Audio: Devolution creating a ‘mini UK’ in Wales, says economist

Calvin Jones. Picture by Mark Mansfield

Devolution has created a ‘minature UK’ inside of Wales that isn’t fairly distributing wealth around the country, a meeting on Welsh independence heard this week.

Professor Calvin Jones, Professor of Economics at the Cardiff Business School, was reflecting on issues of economy, value and identity at a Labour for an Independent Wales’ event in Cardiff.

The full discussion can be heard in the audio recording above.

“The problem that we have is, what we’ve done in Wales is that we’ve taken devolution and used it create the United Kingdom in miniature,” he said.

“So we’ve got an exploitative economy in the UK that takes a lot of value and shoves it into assets in London by building HS2, and doing the Olympics, and building another Heathrow runway.

“They’ve done this with public money, while denuding the rest of the UK of infrastructure and value.

“And what we’ve done is exactly the same in Cardiff. So we’ve swapped a big city in the south east of England for a big city in the south east of Wales.

“So the Welsh Assembly hasn’t really taken us further down a path in terms of what a more robust, sustainable Wales looks like, because we’ve just shrunk the UK state down for our own purposes.”

Core

He said that Wales had for hundreds of years been at the periphery of a centralised economy that made it difficult to keep its national resources, such as energy and people, in the country.

“We have a very strong core in London, and then the South East and South West providing some high-value services, and the resource peripheries are Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland,” he said.

“These are exchanges of value that have been in place for centuries and that are very entrenched.

“The question is, how can you build prosperity if you are continually sending over the best of your young people, the best of your natural resources, in ways that very often can’t be replicated?”

After 700 years of “effective colonialization” there were some “uncomfortable parallels” between Wales’ economy and third world countries, he said.

“A lot of what I teach about the global south is not a million miles away from the feeling of studying the Welsh economy,” he said.

“Wales’ economy is post-developed – rather than under-developed – but is dysfunctional in some of those similar ways.”


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Gwynoro Jones.
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Gwynoro Jones.

Agree. Been saying similar myself about successive Welsh governments last 10-15 years. But you mean south east not South West.

Isabel Adonis
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Isabel Adonis

“And what we’ve done is exactly the same in Cardiff. So we’ve swapped a big city in the south east of England for a big city in the south east of Wales.” He’s spot on. In the move towards independence, in the move to preserve the Welsh culture,Wales has identified with their colonial oppressors, thus becoming the new colonialists. The preservation of the mother tongue comes out of the colonial mind set, the queen’s English replaced by the pure tradition of Welsh…

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

It goes beyond Stockholm Syndrome; most Welsh people don’t even realise that they’re in a colonial situation. This is partly owing to mass media and mass popular culture which are displacing the country’s own culture (hence the identification with English cultural features), and partly because the exploitation of Wales is now less naked, and more subtle, than it was 100 years ago, and less so, also, than it was in the pre-independent Third World. Devolution has hopefully promoted the safeguarding and re-establishment of what it is to be Welsh, but has done nothing to challenge Wales’ situation as a colony.… Read more »

Math Wiliam
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Math Wiliam

Professor Calvin Jones correctly diagnoses the problem but the claim that the institution of the Assembly rather than the party in power is to blame is inexplicable. Devolution is not leading to more geographical inequality in Wales – it’s the policies of the Labour government that are to blame. Blaming ‘the Assembly’ rather than Labour absolves them from being held to account for the consequences of their actions and exasperates the problem. The headline suggests that abolishing the Assembly rather than getting rid of Labour would solve the problem – the opposite is true. If Plaid Cymru was in power… Read more »

John Young
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John Young

Professor Jones is 100% correct. This is the same message that myself and so many others having been espousing for years. And you, Math, are correct also. It’s not the fault of the institution, it’s the fault of the people running the institution, a blindingly obvious state of fact. As regards why Labour carry on with their policies, it’s actually understandable because the Welsh people keep voting them in. And that’s the perfect argument for them to use to say we’re doing a good job. Why voters believe they are doing a good job baffles me. I can only think… Read more »

Math Wiliam
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Math Wiliam

The question of why people keep voting Labour when it’s clear they’re not delivering is an interesting one. Unlike most people, I don’t think Wales has seen an adaption of voting patterns for the purposes of devolved elections on a large scale, except for a certain % of people who vote Labour in Westminster and Plaid in Assembly as a matter of course. People still seem to vote for the party they like most on a UK-wide level when it comes to the crunch. We saw evidence of this in the council elections. There were wards I campaigned in that… Read more »

Red Dragon Jim
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Red Dragon Jim

This comment could have been an article in itself! You’re completely right to say that Wales does not vote in similar way to Scotland. Wales is structured in a different way to Scotland and the role of cultural nationalism here is entirely different. Thankfully I’ve noticed far fewer articles comparing Wales to Scotland. The Brexit vote underlined how different our two nations are, sadly in my opinion. The reason people vote for Labour despite poor performance is multiple but far from illogical. Labour has a strong cultural resonance, and not enough people want Welsh nationalism or British conservatism to replace… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
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CambroUiDunlainge

Completely agree with this. All we’ve got to do is see how well its doing in Scotland. But the issue a lot of us are identifying is the “If” that proceeds Plaid. Most people who see Labour for what it is just want a nationalist majority in the Senedd.

We don’t lack good ideas. Plaid has never lacked good idea. But there’s still that brick wall that Welsh nationalism and all the ideas being thought up are stuck behind. Thats what we need to talk about. Thats what Plaid needs to talk about.

Math Wiliam
Guest
Math Wiliam

Your concept of a brick wall is interesting. What do you think the brick wall consists of? I think I’ve expressed my view on this in my reply to John (see above). And how would you go about breaking down this wall?

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Well I think we’re coming at everything all wrong. Welsh was dying out because of the mindset of our own people – lets call it the Anglo-Welsh mindset. This is the mindset where people felt they needed to learn English to advance. This is a mindset which works in a gradient… with the most extreme feeling there’s no point to the Welsh language (the self loathing types). This mindset is part of us all – its comes at us through education and media. The wall is that mindset. The ability for people to speak Welsh does not mean they do… Read more »

cymrufwyaf
Guest

Cytuno, “https://www.facebook.com/Cwmni-Bro-Ffestiniog-167894617174265/?notif_id=1518103421438439&notif_t=page_invite&ref=notif”

“Pa fath o Gymru yr ydym am ei chreu. Cymru fel cymuned o gymunedau neu Gymru gyda gwladwriaeth sy’n gwasanaethu cyfalaf preifat ac yn canoli yn hytrach na datganoli grym. Gwladwriaeth Gymreig i’n rheoli neu wladwriaeth sy’n rhyddhau a gwasanaethu ein cymunedau a’n pobl?”

“What kind of Wales do we want to create. Wales as a community of communities or a Wales where the state priorities private capitalism and centralizing power as apposed to devolving power. A Welsh state that rules or a state that serves and frees our communities and it’s people”

eric hall
Guest

Millions spent refurbishing the BBC offices in Cardiff – the BBC offices in Bangor meanwhile are to close. BBC Wales Sport spending all of its budget on some minoity sport played in a couple of Welsh valleys in the South whereas the Welsh Premier League isn’t even given a mention Massive road improvements along the M4 corridor whereas planned improvements on the road to the North – the A470 – are rejected. Major upgrade to the rail and “metro” network in Cardiff whereas to travel by train from the North to the capital you are obliged to pass by another… Read more »

John Young
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John Young

It will only change Eric when people realise they are being conned and vote differently.

Russell Todd
Guest
Russell Todd

Excellent point to finish on by Calvin: what will independent *Waleses* look like? Imposing an homogenous vision for Welsh communities that draws solely on myths and princes, or language and cultural motifs, or technocratic arguments about sovereignty, or the labour movement, or metropolitan urbanism, and which ignores that 1 in 3 here are born elsewhere….will fail.

Radek Piskorski
Guest

Well, Cardiff is over-developed only in comparison to the under-funded parts of Wales. It’s unfair to compare it to London which is over-developed almost in absolute terms. The development of Cardiff is simply taking it to a status of a normal capital. It is of course unfortunate that this development is not spreading to the rest of Wales, but investment in Cardiff is really not extravagant.

Benjiman L. Angwin
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Benjiman L. Angwin

Surely by this point one of the best reasons for independence is so that we can liberate this country from Labourite ideologies and beliefs?

To have a Labour government ruling Wales after independence too, with no change of government through the process, I cannot think of anything that would do more damage this country.

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

This, sadly, does mean your dream will never happen. I am not being the bad guy here but the only significant support for Welsh independence so far comes from Plaid and Labour voters. Yes Cymru research showed that a fraction of Labour voters move towards independence in a Tory UK majority scenario. This is why Labour for Independence is a critical development holding potential. Personally I think ousting Labour is important than independence at this point- as long as UKIP is not part of doing so. Labour voters would not agree, but they would always have the option of utilising… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
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Graham John Hathaway

Not entirely sure that only Plaid and Labour supporters vote, or might vote Indy. Wasn’t more self rule and support for devolution a cradle idea of Liberals. Or was it Kier Hardy at the beginning of the Labour movement. Further it seems to rule out what seems like 30 or more % who never bother to vote for reasons personal. I do know when a such a critical vote as in a referendum ie EU and Scottish Indy, that your model of voting isn’t de facto right.

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

I mean voters. In the recent research by Yes Cymru it seemed that after Plaid, Labour voters were the next most supportive of independence. Possibly the same ‘coalition’ that created Yes votes in 1997 and 2011.

Graham John Hathaway
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Graham John Hathaway

If feel it’s sentiment, and see its purpose. A much more likely alliance. Thanks.

JD
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JD

I live in Cardiff and find it laughable that anyone takes it seriously as some kind of metropolis. It’s a knackered port down only just getting basic infrastructure investment. Every country needs a decent capital and Cardiff is poorer than most big UK cities and needs a lot of work. If you want people to take Wales seriously, you need a decent city as your shop window.

Russell Todd
Guest
Russell Todd

To an extent I agree, and there has been a conscious effort to develop Cardiff as a capital city for many decades (though people will have a view as to how successful or otherwise that has been). However the notion that Blaenau Ffestiniog or Caergybi/Holyhead or Wrecsam is a reliant on Cardiff as their shop window is simplistic and overlooks the diversity of Welsh communities. Calvin Jones is right to emphasise subsidiarity. If Wales can prioritise this and build up from and by the communities themselves that articulates their vision and priorities then Wales can develop a future that is… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

After 700 years of “effective colonisation” there were some uncomfortable parallels between Wales’ economy and third world countries”. Not sure that less than 20 years of the Welsh Assembly can be held to account as post developed rather than under -developed economy . It doesn’t make sense. Other than being mindful of the make up of the audience or its listening public. But a very good portrayal of the current parlours state of the Welsh economy, and task ahead. Post Brexit. But let’s not have any more shouty things from contributors about the Welsh culture, language, myths and Princes. There’s… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Economical and ideological approaches towards Independence are too easily batted away. WM can sooth our economic situation if we start making noises and ideologically we can easily become entangled in the British establishment. Both angles are akin to building the cause on sand. If we build it on identity its far harder to tackle… because their approach is to ignore and suppress that identity (through the education system and media) its not a hard thing to see… thats why we need pro-Wales media and a pro-Wales education system which teaches people to think as Welsh people and not British people.… Read more »

Geraint Talfan Davies
Guest
Geraint Talfan Davies

C’mon Calvin, I know you like mischief. But really. On this one I am with the sensible comments by Radek Piskorski and JD. You have left scale out of account. Likening Cardiff to London is like comparing a peanut with a pumpkin. Wales would be struggling even more if it did not have one city that was reasonably competitive within the UK and at European level. Without it we would be more of colony, not less of a colony. Cardiff is about the size of Nottingham. To put all the problems of the rest of Wales, and they are many,… Read more »

Royston Jones
Guest

“Wales would be struggling even more if it did not have one city that was reasonably competitive within the UK and at European level.” This is the argument used by Russell Goodway and others who don’t give a toss about the rest of Wales – ‘How does Cardiff compare with Bristol, Leeds, Barcelona . . . ?’ Surely the question should be, ‘How does Cardiff compare with the rest of Wales?’ This selfishness is then justified by Geraint Talfan Davies with “If you want people to take Wales seriously, you need a decent city as your shop window”. Really? What’s… Read more »

Royston Jones
Guest

Second para should read ‘justified by JD’.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

There’s a clear analogy with where best to fight your battle and deployment of troops. I’m a big fan of the strategy in the film depicting the Battle of Waterloo. Those who hold the ‘cottage’ will win the war! It’s all strategy. But it was the reinforcements that eventually beat Napoleon. Um. The chronology and history of Cardiff has will always be the gift and developments it received from sweat of the Valleys. If you deploy all your resources to hold the cottage, you will need more than due diligence to succeed. Look at London. It survives by those who… Read more »

Geraint Talfan Davies
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Geraint Talfan Davies

I hasten to add that I don’t think you are ‘a hoary old prejudice’, but that you are stoking one. My slip.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

When Wales is facing the biggest crisis of its recent history, and the enormous deficit it faces with continual under funding and lack of structural investment, that we ponder the lesser or bigger issues facing Cardiff. For goodness sake this Cardiff centric mind set will always endure. It’s endemic even in the Assembly. Now all of a sudden Cardiff residents get the wind up. I witnessed the discussion there yesterday over the Plaid Cymru proposal led by Adam Price to seek a Govt vote on either the blue or black route for the M4 Newport by pass after the latest… Read more »

Calvin
Guest
Calvin

Commentators who listened to the audio will know that Wales’ 700 years of colonisation as a driver of dysfunction, as opposed to 20 years of the Assembly, is not lost on me. But my key point is that the Cardiff peanut is the economic, political and cultural centre of Wales in a similar fashion to London to the detriment of the country. And the way that Labour, the civil service and the institution are structured add to this imbalance. Some think a visible shop window capital is a prerequisite for development, and here is where I disagree with my learned… Read more »

MawKernewek
Guest

Would it really be a good idea to have the Wales branch office of the EBC, sorry I mean BBC in Caernarfon? It would surely be a great force for anglicizing the town.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I hope this contribution is widely read. It sounds like a pantomime or a fairy story where Cardiff is the Cinderella saved from the three ugly sisters. Or bears!

A Gog
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A Gog

cymrufwyaf – you are absolutely spot on!

JE Lloyd
Guest
JE Lloyd

There is a broader issue here. The Welsh Government must stop confining itself to UK / England / Scotland / NI metrics and models. Better solutions to many of the challenges and opportunities faced by Wales in the Nordic and Baltic countries, in Ireland, and elsewhere. Time to free up mindsets, and recognize the relative failure of most UK solutions — particularly in Wales.

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

Not likely to happen with the thick set of heads we’ve got down the Bay at present. They spend most of their time seeking ways of pleasing some sort of peer group that is no way related to the real challenges of Wales in its entirity. Never likely to get above the “begging bowl ” standard of a subsidiary entity. Indeed to very idea of aiming for independence, or some being at some point along that path – a bit more standing on our own two feet – causes acute discomfort. Jones and Wood’s favoured default position is one with… Read more »

Tame Frontiersman
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Tame Frontiersman

If this article is asking why is there disproportionate investment in cities / city regions, it is because there has been considerable consensus among economist that during the 19th and 20th century European and North American cities have been engines of economic growth. So it seems like a sure fire bet to politicians. Or maybe it’s just a case of: if money gets spent in one place and not others, the place where the money is spent is going to the better off -well duh! If you live in a nice neighbourhood, got a des-res and disposable income, life in… Read more »