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Welsh democracy at risk unless urgent changes are made, says Constitutional Commission

Co-Chairs of The Indpendent Constitutional Future of Wales The Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister

The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales releases its final report into its work today following a two year national conversation.

Co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales was set up in 2021 to look at how Wales is governed and options for change. The group of 11 Commission members come from a range of diverse backgrounds and bring a wealth of expertise and political views.

The Commission began a national conversation to listen to a range of voices in Wales and set to work looking at ways to strengthen its democratic future. It has engaged with thousands of citizens across Wales through surveys, a Community Engagement Fund, roadshows and its own online platform. This level of grass roots democratic engagement has enabled a first-hand understanding of what matters most to the people of Wales about how their country is run. However, this valuable conversation cannot end here and the Commission is calling on the Welsh Government to improve civic education for all, and the initiation of a constitutional statement for Wales to be drafted by its citizens.

In its interim report, published in December 2022, the Commission found significant problems with the way Wales is governed within the Union and that the ‘status quo’ is not a viable or secure foundation for stability and prosperity for Wales. It set out three alternative constitutional routes for Wales. These were independence, a federal system and enhancing devolution.

The Commission’s final report has concluded that all three options are viable for the long term and also argues that some urgent changes are needed to protect the status quo. These include the devolution of justice, policing and rail infrastructure to improve accountability and service delivery, as well as major changes to the way Wales is funded to ensure devolution can maximise value for money for the people of Wales.

The report also finds legislated protections for inter-governmental relations are needed to ensure that each level of government works together, but more importantly, deliver efficiently in the public interest.

On the three constitutional options for Wales:

  • Enhanced devolution would be economically stable and largely risk-free, without requiring a referendum. It would not fundamentally change the fiscal and economic position of Wales in the United Kingdom economy.
  • A federal UK offers an accountable ‘middle way’ with more potential benefits than enhanced devolution, whilst carrying less risk than independence. This option does face fundamental obstacles due to its reliance on the appetite for change in the rest of the Kingdom.
  • An independent Wales would offer the potential for long term positive change enabling Wales the opportunity to shape its constitution in order to maximise potential benefits. It also carries the highest risk to Wales economically in the short to medium term.

Speaking about the findings and timing of the Commission’s final report, Co-Chair Professor Laura McAllister said: “Almost a quarter of a century has passed since powers were first devolved to Wales and this was the right time to have this national conversation with the people of Wales about the next steps in our constitutional journey. Many citizens we have spoken to were not even born at the point that devolution began, while many others have seen changes to how Wales is run in the last 25 years and have opinions on what can be done better or differently.

“Through our work, it became clear that the status quo is not sustainable and the needs of the people of Wales are not being met. If Welsh devolution, even as it stands, is to be protected, these changes must take place urgently.  We can then look further ahead at these three possible routes for Wales’ future, each of which clearly have both challenges and opportunities.

She continued: “It’s vital that this report acts as an impetus for change for the people of Wales in the future and we want the conversation to continue. We’ve kickstarted what we hope will be an even bigger, wider dialogue to involve people in future decision making. ”

The report released today is the work of a unique cross-party commission, independent of the Welsh Government, and with those commissioners affiliated to political parties remaining independent and pledging to put party politics to one side. As a team, the Commission has engaged with critical questions about the way Wales is governed, the health of democracy and how to reach citizens from all parts of the country. The Commission’s remit relates to political structures in Wales, and its report does not evaluate government policy or performance.

Speaking about the Commission’s grass roots engagement work, Co-Chair Dr Rowan Williams said: “This is Wales’ national conversation and the Commission has tried to do things differently. Our report is the result of two years of open discussion. We’ve focused on hearing from different voices  across Welsh communities, as well as the advice of experts. This has been an exercise in communicating directly with the people of Wales, collecting evidence and seeking to understand their lived experiences.

“This dialogue has been hugely valuable, but there is much more work to be done. We need to make sure that everyone has a voice in deciding the future path of their nation – the national conversation we have begun has to continue beyond the life of this Commission.”

“We have demonstrated that this approach can build intelligent, robust discussions and an educated, high-participation democracy. This has been front and centre of our work to ensure that Wales can be on the democratic front-foot and its citizens are able to take part in more of these informed discussions about their future and become a model of a democratic culture. As a commission, we call on those in power to ensure that the national conversation doesn’t end here and to take urgent action to protect Welsh democracy.”