Wales, England and the Future of the UK

Wales, England and the Future of the UK

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

As part of our series about the future of the Union, David and Helen talk to Dan Wincott of Cardiff Law School about the history of Welsh devolution and the possibility of Welsh independence. How has English dominance shaped Welsh attitudes to the Union? What did the Brexit vote reveal about the different strands of Welsh and British identity? Has the pandemic made the case for more devolution and even independence for Wales stronger? Plus, what happens to Wales if Scotland votes to leave the UK?

Talking Points: 

The Anglo-Welsh union is a story of conquest and incorporation.

Wales was integrated into the English legal system under Henry VIII. There are strong cultural institutions in Wales, and the persistence of Welsh as the vernacular language limited the reach of English laws for a long time.

It’s hard to understand the rise of the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century without seeing its relationship to questions about the Union.

Welsh Labour politicians played a critical role in tying the UK together during that period. Labour moved away from home rule after WWI, but as things got more complicated in the 1970s, Labour ended up struggling with devolution questions without an English majority. When Labour came back into power in 1997 it set up the first version of the devolution settlements.Labour’s weakness in England from 2010 is central to the current situation.For New Labour, Welsh devolution was an afterthought. They were more concerned with Scotland.

The majority of Wales who voted in the referendum voted Leave.

Wales is probably the part of Britain where patterns of national identity are most complex.In Wales, those who prioritize British identity tended to vote Leave. But in England, those who prioritize British identity generally voted Remain. 

People are at least curious about what more devolution might look like in Wales.

Although there is still anti-devolution sentiment in Wales in a way there isn’t in Scotland.As long as the Labour Party can’t win a majority in Westminster, there is going to be curiosity about greater independence.

Mentioned in this Episode: 

From our Union series on… Scotland From our Union series on… Northern IrelandBenedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities‘Analysing vote choice in a multinational state: national identity and territorial differentiation in the 2016 Brexit vote’

Further Learning: 

More on COVID in Wales‘Crisis, what crisis? Conceptualizing crisis, UK pluri-constitutionalism and Brexit politics’More about Weslh independence

And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:

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