Squabbling over scraps

So the Tories eventually managed to negotiate a confidence and supply deal with the DUP to keep Theresa May in power. The headline is that it will result in £1bn of additional spending over two years in the Six Counties. People in Wales have been kicking up a fuss about it.


It doesn't surprise me at all that Carwyn Jones should do so. As Welsh Labour see things, the whole point of being in this political union is that, through it, Wales can be subsidized by countries that are richer than we are. Therefore the size of the handout we get, and how it compares to the handouts that other parts of the UK get, is important ... in fact it's probably the most important thing on their agenda.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't worry too much about it. There is almost certain to be legal challenge from the Welsh and Scottish governments, which might well result in Wales, Scotland and perhaps even England getting more public spending. But even if some legal process eventually determines that a few billion pounds more has be made available to be spent elsewhere, it is only small change in comparison with total UK public expenditure of more than £750bn a year. From the Tories' point of view, it's a very cheap way of giving them a comfort zone in terms of votes in the House of Commons. And even if there is some legal challenge, it will take years, so the Tories will have bought themselves time ... which in itself is a very precious commodity.


What concerns me more is that many of those who want independence for Wales have been complaining in exactly the same way, and that some—for example in this post have said that if only we were a little more unruly, then we in Wales could get bigger handouts from Westminster. I find this disturbing, because the whole point of independence for us to stand on our own two feet as a nation, not relying on handouts from others at all, and certainly not arguing about whether we should now get £1.7bn more to spend in Wales just because the Six Counties are in line to get £1bn.

If we do this, we are missing the point entirely. Our mentality is completely wrong. I do not want a Wales on its knees squabbling over a few billion pounds, I want a Wales on its feet, producing that few billion—and much more—by our own efforts.


Let's look more closely at Ireland. Before independence Ireland was poor. Since independence (and particularly since joining the EU) the Republic has become much, much richer. This wealth might be concentrated in the south east (just as it is in both Wales and England) but even the poorer Border, Midlands and Western region of Ireland is considerably more wealthy than the Six Counties.

Southern and Eastern Ireland ... €39,900 (£28,950) per head
Border, Midlands and Western Ireland ... €23,700 (£17,200) per head
Six Counties ... €21,000 (£15,200) per head


Let's now put this additional £1bn into perspective. It equates to £500m per year, or £280 (€390) per head, since the Six Counties have a population of about 1.8m. At best, all this additional spending only scratches the surface of the underlying inequality of wealth between the Six and Twenty-six Counties. And in fact the current inequality is much bigger now than these figures show, because the pound has fallen so much in value since the Brexit vote.

Of course, nobody can say for certain that if the whole of Ireland had become independent, without partition, the Six Counties would now be as rich as the Twenty-Six. But I would be astounded if they weren't.

To slightly modify the proverb: is it better to give someone an extra £280 of fish a year, or allow them to catch fish for themselves and become a few thousand pounds richer each year as a result?


I have no doubt that the DUP will spin this deal as a victory, and will say at the next election, "Vote for us, because only we are able to deliver all this extra fish pork."

Fish-barrel politics is as grubby as pork-barrel politics, it's a reflection of our obsession with the small picture at the expense of the big picture. We need to be asking why Wales, Scotland or the Six Counties should live as beggars, squabbling with each other over how many billion pounds the UK government will give us on the rare occasions when one of our political parties is in a position to twist their arm. With independence, we can each arrange our economies to suit our own strengths and in time, like Ireland, become much richer than we will ever be as part of the UK.

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Ioan said...

Hitio'r hoelen ar ei phen! Y ddadl "os basa ni yn rhan o Loegr, mi fas ni yn cael mwy o bres" ydi'r ddadl ddylai cenedlaetholwyr BYTH wneud, ac mi ddylai Plaid Cymru wybod yn well!!

Hoff iawn o wefan Nation.Cymru gyda llaw - chwa o awyr iach, a croeso 'nol Syniadau!

Neilyn said...

Absolutely agree with you in principle, as I'm sure most supporters of the national movement do. Clearly, there's much to be done to galvanise the nation into taking our destiny into our own hands. Plaid will only be emboldened once grassroot support grows substantially. Perhaps even Welsh Labour, who knows.

Anonymous said...

You make an incredibly important point about those who seek independence squabbling over crumbs. I have also had a gutsful of people who claim to be for Welsh independence post-referendum saying that Wales NEEDS the EU. This is just exchanging one dependence for another. We should have the confidence to assert that we NEED neither the UK, or the EU. That doesn't mean we won't choose to be in the EU, but not because we can't survive without them.

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