(This blog post first appeared here).
Whenever I’ve heard anyone debate Welsh independence, there’s always the inevitable “Wales is too small to survive on its own.” Oh really? The reality is that there are seven countries in Western Europe with a population that is lower than that of Wales; and guess what? They all have a nominal GDP per Capita that’s higher than what Wales’s GDP Per Capita is right now.
But I suppose the obvious question to ask is, “If Wales were not already a member of the UK, and instead an independent country like Ireland, Iceland or Slovenia, would she chose to join it?”
On the left is a map of the areas of Europe which were poor enough to receive EU funding in the period 2007-2013. Those areas in dark red are those areas which did qualify. Just take a look at the UK, and then take a look at France and Germany – two countries with similarly sized populations. In Germany the only area which was poor enough was the area that was once communist, while in France, nowhere was economically disadvantaged enough to qualify. The same cannot be said for the UK; The UK, it seems, has done a pretty bad job at making sure that none of its regions are economically left behind compared to how its neighbours have done. Meanwhile, Ireland, once the poorest part of the British Isles when it was still part of the United Kingdom, has no such areas, and in fact now has a GDP per Capita higher than that of the UK. It seems that Wales hasn’t benefited as much from this political union as much as the unionists like to say she has.
But its not just about the economy, its a lot else as well. As part of the deal of being a member of this United Kingdom, it seems you’re kinda expected to give up your own language; that’s of course what Scotland and Ireland (before 1922) did, and Wales has for-filled that requirement to the extent that only 8% of children in Wales now speak Welsh as their main language at home, according to the school census of 2013. Having said that though, one of the UK’s members, England, seems to have got away quite well with not having to hand in its language. At least in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Slovenians and Czechs and other nationalities continued to hold on to their own languages right the way through. Identity, too, seems to be something which you’re expected to at least half hand in at reception; when I was in France, there were a lot of people who seemed to refer to Scottish and Welsh people simply as ‘English’, and yet I seriously doubt that they would now refer to any Slovenians as ‘Austrians.’
And then of course, there’s the flooding of welsh villages, like Capel Celyn. This happened despite the fact that not one Welsh MP voted in favor of the scheme, while such reservoirs, such as those which flooded Capel Celyn and Nant-Y-Moch, were created not to water Welsh mouths, but for the benefit of industries in English cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham. Welsh villages such as Trawsfynydd and Mynydd Epynt have had to put up with military encampments on their doorstep whether they wanted them or not, while the latter community was actually forced out of their homes. Many of the wars which Wales has been involved in since, as a member of the UK, are wars which I hardly think an independent Wales would have considered worth fighting in. Then of course, there are the nuclear power plants, placed in areas such as Cemaes in Anglesey and again, in Trawsfynydd. Somehow I think its hard to imagine them being placed in the Thames Valley or in Oxfordshire. And, of course, thanks to a decision made in England, you can no longer travel by train from the north of Wales to the south without leaving the country. I mean, what the…..?
It’s very simple, folks; the difference between those other countries already mentioned and Wales is that while Wales is on the edge of someone else’s country, ruled for the benefit of that other country, all those other countries, from Ireland to Lichtenstein, are countries of their own, and get to rule themselves, in the interests of themselves. Would Wales chose to join the United Kingdom if she were already like them? Hmm, that’s a hard one. If I were a Welshman, I know what I’d vote for.