We in Wales were the first ones invaded and colonised by England, then came just about everyone else in the world.
At its height, the British Empire was the largest empire in history, covering 22% of the global land area (in 1922) and incorporating 20% of the global population (in 1938).
But just as the tides flow and then ebb, such has been the history of the British Empire. It’s left as a pathetic runt of its former glory, with just Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and Channel Islands), and 14 Overseas Territories including such big hitters as British Antarctic Territory (population 50), the South Sandwich Islands (population nil) and ‘Akotiri and Dhekelia’ (the UK army bases on Cyprus).
There’s an intriguing list of countries that have gained independence from Britain. 59 of them, all in all (excluding the four that have since seceded from others of the 59). And not one of them has asked, begged or pleaded to be let back in. They’ve gone their own way. And even though going their own way hasn’t always been a happy tale, in every single case they’ve preferred being independent than returning to the velvety warmth of the British bosom.
Many of these countries were poor at the time they achieved independence, some staggeringly so. But that never stopped them from demanding that the best place for decisions to be taken over their people was in their country.
I’ve got a theory.
The British Empire was – and still is – an extractive empire. Many African countries were exploited for slaves, the profits from which helped fuel the industrial revolution. The same is apparently true of India – which from the second largest economy in the world at the start of British Rule grew by zero percent for 90 years until they left, which is hardly surprising because there were huge cash transfers from India to London for the entirety of that period. Malaysia was a source of rubber and tin; and so on.
That’s not altogether surprising. Every empire has done the same. It would be rather pointless colonising somewhere and then investing more in that place than you’d reap from it. That would hardly please the natives back home.
And so to Wales.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the British state used to be an extractive operation. I don’t need to remind anyone of the history of extraction in Wales. The legacy of the water, slate, coal and steel that have been extracted are drowned communities, shattered lives and poverty-stricken communities. And a wonderful array of dazzling architecture – a small proportion in Cardiff, but mostly in London – paid for by the short, nasty and brutal lives of people in Wales.
But is it still extractive? After all, plenty of politicians tell us we’ve never had it so good, that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our poverty, that British beneficence is a marvellous testament to Unionist generosity.
Let’s think who makes the rules on funding. Who decides that the London Olympics were of such benefit to Wales that we paid our full share, despite them eschewing every single Welsh venue and building a hill in Essex rather than bringing Olympic mountain biking to the Afan Valley? That would be Westminster. At a cost of £8.9 billion.
How about Crossrail, the mega-project to make Londoners’ lives easier when crossing the megalopolis from east to west? Yes, we’d still be paying our full share of that – of course, it’s for the benefit of the entire UK, silly – if only the Scots hadn’t got all uppity and started voting for the SNP. The decision in 2007 that it was expenditure for the UK? That would be Westminster. Total cost = £14.5 billion.
Any other rail projects spring to mind? What about the white elephant known as HS2, coming in at a whopping £50 billion? Even the catatonic Labour Party in Wales has sprung into action, salivating at the prospect of £2 billion in Barnett consequentials. And the news from those holding the purse strings in – you guessed it – Westminster? All together now: “this project is for the benefit of the whole of the UK”.
These are just the big projects, the ones we hear about because their expenditure is too colossal to sweep under the carpet. How many other decisions are taken against the interests of Wales because of inter-departmental jiggery-pokery?
Fancy giving £140 million to Cycling England? Sure. Does it operate in Wales? Hell no. Barnett consequential? Not on your nelly.
And to take just one more example, there’s all the highly paid civil servants in London. Now we know that civil servants are spread around the UK. But the ones at the very top of the tree?
This document is rather revealing. It tells us that in 2011 there were 3,192 Senior Civil Servants in UK, British or EnglandandWales government departments. And where are those departments all headquartered? London. The average salary of the lowest-ranking senior civil servants (pay band 1) is £73,000 (the highest-ranking (pay band 3) gross an average of £133,000). Most of the top echelons of the civil service will have been private-school educated in the Etons and Harrows of this world, raking in £100,000-plus and living in the shires. The whole system is designed to scratch the backs of the people with plenty. Who decides that these jobs are based in England? Why, that would be Westminster.
How many Senior Civil Servants are in the Welsh Government? A grand total of 123.
Let’s assume an average salary for these mandarins of £80,000. Wales’ share of those salaries (let’s not go near the bonuses, the pensions and the perks). The London salary packet is a shade over a quarter of a billion pounds per year. And Welsh Senior Civil Servants gross £10 million, or 23% less than we might expect is our entitlement if we got our Barnett share.
The list is probably endless. Every which way, the people of Wales are getting shafted.
Because these are the costs of dependence.
A series of posts is on the way. We’ll be looking at countries that have escaped from the punitive strictures of dependence to become free, independent, outward-facing countries on the world stage. I’m sure we’ll all be intrigued to find out whether or not having control over their own destiny has proven positive or negative for these vile splitters, nasty separatists and narrow-minded nationalists.