New Welsh deal with Scottish independence?

  • 24 March 2014
  • From the section Wales
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Nicola Sturgeon's speech at the Welsh Governance Centre's Annual Lecture in Cardiff has come at a fascinating point in the Scottish independence campaign so far.

There are just under six months to go and the polls appear to be narrowing. Labour have just come out with their offering for further devolution in the event of a No vote, the Tories are expected to do the same in May.

In her half-hour speech, Ms Sturgeon cleverly played on some of the aspects of the debate that will be appealing for many in Wales, such as concerns over the growing divide between the south-east of England and the rest of the UK.

An independent Scotland, she said, would help spread the power and influence across the UK, away from Westminster.

And there was a crowd-pleasing claim for the audience in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, which was that an independent Scotland would "present the best opportunity for Wales to argue for and win a new deal.

"And that would be much better than having Scotland and Wales set against each other in lobbying Westminster for fairer allocations of our own money".

What she's referring to here is the Barnett Formula, which works out the Treasury allocation for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

An independent commission has concluded that Wales is short-changed while Scotland has a more generous settlement.

If Scotland goes its own way, Ms Sturgeon says Wales would be free to cut a better deal.

London Olympics

That's a debatable point because while Wales' offering may look thin compared to Scotland's, there are many at Westminster who say it's generous compared to the financial assistance given to parts of England.

One of the concerns people like the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan has is that a Yes vote would lead to a weakening of the Celtic voice at Westminster, to the detriment of Wales.

When I asked her about this, she pointed to the impact a new independent Scotland would have on the British-Irish Council as a way of spreading power.

Nevertheless Wales would, in one sense, lose a partner because an independent Scotland would have an entirely different relationship with Westminster than Wales would as a remaining member of the UK.

Although Rhodri Morgan told me the theory behind the Celtic nations working together to get more out of Westminster didn't always work.

Mr Morgan cited the example of the failure to get what he considered a proportionate share of the funding of the London Olympics for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Alex Salmond gave the job of leading the negotiations to him on the basis that, as a Labour man, he would have more success with the prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown. So it appears the Celtic block only goes so far.

'Smoke and mirrors'

Back to today and the deputy first minister of Scotland didn't meet up with the first minister of Wales, although she did meet with the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.

Plaid would obviously love to be in the position the SNP find themselves in now.

And the responses from Labour and Plaid tell you everything you need to know about how polarised they are on the subject.

This is from Plaid: "For too long Wales has been marginalised in the context of the UK debate on political power and economic prosperity.

"The exciting debate on Scotland's future gives Wales an opportunity to set out its own ambitions for the powers we need, particularly job-creation powers.

"A Scottish Yes in September will give the biggest possible boost to this process."

And compare those comments with these from Welsh Labour which described the contents of her speech as "snake oil and smoke and mirrors".

A spokesman said: "We would like to welcome Nicola Sturgeon to Wales, where her message on independence gets even less of a hearing than in Scotland.

"Polling in Scotland shows very little movement and makes very good reading for the No campaign."