For the UK to Secure Its Future, It Needs a Reset


UK(Parliament Politic Magazine) – Improving the relationships between the UK’s governments is a pressing matter that should take the forefront to enhance service delivery to the populace. It is abundantly clear that for the United Kingdom to have a viable future, a complete re-evaluation is necessary. We must begin by recognizing the UK as a voluntary union of distinct nations, each with its own unique yet interconnected histories.

These nations willingly unite to consolidate their sovereignty and jointly govern these lands. This voluntary union should provide room for preserving the economic, social, and cultural identities of each nation, allowing them to shape their own policies, legislation, and budgets. It’s imperative to show equal respect for governments with democratic mandates from their respective territories.

Opinions from Individuals at Both Ends

Despite the vocal opinions from individuals at both ends of the political spectrum, a significant majority of the population in Wales stands in favor of the existing system of devolved government. Many express a desire for further empowerment through additional powers and greater self-governance, and there is a segment advocating for full independence for our nation. On the other hand, there are those, mainly among older demographics, who view the Senedd as an inefficient use of resources and believe it should be eliminated.

However, the concepts of independence and abolition currently represent the extremes of a spectrum, with the majority of people residing somewhere in the middle. They are generally content with the existing arrangements but also recognize the advantages of having more decision-making authority in Wales.

Recent summer polling revealed that approximately 40% of the population expressed a desire for greater powers or independence, while 23% leaned towards fewer powers or abolition. A quarter of the population favored maintaining the status quo.

As we approach the culmination of our two years of effort on the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, with our report slated for publication in January 2024, it’s an opportune moment to engage in a discourse about the union and its prospects.

Consider Dynamics Between Four Nations of UK

In particular, it’s essential to consider the dynamics between the four nations of the UK and why these interactions do not operate more effectively for the collective benefit. We have often pondered why there isn’t a more robust argument presented by those who champion the union and actively support the existing state of affairs.

Back in 2015, the Patrick Hannan lecture at the Hay Festival, hosted by BBC Cymru Wales, garnered considerable attention. In that lecture, they put forth the idea that Wales qualifying for the 2016 Football European Championships would have a far more profound impact on our national psyche than even winning the Rugby World Cup.

Interestingly, my speech also made a prediction: It was suggested that it would be unionists, not figures like Leanne Wood or Nicola Sturgeon (who were, at that time, the respective leaders of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party), who might ultimately signal the decline of the UK.

The argument, which has also been echoed by others in slightly varying forms (including the notion that Wales might gradually gravitate towards independence before Scotland does), essentially emphasizes that, like any form of union, political ones can erode as much due to apathetic neglect, indifference, and subtle disregard as they can through deliberate actions aimed at dismantling them.

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Absence of Effective Leadership

As highlighted by many colleagues, Professors Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones, there exists an ambivalence among the public towards the union, with fewer than half considering its preservation as a top priority.

Perhaps the absence of effective leadership regarding the union plays a substantial role in this situation. Undoubtedly, Brexit had a profound and negative impact, leading to an almost overnight transformation in the relationships among the UK’s governments. Subsequently, the public health crisis, affecting all of us, emerged, but cooperation was swiftly abandoned during the COVID crisis. However, this void in leadership and the challenge of maintaining the union extend much further back in history than 2016.

For a considerable period, those advocating for the union of “Great Britain and Northern Ireland” have kept a low profile or, conversely, resorted to occasionally clumsy and counterproductive displays of the Union Jack on government buildings. Given two pivotal factors: first, that support for the union remains a majority stance, and second, that the UK faces greater challenges.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.