The unionist parties are today debating how to ‘strengthen’ the Union as it relates to Wales. This is in itself an admission of its weakness, and in need of drastic changes if it has any hope of surviving.

In sessions of the Welsh Grand Committee, Welsh MPs come together to discuss the impact of Westminster policies on Wales. The motion title, “To consider the matter of Strengthening the Union as it relates to Wales”, not only allows for a discussion of whether it serves the interests of the people of Wales, but it also offers an opportunity to debate the different constitutional paths that are open to us a nation.

One path is built on the unsteady foundations of economic extraction, legitimised by historical revisionism and political marginalisation. It requires us to accept that our ambitions and priorities are secondary to the greater good of the Union. It asks us to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to accept the status quo as the best we can ever aspire to.

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The other path leads to the opportunity and greater responsibility that independence represents. It is a path that asks us to aspire for a fairer and more inclusive form of governance, and challenges us to take responsibility for its creation.

If the Union is a vehicle for progress, and one that delivers for the people of Wales, its cheerleaders should perhaps stop undermining their own arguments at every opportunity.

The National Wales: A train at Cardiff Central station. (Picture: Geoff Sheppard)A train at Cardiff Central station. (Picture: Geoff Sheppard)

First, our railways. Built to extract Wales’ wealth rather than to serve its communities, our railways have been neglected by Westminster. It is failure that has severely hampered our quality of life as well as our net-zero ambitions.

Wales has 11 per cent of the UK’s rail network but on average only receives 6 per cent of UK expenditure on operations, track maintenance and renewal. This means that on an annual basis, underfunding by the UK government is hampering Welsh railways – reflected in travel times, poor connectivity, and high private car use.

This is made clearer when you consider HS2 – a project which will cost the Welsh economy approximately £150 million a year in lost economic output. Despite not a metre of track lying in Wales, the Treasury continues to classify the project as one benefitting both England and Wales. Consequently, Wales is set to lose out on  five billion pounds of investment, while the Treasury continues to reduce Welsh transport investment by lowering the comparability factor in the statement of funding.

A further example is to be found in the UK government’s treatment of the Crown Estate in Wales. Having devolved the management of the Crown Estate to Scotland in 2017, Westminster retains control of the Estate in Wales. This means that revenues from Wales’ natural resources are siphoned off to the Treasury rather than staying in the communities in which they are generated.

The National Wales: A Bill that would devolve power over Crown Estate lands to Wales will be debated in March. (Picture: PA Wire)A Bill that would devolve power over Crown Estate lands to Wales will be debated in March. (Picture: PA Wire)

This injustice is particularly pertinent to our net-zero ambitions. Yesterday, the Scottish Crown Estate finalised its latest auction of seabed rights to offshore wind developers. Through 17 projects, Scotland has secured nearly £700 million for its public finances and attracted a global consortium of developers who will further invest in a Scottish supply chain.

This is great for Scotland and for the world, and demonstrates how local control is essential to maximise the benefits of the green transition.

Moving from transport infrastructure to our justice system – our most essential element of social infrastructure - the Union has failed to deliver an effective and fair justice system to Wales.


While justice in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is fully integrated into wider policy, in Wales powers over justice are reserved to Westminster. This situation was described by the Commission on Justice in Wales, led by Lord Thomas, as lacking any “rational basis”.

Chronic underfunding of justice services by Westminster has meant Wales has had to fill the void, contributing 40 per cent of spending for what is ultimately a reserved matter.

There can be no doubt that if it is to survive, the Union will have to change, a fact its proponents must acknowledge if they are serious about strengthening it.

Ultimately, the fate of the Union will be determined by whether its supporters are prepared to make the changes necessary to address the issues detailed above. Indeed, when we consider these failures, is it any surprise that more and more people in Wales are beginning to question whether the Union truly serves their interests?

Wales deserves better than what it has in this Union, but for now we are here. The question for the Westminster parties is, by their actions, for how long.

Ben Lake is the MP for Ceredigion.

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