(Title Image: Fagan Associates)
This mini-series is a re-write and re-vamp of one of my most popular posts on the old Oggy Bloggy Ogwr – my 100th post at the time.
It’s a look at some of the most common arguments used against Welsh independence – some I’ve heard or seen myself, some have been simplified but very few of them are strawmen, they’ve all been used at some point directly or indirectly.
In Scotland it’s known as, “Too Wee, Too Poor, Too Stupid” but here it’s, “Too Small, Too Poor, Too Stupid, Too Welsh”.
Size Matters: “Wales is too small to be an independent country.”
It’s nonsense to say a country is too small to be independent, mainly because you don’t know what people mean when they say it.
If it’s too small in terms of population, then there are at least 50 examples of independent nations that are smaller than Wales.
If it’s too small in terms of physical size (Wales is only slightly bigger than Slovenia) then again there are around 40 nations smaller than us, some of which are amongst the wealthiest countries on the planet.
In economic terms, per-capita Wales is comfortably in the top 40 worldwide (though it’s hard to determine exactly due to changes in the value of the pound).
If it’s in terms of global influence, Switzerland is only twice as big as Wales yet is one of the most influential countries around. Israel is about the same size (much smaller if you only include the habitable parts) and practically has the United States in their pocket.
The Fig Leaf Argument: “Wales is too small to defend itself properly.”
See also: Defending Wales Parts I-X
I’ve gone into more detail on this in the above link, but yet again it’s another largely silly argument against independence that doesn’t take into account Wales’ strategic position.
In short, Wales could get away with having a smaller military because there are fewer reasons for another nation to attack us.
Wales has a small maritime patrol area, only one land border, has no major indigenous terrorist organisations, no natural enemies, no oil or movable natural resources, no strategic interests in the world’s flashpoints (like the Middle East) and doesn’t claim to be a world power.
We’re about as safe as it gets, yet the UK spends £1.7billion on our behalf to defend us when most of us are more likely to be killed by bad weather or in a car accident than another nation-state or non-state player attacking us.
Don’t get me wrong, the UK punches above its weight militarily, but is that of any real benefit to Wales?
Not really. It’s not in our interest for our people to fight and die in battles that serve little purpose towards our own national interest.
That doesn’t mean the military would be unable to protect the population, nor does it mean that things like counter-terrorism and counter-espionage would be watered down, or that Wales wouldn’t co-operate with England or anyone else on defence matters; we may even join and be an active participant in NATO if that’s what we want.
It should be our choice, based on our priorities.
The Welsh Desert: “Wales is too sparsely-populated.”
Wales is just a patchwork of fields separated by hills with tiny villages connected by poor roads – so it’s impossible for it to be a viable, independent nation because there’s no vibrancy. Instead of creating an entrepreneurial, closely-connected kinship and culture there’s a more laid back ruralism with strong regional identities.
Well, in fact Wales is mid-table in terms of population density globally at 150 people per sq km. This is actually more than China (144 per sq km) and higher than a vast bulk of EU member states (Austria, Denmark, Slovenia, Spain, Romania….). There are, of course, parts of Wales that vary significantly away from that figure – places like Powys (26) and Ceredigion (42) being much less densely populated than Cardiff (2,566) and Swansea (644).
You would think there’s something of a tenuous link between population density and economic growth because it increases employment opportunities, makes it easier to justify investment in infrastructure and creates economies of scale as services become cheaper to provide as supply lines are shorter and the workforce and customers are closer. This is why cities are, generally, more prosperous and economically productive than rural areas.
Slovenia and Switzerland have impenetrable mountain ranges but have respectively become the most prosperous successor state of the former Yugoslavia and one of the richest nations in the world – home to world-beating industries. Switzerland even works in four official languages, three of which are spoken by less than 20% of the population, one of those being spoken by less than 1% of the population (Romansh).
The problem in Wales has been an unwillingness by the UK and Welsh governments to overcome the geographical barriers between urban and rural Wales. Investing in north-south links is decried as “a waste of money”, while there are ready excuses as to why communications and telecoms infrastructure is so poor.
The Swiss, Austrians, Norwegians etc. have all faced exactly the same problem and overcome it, but we seemingly can’t despite our problems being easier to solve.
Reductio ad Absurdum: “If Wales can become independent, why not Monmouthshire or Aberystwyth?”
This argument is related, in part, to the strong regional identities within Wales.
This could be turned into a strength and would make a federal structure within Wales (strong regional government) a realistic proposition, which would strengthen local control and bring government closer to the people and away from Cardiff.
The reason this argument is brought up now, however, is to partition Wales and subtly annex pieces of the country to English regions: the north joining with north-west England, central Wales becoming Birmingham’s back garden and the south having some sort of tie-up with Bristol and the south-west of England.
Cross-border regions can and do work – the Rijn-Waal initiative between Germany and the Netherlands, for example. There’s no reason why something similar couldn’t happen between Wales and England after independence, but it can’t happen when one partner is in a subservient relationship to the other or when one partner has an ulterior motive.
As we all know, the British have a brilliant historical track record when it comes to partition.
We’re supposed to believe that someone living in Cardiff has more in common with someone living in Bristol, who uses a different health service, whose children have a different school curriculum and school system, who pay different rates of council tax, doesn’t live in a bilingual society, doesn’t live in a capital city, doesn’t share the same national football or rugby teams, could soon pay other different taxes and may, in the medium-term, live under a different policing and criminal justice system.
Oh, but they might fly from Heathrow Airport, watch Coronation Street or watch Manchester United and Liverpool….like the Irish, Australians and New Zealanders. Or they might work in Bristol but live in Cardiff, like someone living in Liege and working in Lille, or living in Newry and working in Dublin.