A MAJOR report looking at the constitutional future of Wales has concluded that the status quo is “not sustainable” and independence is a viable option.

The work of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is notable not just for its findings, but for the way in which the cross-party group sat down together to examine the way forward for the country.

It was established under the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Labour-led Welsh Government.

The Sunday National spoke to Professor Laura McAllister, co-chair of the Commission, for her reflections on the work of the group – and whether Scotland can learn any lessons.

Getting everyone round the table

MCALLISTER said it was “not an easy process” and it took around a year to bring together the Commission, which included a range of people from different parties and backgrounds.

She said: “I think the fact the Tories and Plaid Cymru were prepared to sit at the table together and debate the Union and independence together and allow the evidence to take us in a direction is commendable.

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“There was lots of behind-the-scenes working to explain to them that if they weren’t there then we wouldn’t have a voice from a centre-right Unionist position and that would weaken the Commission, but it would also weaken their political position.”

She added: “There were moments, as you can understand, where it was more difficult to bring everybody on that journey, but it was a sign of their maturity really and their commitment to what we were doing.

“I don’t know if that would work in Scotland but it certainly worked for us and I am really glad we kept everybody together.”

She added:  "As you know from Scotland, it’s very hard in the first place to get a member of the Welsh Conservatives alongside a member of Plaid Cymru to debate the constitution.

"But I am really pleased to say that worked much better than maybe some people anticipated and we did manage to keep everyone on course and generate a unanimous report."

Lack of evidence for the status quo

WHEN asked what she found most surprising about the work of the Commission, McAllister said one issue was how “poor” the evidence was for backing the current constitutional position.

The National:

“We have had devolution for a quarter of a century and there is a whole body in public polling of people who feel the status quo is satisfactory,” she said.

“But when we tried to drill into that - both experts and practising politicians - we had a very, very poor quality of evidence and responses.

“So it became pretty obvious that people were defending the status quo that was being eroded around them, yet there was no real strategic answer to that.

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“We asked the UK Government for their position on some of the manifestations of really poor intergovernmental relations - which I think applies equally in Scotland - and we just didn’t get anything.

“So I was surprised by the poor quality of evidence to defend the status quo.”

Listening to the public

THE final report of the Commission said one of the most important tasks it undertook was holding a "national conversation"’ with Welsh people about how they see the future of their nation.

As well as gathering views through platforms such as online surveys, events were held in shopping centres, high streets, community centres and even at family fun days and food festivals.

McAllister said: “If you ask the public purely dry constitutional questions, most people shy away from it as they feel they haven’t got the depth of knowledge to be able to answer those questions.

“But when you frame them in terms of service delivery and decisions about their lives and their schools and their hospitals, then people have got very strong constitutional views actually.

“So I think that was surprising in an encouraging way, I would say. “

McAllister said there were 15,000 face-to-face engagements and efforts to make documents and conversations accessible by avoiding the use of academic terms.

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“I think overall the idea of proper debate and challenge and scrutiny of the type that we managed to instigate is probably a good thing,” she added.

“Whether Scotland would be able to do it in the same way because of the party politics I don’t know.”

UK Government’s lack of respect

THE final report highlights issues with the UK Government’s attitude towards the devolved nations, concluding there is a “lack of respect” and that it views the devolved governments as “stakeholders to be managed”.

McAllister said while the Commission did not look at other nations, it was inevitable Scotland has experienced similar issues including the overriding of the Sewel Convention, which means the UK Parliament should "not normally" legislate in areas that are devolved without the agreement of the devolved parliaments.

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She said: “There have been as many overridings of Sewel that affect Scotland as they have Wales.

“The same with intergovernmental relations, there’s no way in the world Nicola Sturgeon and now Humza Yousaf have had any different treatment from the UK Prime Ministers than Mark Drakeford has had.

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“I think that is quite telling – it has effectively been a centre versus the devolved nations approach and that does show a lack of respect and a tendency to treat the devolved governments and the parliaments as kind of stakeholders like any other, to be managed by UK Government rather than equal partners.

“I think that is regrettable.”

It’s up to the people

THE report from the Commission has now been handed to the First Minister of Wales and the leader of Plaid Cymru as of the terms of their cooperation agreement.

McAllister said in terms of what happens next, she hoped all political parties would look seriously at the report and consider including points in their manifesto for the General Election.

But she added: “The bigger ones around the constitutional options I think are ones for the Welsh public to debate now.

“We have just started that process - it's for them to decide based on what is probably quite a unique forensic analysis of strengths of independence versus federalism versus enhanced devolution.

“Nobody has done that before based on principles and policies and practicalities, so it gives us a real framework to talk to people about that.”

She added: “I say this respectfully - obviously things have become very binary in Scotland between the Union and independence, whereas I think we have been able to talk about the nuances in between that and what the strengths and weaknesses are in quite a mature way.”