In less than a week the people of Scotland will head to the polls to make one of the most momentous decisions in this union’s history and one for which this country has no democratic precedent. Column inch after column inch has rightly been devoted to the impact a possible yes vote could have. After 300 years, what price a divorce now?
Yet amidst all the marriage analogies a truth has been missed. This is a relationship between more than 2 countries. That a yes vote will be transformative for Scotland should be clear and England will of course suffer from more than just bruised pride by such a seperation but what will become for example of Wales?
Perhaps of all the home nations, it has most to lose from Scottish independence. Many of the concerns raised in Holyrood can also be heard in Cardiff Bay too. There is a sense of disconnect between the values of this small progressive nation and those espoused by successive right leaning Westminster Governments. A feeling only inflamed by Cameron’s current Austerity drive. After all, Wales is a nation for which labour struggles are within living memory; its scars still healing.
Yet like Scotland, it is also a country with an unspoken division between the the Nationalists and the Anglophiles. There is a tension between different visions of what it means to be welsh and the role that an historic language plays. To examine and encapsulate all these tensions and commonalities would take a better man than me but post Scottish independence you can be sure they will be felt ever stronger. For without Scotland as a useful ally, the union becomes a remarkably imbalanced affair. How will the people of Wales feel about the increased prospect of Tory majorities?
Inevitably the case for independence for Wales would be stoked by a Scottish yes vote. But it is also true that the same risks faced by an independent Scotland would to an even greater extent greet an independent Wales. Either way, a yes vote on Thursday would spark major upheaval and ignite a fresh conversation about the role of the union.
This much must be clear. Whatever the result on Thursday, a new constitutional settlement must now be sought. Not as a temporary fix or a batch of cobbled together powers. Or a Westminster fudge to stave off the clamour for independence from the UKs junior partners. What we need instead is a new deal for this union’s nations and English regions. One that answers the people’s legitimate cynicism toward Westminster politics by devolving power back into hands of the communities in which most British people live. Westminster does not reflect the demographic, cultural or economic realities of the modern day United Kingdom and until it does it is difficult to trust it will adequately meet this country’s challenges.
Structural reform does not of itself bring about change but a more transparent, democratic and dynamic approach to power does at least give us the tools to engage properly in the government of our country. It is one step among many but one we can’t afford to miss. After all, Its repercussions will be felt well beyond the parliaments of Holyrood and Westminster.