After the chaos of the past few days, Mark Drakeford must realise that Westminster will never work for Wales

Few people in Wales would disagree with the First Minister this week when he described the current UK government as “one of the most awful UK Governments we have ever seen” and “incompetent to its core”. Along with empty supermarket shelves and skyrocketing energy prices, the endless queues at petrol stations this week set the perfectly chaotic scene for Mark Drakeford’s intervention.

Despite the HGV driver crisis bubbling under the surface for months – Boris Johnson’s government have stood unflaggingly idle for fear of having to recognise their own deception and the errors of their own judgement. 

A Government built on untruths was never going to be in a position to convince drivers that everything was under control – and so cries of “don’t panic” from Tory ministers rang false to a fed-up population. 

And so a Brexit-triggered crisis has spiralled out of control, proving Mark Drakeford’s point for him.

Set against a backdrop of such chaos, Mark Drakeford’s assured defence of our devolved government landed well with delegates and journalists alike. Indeed, it reflected a sentiment reflected more widely in Wales – a maturing belief in the virtues of self-government and of doing things differently in Wales.

Central to the First Minister’s argument was the idea that UK Labour should learn from Welsh Labour’s experience in government. How disappointing it must have been therefore for the Labour First Minister to find only a single passing reference to Wales in Keir Starmer’s mammoth 14,000-word essay. 

READ MORE: Starmer's private sector optimism is out of date

The growing distance between the way of thinking between Cardiff and Labour is something to celebrate for those of us who believe in devolution, but must nevertheless be frustrating for those who believe that the Labour Party can be the credible vehicle for that progress.

Labour Ministers in Wales have slowly but surely built the case for a stronger devolution settlement, with the Government’s ‘Reforming Our Union’ document from July 2021 calling for the devolution of justice and policing. While falling short of an actual commitment – the First Minister has also indicted that the Welsh Government ought to explore the devolution of administration of welfare benefits to Wales.

READ MORE: Commission will 'reach own conclusions' on Wales' future

The Westminster Labour leader, on the other hand, was more lukewarm in his defence of devolution this week. Wales will “possibly” get more powers under a future Labour UK Government, according to Keir Starmer, undermining it with the addendum that he was “not precious” about it. 

What use is a Welsh Labour policy for radical devolution if a UK Labour government would possibly, or probably, never implement it?

Preoccupied by his party’s own internal ideological infighting, Keir Starmer has done little to oppose this week’s Tory omnishambles. It is only the preface of what will be a difficult winter of multiple crises inter-breeding with each other, which will be aggravated by the Tories’ decision simultaneously to cut Universal Credit and remove furlough. Having let the UK Government off the hook for months, Starmer will face an uphill struggle to communicate an alternative vision.

READ MORE: Campaigners say Welsh Labour should become a 'sister party'

There is another way. Wales can build upon those good policies cited by the First Minister in his speech - free prescriptions and free breakfasts in our primary schools. Free childcare for working parents. We could build a nation based on social justice, that isn’t hamstrung by a Westminster government obsessed with pinching pounds out of the pockets of the poorest in society. 

With a Tory party that is ideologically driven to undermine Welsh self-government and a Labour Party in Westminster that’s lukewarm about strengthening devolution, independence is the only sure and sustainable means to achieve social and economic progress for Wales. 

READ MORE: Starmer must learn the lessons of Welsh Labour

The endemic poverty and lack of opportunity we experience in Wales despite twenty years of progressive governments must surely make even the staunchest unionist wonder how the United Kingdom has so spectacularly failed to further the best interests of Wales.

As Labour’s five day conference draws to a close and delegates reflect on the chaotic scenes both inside and outside the venue, perhaps it’s time for Mark Drakeford to question whether a change of personnel in Westminster will ever resolve Wales’s chronic problems in the UK.

It’s time to look to ourselves and our own future.

Liz Saville-Roberts is group leader of Plaid Cymru in the House of Commons and Member of Parliament for Dwyfor Meirionnydd.

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