Andrew R.T Davies is Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly for Wales and an Assembly member for South Wales Central
For Wales, the United Kingdom is simply too important to dismiss. The Welsh border with England is one of the most porous anywhere – both economically and demographically. Around half of the Welsh population and 10 per cent of the English population live within 25 miles of the border (only 3 per cent of the Scottish population live within the same distance with England by comparison). With this level of interdependence and geographic proximity, it is all the more important to stress how important the United Kingdom really is. It isn’t just a flag or a name – it is about the way we live.
The single market that the UK enjoys has been amongst the most successful of any ever created. Whilst the European continent is almost unrecognisable as a political entity from what it was 306 years ago, the United Kingdom has avoided the same internal turmoil, maintaining its position as a world power – the sixth economy of the world and a cultural and social union united through its diversity. Yet whilst it has existed for as long as it has, it can no longer be taken for granted. There are some in Scotland and in Wales who believe that it holds us back; that it is no longer relevant. They don’t see is how special our Union really is – that Union is about strength of diversity as well as economic and political power.
There have been changes, however. The past 14 years have seen radical constitutional change through the process of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some have put the current referendum in Scotland down to the onset of devolution. It is, for those of us who believe in the United Kingdom and devolution, to show what can be done with devolution. That locally-taken decisions often are more representative of the desires of a population; that the strength of communities is when they’re empowered themselves. As the debate for the future of our UK continues, the case needs to be made for the positive things that can be done by taking locally-made decisions.
In Wales, devolution has not been centred on the independence of the individual but a "Big State" mentality. Reorganising health boards centrally, leaving communities without a voice, centralising education policy away from teachers and parents…and as if to demonstrate their statist credentials to the absolute maximum, last year Labour in Wales nationalised an airport! The history of the left in devolved Wales is one of process over policy.
Labour in Wales has remained almost silent on the Scottish Referendum. From time to time, the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has raised his head to belly ache about our current devolved settlement. He’s demanded constitutional conventions, written constitutions, a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, policing… the list goes on. Yet, with the debate being centred firmly on our continued union as four nations of the United Kingdom, he’s remained silent about Scotland. At a time when we should be demonstrating why we’re really better together than we are apart, Carwyn Jones has seen it as an opportunity to speak of his pet projects. The truth is, Labour in Wales only care about one union – the one that backs them in their elections.
With a year to go and our cousins in Scotland getting closer and closer to the polling booths, the Welsh Conservatives will continue to fight the cause of our strength as a United Kingdom whilst pushing the need for real empowerment. People know how to spend their own money better than governments; communities know their own needs better than Welsh mandarins based in the Cardiff Bay Bubble. Devolution is not a vehicle taking us to a breakup of the United Kingdom, but failing to put forward the case for unity is. A year is a long time in politics – but not in a 306 year history of strength.