by Simon Gruffydd Foster
“Wales is too small and too poor to be independent.”
That mantra is repeated virtually anytime one brings up the idea of Welsh independence. But what if the opposite is true? What if Wales, if anything, is too big to be truly independent? Let me explain …
The are 2 kinds of national independence – constitutional independence and economic independence.
Welsh political parties like Plaid Cymru and Ein Gwlad as well as ‘indy’ groups like YesCymru, etc., focus largely on constitutional independence. Constitutional independence enables the creation and repeal of primarily and secondary legislation by a democratic body elected by the nation.
Constitutional independence is really independence for the political class. Depending on the political party in power and the measures it enacts, it may result in greater or lesser independence in people’s daily lives, or the life of the nation as a whole.
Economic Independence is where a nation has control over its economy – primarily driven by its access to and control of the money supply and natural resources. Economic independence is lived independence where people are free to work where and when they please and by doing so ensure a relatively prosperous and secure place in their communities for themselves and their families.
Economic independence means being free from the grinding treadmill of debt and constant income insecurity. Economic independence is a plethora of opportunities rather than its dearth – as is currently the case.
Constitutional and Economic Independence are not the same
Confusion arises when people mistakenly (or intentionally) talk about constitutional and economic independence as one and the same thing. They are not. Constitutional independence is freedom for the political class. Economic independence is freedom for everyone else.
The two can go hand in hand, but they can also diverge. How many revolutionary freedom and independence movements over the centuries achieved power only to enslave its people in abject poverty and crippling dependency? Cuba comes to mind as one example. I’m sure you can think of others.
Small independent states right under our noses
So, is constitutional and economic independence only available to large states like the UK, France and Germany? Must small nations like Wales remain dependent due to lack of size? A quick glance around Europe shows that precisely the opposite is true.
The most independent and prosperous states are also some of the smallest. And these small yet relatively free, prosperous and independent mini-states are right under our noses. I’m talking about the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, and the City of London.
Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey
The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey governments control most of the laws that govern its people (unlike Wales that only has control over a few select areas). The Isle of Man also creates and controls its own money supply – the Manx pound (Jersey and Guernsey pounds are in a currency union with Sterling much like Scottish pounds).
Although called “British Crown Dependencies”, in reality they are almost the opposite. Being outside of many restrictive EU & UK regulations, the financial power of the ‘British Crown’ is largely dependent on them, not vice versa.
City of London
Another small mini-state in control over its own laws is the City of London. Also known as ‘The Square Mile’ it is situated in the heart of London. But is not part of London. It is not even part of the UK, let alone the EU. Nor is it controlled by the EU, UK or London. In fact, the UK Head of State, (currently Queen Elizabeth II), must ask permission of the Lord Mayor of the City of London simply to enter its territory.
The City of London also has a permanent representative (who sits behind the Speaker) in the House of Commons known as The Remembrancer – the power behind the throne.
Although tiny in size, the City of London is not just a prosperous self-governing independent state. As the home of major “to-big-to-fail” banks, the City of London creates, owns and controls close to 98% of the entire UK money supply.
This fact impoverishes us daily via wealth extraction from root to branch of the economic chain. It also exerts undue influence on the agenda of the government, regardless of which political party is in power. All of us, including the UK Government and Crown, is literally under the thumb of this small independent state. It is not too small, but way too powerful.
So is Wales too big?
The lesson to be learned from this is that for real independence it pays to be small, not big. An independent Wales may indeed turn out to be too big considering the growing bulge of Cardiff exerting a drain on its hinterland – much as the City of London does to the UK.
There are a number of remedies to this scenario. One is re-establishing Welsh Cantrefi, (possibly aligned in a Welsh confederation), each responsible for local laws including monetary instruments to ensure vibrant local economies. The bottom line is ‘the smaller the stronger’ – in contradistinction to what English common sense would dictate.
In short, Schumacher’s groundbreaking book Small is Beautiful needs to be re-thought. Small is not simply beautiful but can be immensely powerful and empowering for all its citizens. The keys is to change perspective – from looking up to external bodies (such as the UK, EU or UN) to come to our rescue – to unleashing the power of decentralised bottom-up governance – real democracy – in both justice and finance. It’s our heritage.