It has been an interesting week for the Labour party across the UK. Friday morning heralded a moment of respite for Keir Starmer as Labour held on to Batley and Spen by the tightest of margins. It made no difference to the arithmetic in parliament, but it is a welcome shot in the arm for a UK Labour leader yet to make his mark.

Meanwhile, in Cathays Park, grander thoughts were occupying the minds of a buoyant Welsh Labour Government; thoughts about the Union and Wales’ place within it.

On Tuesday, the Welsh Government set out a 20-point plan it believes can make the United Kingdom stronger, working better for everyone.

'Reforming Our Union' calls on the UK Government to recognise that the UK is a voluntary association of nations. It includes restructuring the House of Lords, creating a new, independent public body to oversee how funding arrangements are made in the UK, and transferring power away from Westminster.

It also reaffirms the Welsh Government's position on devolving justice and policing to Wales, which is already devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

READ MORE: What's in the Government's plan for the constitution?

An independent commission will be set up in Wales to consider our constitutional future and start a national conversation about what will work best for our country and its people.

It’s a bold move and the Government’s contribution to the constitutional conversation it says is being had across the United Kingdom right now.

Its architect is Mick Antoniw, Wales counsel general and minister for constitution. The latter is an entirely new role, but in many respects, it is one he is the perfect fit for.

Practicing as a solicitor for 30 years before becoming a Senedd Member, he spent time during the last Senedd working on the interparliamentary forum on Brexit, which brought together politicians from across the UK to discuss the future of these islands we all call home.

In January, Antoniw produced 'Radical Federalism', a sort-of centre ground approach to the constitutional future of the UK; a middle ground between the status quo of ‘unionism’ and independence.

It is that position in which the government is now planting its flag. It is a position Antoniw believes is the right one for Wales and the UK.

“I think Wales' future, and the future of nearly all countries in the world today, is about interdependency; common things we share with our neighbours," he told The National.

"The idea of separate nations as we would have understood the UK 50 or 60 years ago in the days of empire: those days are gone.

"The focus of people's identity has become increasingly important. Devolution has been really important in restoring a degree of pride and identity in terms of Wales and in terms of Scotland.

"You are also seeing that in England and I think the recent elections have really highlighted that. The fact that Andy Burnham can win 67 per cent of the vote by speaking up for the Manchester area is quite phenomenal.

"Here in Wales we have moved away from a devolved administration to a parliament, and sovereignty lies with the people. The concept of a single sovereignty worked well when you had one parliament, but where you now have a number of legislatures passing laws in their own right, that has changed and we have moved on."

The Welsh Government has wasted no time in putting constitutional issues near the top of its agenda. It is a move that has been criticised by some for diverting attention away from rebuilding Wales after the pandemic.

It is true that the Government's in-tray is full; so why place such importance on an issue that many people don’t prioritise in the way they do healthcare, transport or education?

Cardiff University’s Laura McAllister says it is no surprise the Government is making its move now.

“This was bound to happen, there have been manoeuvrings prior to the Senedd election,” Professor McAllister told The National, pointing to Labour’s inclusion of constitutional issues in its manifesto.

“They are trying to do something more in the middle ground, trying to do something in the space between the abolish ‘come tow the English line’ position, and the YesCymru independence movement.

“Welsh Government is doing this for a number of reasons. Firstly it needs to coalesce different voices around the constitutional future and take the sting out of the indy-movement and not allow YesCymru to dominate the debate.

Secondly, I think Labour knows very well that it has to be seen to be fighting back and offering an alternative position to the UK’s interventions in devolution.

Finally, they know very well that the constitutional question is massively determined by age and demographics. We have seen that up to 50 per cent of Labour voters are in favour of independence, and they have to do something because the future is not the same as the past.”

In many respects, Labour has always taken a keen interest in the devolution settlement, being the architects of the creation of the Senedd in the late 1990s and in the two decades since.

READ MORE: The Simon Hart Interview: UK Gov to take more active role

As Welsh Labour have continued to dominate Welsh electoral politics since 1997, the Senedd has gained more power. However, for Mr Antoniw, the UK leaving the European Union is the reason all this comes to a head now.

“We have left the European Union and that is not going to be re-emerging for perhaps another generation,” he continued.

"The question now is how do we work with the people who are around us and how do we work together on common interests. If the relationships we have are not working and instead they are fragmenting and deteriorating, then we have to start looking at how we address it."

There is a commitment to the United Kingdom among everything Mr Antoniw says. While Welsh Labour have been more than happy to dress themselves in the Welsh flag and promote themselves as the party standing up for Wales, this piece of work illustrates that as far as this Welsh Labour Government is concerned, Wales is stronger within the United Kingdom, albeit on different terms.

While the Welsh Government is clearly trying to make its wants and needs clearer with this announcement, it is predicated on the willingness of the UK Government to entertain the recommendations and proposals.

So far, that willingness does not appear forthcoming.

No stranger to butting up against the Welsh Government on UK relations, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart told The National: “In the general election and Senedd election, there was not a single person I spoke to who said they wanted to prioritise constitutional issues.

“We are in a delicate economic position, and jobs rely on what Welsh Government does next. The last thing any of us need is a massive distraction on constitutional matters.

“Things like more politicians and far reaching federalism leave voters stone cold, and I think to prioritise that is an opportunity missed.”

For Professor McAllister, whatever position the Welsh Government comes to following a constitutional commission, its biggest challenge is altering the way Westminster interacts with Cardiff Bay.

“What if they come out with a wonderful report in three years’ time, but that is completely contingent on Starmer being the next Prime Minister?” Professor McAllister continued.

“The problem we have is that there is no interest or engagement from the UK Government with the constitutional question.

“Until they are forced into this, they simply will not address it. We are the invisible part of the jigsaw.”

That is also a concern of those within the Welsh Labour Party, a broadening church when it comes to constitutional issues.

Labour backbencher Hefin David, no stranger to friction with the independence movement, told The National: “He [Drakeford] is opening up the battlelines now, and what he is doing is staking out the territory.

"He recognises the attacks on devolution such as UK Government’s levelling up agenda.

"The problem is, the battle is happening now under this Conservative government. I suspect they will ignore it, and just plough on regardless.

“At the moment it is a stand-off with all guns drawn, but that is not sustainable forever.

"My personal vision for the UK is a single transferable vote, a codified constitution with regional parliaments in England, federalised parliaments in Wales and Scotland, and all that to be done without a referendum."

There lies the issue for Welsh Labour and its Government. Settling on a position in itself may be difficult, but it appears far easier than convincing their UK counterparts.

Bob Lloyd, president of independence campaign group Labour for an Independent Wales, is far more forthright in what he believes is achievable.

He told The National: "The reality is, we don't have the power to make these decisions.

"If the aim is to reform the union, the only demographic you have to convince is the UK Tory Party.

"The majority of the [Welsh Labour] party probably sit with reforming the union, but it is entirely dependent on a UK Conservative Government.

"If there was a Labour party doing well in England, challenging the Tories, then the mood would change, but that just isn't happening.

"I don't think it can go on much longer. The conversation completely changes if Scotland votes to leave, and it changes it more for Welsh Labour than Wales.

"There is no hope of a future Labour UK Government without Scotland. Once one wheel comes off, they all come off.”

READ MORE: Wales has no power to reform this broken union

Asked what happens if a commission falls on deaf Westminster ears, Mr Antoniw had a warning for the UK Government.

"When you are in a situation where there is an impasse, the way to respond is to go to the people themselves," he told The National.

"The people is where sovereignty really lies. If that results in a political consensus, that will be very empowering for Wales, because we can then go to the UK and say we have a consensus for this change."

However, he does have a warning for the UK Government: "For those who say everything is hunky dory at the moment, you have Scotland potentially on the verge of a referendum that might result in them leaving the UK.

"You have Northern Ireland where there are serious issues emerging. You clearly have increased conflict in England between regional mayors and centralised government there, and you have growing calls for independence in Wales.

“It comes down to the fundamental constitutional point between us and Westminster. They believe all sovereignty lies in 10 Downing Street and that everything else emanates from that.

"The reality is, [if the UK Government does not listen], there will be an increasingly traumatic fragmentation. The UK Government should be bothered. They should wake up and smell the coffee because the writing is on the wall as to what the consequences are of not tackling or identifying these problems.”

In essence, Welsh Labour realise their position on the union is dependant on what happens about that writing on the wall.

The Welsh Government cannot stick where it is, because the Welsh Labour Party has made itself the defender of Wales against Westminster’s onslaught. It continues to gain support from people in Wales who are fed up of the UK’s imbalances, but that support grows more burdensome the longer the UK Government refuses to give ground.

Mark Drakeford and Mick Anotoniw will now turn to Keir Starmer and his colleagues for support from the UK Party, but they have their own challenges in England.

The Welsh Government has played its hand. The longer they wait, the longer they grow to believe that the the game they play changes significantly.

If you value The National's political journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.