The independence of Wales is one of the options that needs to be considered by a committee examining Wales’ future relations with the rest of the United Kingdom.
The new body, set up by Welsh Labor ministers, will examine how the current system of powers in Cardiff and London could change.
The co-chair, Professor Laura McAllister, said “everything” was on the table.
Conservatives accused ministers of wasting time and resources, but said they would take part.
Professor McAllister will lead the new Independent Constitutional Commission alongside former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
They do not believe that Wales’ current constitutional arrangements are sustainable and intend to speak to people across the country.
Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said nothing is left out of the commission and anyone with an opinion can support their cause.
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Welsh Labor, which supports Wales remaining part of the UK, had promised to form the body in its Senedd election manifesto.
Plaid Cymru said the commission will give the opportunity to hold the “broader national conversation on the future of Wales”.
How does Wales work now?
Currently many important areas of government policy such as health, education and local government are run from Cardiff, with such laws being made in the Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament.
Everything else, like the army and broadcasts, is ruled by Westminster. It is a similar facility to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where even more is donated.
But concerns about the UK’s future have led some, such as Prime Minister Mark Drakeford, to call for a more radical UK restructuring.
Drakeford argued that the UK union would be safer if more policies relating to Wales and elsewhere were decided locally and if the UK nations were part of a voluntary union.
This was echoed in the Welsh Labor manifesto, which expressed support for “far-reaching federalism” in the UK.
But Laura McAllister said the commission will look at “a whole range” of potential solutions.
‘Ridiculous’ not to look at independence
The Welsh government announcement said the commission would develop options for reforming “the UK’s constitutional structures of which Wales remains an integral part”.
However, Professor McAllister said the commission will look into independence.
“I think everything should be on the table, rightly so. So it would be ridiculous to remove any options at this stage,” he said.
“It is important to be clear about the language.
“Independence means different things in different contexts”.
Cardiff University Professor McAllister served on the Richard Commission on Devolution, which he reported in 2004, and a group of experts on Senedd reform.
He denied that the constitutional reform was a distraction from practical issues like recovery from the pandemic or climate change.
“We will not divert attention from this because we are an independent commission,” he said.
Swansea-born Dr Rowan Williams, who led the Church of England from 2002 until his retirement in 2012, said the commission will address “urgent” questions about how to “make a democracy fit for purpose.”
“We currently have a four-nation model that is quite unbalanced,” said Dr. Williams.
“Decentralized government is something that has been, to some extent, attached to an extremely centralized system.
“It is time to think what the implications would be for working better for the people of Wales and the people of the United Kingdom.”
He said he wanted to see the Welsh “join the base” in the trial.
Professor McAllister added: “I don’t think it will be an easy task, but Rowan and I will turn our backs to make sure we listen to every community and individual who wants to give us their views on how Wales should be governed.”
The group is expected to deliver an interim report by the end of 2022, with a full report by 2023.
The full composition of the commission will be announced next month.
What did the other parties say?
Rhys ab Owen, spokesman for the constitution of Plaid Cymru, said: “A constitutional commission is an opportunity to hold the broadest national conversation on the future of Wales in the history of devolution.
“Plaid Cymru looks forward to engaging constructively with the commission and its work, using every opportunity it presents to support independence and that our nation’s interests will be best served when decisions on Wales’ future are placed in the hands of Wales. “
But his Welsh conservative counterpart, Darren Millar, said: “The people in Wales overwhelmingly rejected independence in the recent Senedd elections; and why the Welsh government wants to waste time and resources discussing the issue is beyond beyond me “.
In the Senedd, Mr. Millar confirmed that his party would take part in the work of the commission, but said that there was a “serious question” about the appointment and independence of Professor Laura McAllister, as she had sided. twice for Plaid Cymru in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He left the party shortly after. Mr. Millar said some would wonder if Professor McAllister is “completely independent in the way she is able to organize the affairs of this particular commission.”
Professor McAllister declined to comment on Millar’s remarks.
“Nothing is excluded”
Prime Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed to Sened that the investigation could look to independence.
At Senedd question time, Drakeford said anyone who had an opinion would be able to come and “make their own case.”
“It would be absurd to exclude independence, but nothing else is excluded,” he said.
If he gives evidence to the commission, he said he will support a “rooted devolution within a successful UK”.
A second Scottish independence referendum within the next five years was “very likely,” Drakeford said. He added that he agrees with people who have said that Northern Ireland’s future has become more “uncertain” since Brexit.
The issue of Scotland’s independence and the new legal framework required following Brexit have brought to the fore the question of how different UK governments should relate to each other.
The thrust and pull of power struggles between those governments – all of different political nuances – is the subtext of many of the political and spending decisions we hear about on a daily basis.
If the range of possible recommendations goes from the status quo to the full independence of Wales, the likely outcome could end up being something in the middle of that spectrum.
But for a meaningful constitutional change to result from this, the UK government would have to support it.
At this time, there is no sign of it.
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