- by Nick Powell
There’s more than one way of looking at Carwyn Jones’s letter to David Cameron yesterday. A close relationship with the European Union has been part of devolution’s DNA since the Assembly was set up. It is not surprising that the First Minister felt he should tell the Prime Minister that he feared the use of the veto in Brussels ‘fundamentally threatens Wales’ national interest’.
In Whitehall, one source preferred to view it as just the latest of the frequent complaints from Cathays Park, ‘Instead of speaking out on matters he has no responsibility for, he should concentrate on doing a better job in the areas he is supposed to be managing’. But the headlines have gone to Carwyn Jones’s suggestion that his greatest fear is that David Cameron risks destroying the United Kingdom.
The First Minister concluded his letter as follows: ‘For the first time, I am now seriously concerned about whether the interests of Wales can be advanced effectively in Europe by the UK Government. For those of us who are committed to the United Kingdom, and the place of the UK within the European Union, this is a deeply concerning position to be in’.
Of course in Scotland the First Minister is the SNP leader, Alex Salmond. Far from being committed the United Kingdom, Mr Salmond is planning a referendum on Scottish independence. At his press conference to explain his letter, Carwyn Jones said that was a particular concern:
‘In pandering to a relatively small number of Euro-sceptics, [David Cameron risks] I think in Scotland, where public opinion is particularly pro-European, [that] people are going to ask themselves whether they want to be in the EU or the UK. I think that’s unhelpful for those of us who want to see the UK continue’.
So I asked him what Wales should do if Scotland does leave the UK:
‘We can’t carry on as we are now. The UK couldn’t just carry on with a bit of it gone. There would have to be a convention between England, Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss what the shape of the future state would be’.
It’s one thing to raise the spectre of Scotland leaving the UK as part of his latest row with the Prime Minister. It’s quite another for the First Minister to reveal that he’s thinking about how Wales should respond to such a momentous development. But what would happen if there was no renegotiation of offer, just a continuation of the present UK minus Scotland? It would presumably have to have a new name, ‘the United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland’ or ‘Ukipia’ has already been mischievously suggested.
Some close to the thinking at the top of the Welsh government have been warning privately for some time that although their preference is for ever-deepening devolution partnered with Europe’s ever-closer union, the idea of England dominating the UK without Scotland would turn them into Welsh nationalists overnight. As part of its survey of how last week’s events in Brussels have left the UK’s economic and political interests, the Financial Times includes a warning of ‘the pinched politics of nationalist delusion’. English nationalist delusion is what’s in the author’s sights.