales to become independent.” But what would an independent Scotland really mean for Wales? And is there a similar appetite within the country leave the United Kingdom?
Unsurprisingly for Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party who only last year firmly outlined their wish for Wales to leave the United Kingdom, Scottish independence could be the breaking point.
“The Scottish independence debate puts the Welsh situation back into the spotlight again. Unionism is in crisis, there's no particularly good reason for keeping it together. Why is it that we're better off in this system than taking decisions for ourselves?” a party insider told Huff Post UK.
They argue that a government across one and a half islands is ineffective and without Scotland, parliament will be even more dominated by the English.
But one problem remains: What the Welsh people want. "People in Wales almost don’t have enough of a chip on their shoulder [about independence],” says one Plaid adviser.
Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards acknowledges polls do not show an appetite for Welsh independence.
“The opinion polls are normally between 10-20%. It's never been a hot topic in Wales as it has been in Scotland. The SNP have pursued it as the raisn d’etat as it were. We've taken a more gradualist approach as a party,” he told Huff Post UK.
“It was only this year we adopted independence as officially the party’s constitutional objective. But I think events in Scotland are focusing minds in Wales... The Welsh government needs to prepare now for the inevitability of Scottish independence.”
Last year’s referendum meant the Welsh Assembly was given powers to make legislation without the approval of Westminster. And the Silk Commission, set up by the UK government, is looking into devolving some more financial powers to Wales.”
Edwards argues the referendum will be seen as a “significant step” on the way to independence.
“The constitutional debate is live and there’s a process whereby it’s being discussed. But what I’m arguing is that events in Scotland will supersede that, so we need to look beyond that.”
So why do Plaid want independence? Edwards denies it’s about hating the English: “I've got a number of very good English friends. I play cricket in the summer. I don't think it's to do with that. I define myself as a Welsh person, the question is as the British state moves forward how is the relationship between nations dealt with...
“It’s got nothing to do with chips on shoulders. People increasingly now indentify themselves either as Welsh or English or Scottish and they want to move towards determining their own future. It’s as simple as that. People who ignore that are behind the times and the tide of history.”
But for Osmond it’s difficult to compare Wales and Scotland: “When parliament first met 12 years ago in Scotland the parliament was in a keystone place in the already existing structures, Scotland. A lot of Scottish institutions already existed like the Scottish education system, the Scottish legal system and all the rest of it.In Wales there is none of that – or very little. So when the assembly met for the first time in 1999, it wasn’t as though the keystone was placed in an arch, we had to make an arch.”
Even Plaid’s Edwards acknowledges the debate has not really “kicked off” in Wales yet.
“What tends to happen in Wales, we're about 10 years behind Scotland. We let them make their step and then we make the argument for the next 10 years to get where they were. That’s what will happen in this case, I would imagine.”
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