After polls that suggested a radical shake-up at Cardiff Bay, in the end it turned out to be a strong result for the status quo in Wales. The Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford enjoyed a vaccine bounce — thanks to procurement decisions in Whitehall — and can now govern on his own should he wish to.
But the fact that Labour won’t need a formal arrangement with Plaid Cymru to govern (as it did between 2007 and 2011) should not blind people to the fact that the Welsh leader already leads an increasingly nationalist party.
Drakeford himself has said that the UK ‘is over’. Meanwhile, nobody has repudiated the Welsh minister who accused Michael Gove of harbouring ‘colonial attitudes’ towards Wales for daring to contrast educational outcomes on either side of Offa’s Dyke. Most damning of all, Welsh Labour actually ran pro-independence candidates in these elections. And rather than kicking them out, all Sir Keir Starmer offered when challenged on this point was a lame plea that they focus on the recovery from Covid-19.
His failure to insist that Labour is a pro-UK party puts the Labour leader’s calls for ‘radical federalism’ into grim perspective, especially in light of nonsense in Drakeford’s manifesto such as this: ‘We believe the UK is a voluntary association of four nations with sovereignty shared among its four democratic legislatures in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.’
This is straightforwardly wrong. Not only does this framing erase the British nation, but it denies the much more basic fact that the United Kingdom is a sovereign state, and that sovereignty resides indivisibly at Westminster.
Critics of the government sometimes claim that those in power do not understand how the UK works, but Westminster has produced no howler to compare to Drakeford’s constitutional musings.