WALES'S First Minister Mark Drakeford has admitted Welsh independence is “viable” providing the people of the country back the move.

Drakeford was speaking at an Institute for Government (IFG) event on Thursday following the publication of a report by the cross-party Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, which he branded “a triumph”.

The report has set out that the status quo is “not sustainable” for Wales, adding that entrenched devolution, federalism and independence are all viable options for the future.

The Welsh Labour leader said during the interview that independence was indeed viable but that the “proper test” for it would be a vote on the matter.

This is in stark contrast to what Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said on Scottish independence. 

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In September 2022, Sarwar said the concept “goes against the values of solidarity and social justice”, adding there was “nothing progressive” about the Yes movement.

He has rejected the idea of giving Scotland more powers over immigration – arguing the country must conform to UK-wide border policies – and has consistently stood against a second referendum.

Drakeford said: “I’ve never said independence is not viable in Wales. I’ve said it’s not desirable. If Welsh people vote for it, it’s viable.

“I don’t think viability is the proper test. The proper test is desirability.”

Throughout the conversation with IFG director Dr Hannah White, Drakeford hammered home his support for entrenched devolution which would fix and expand the Senedd’s powers, and insisted the UK was “urgently in need of reform”.

The National: Mark Drakeford. Picture: PA

Drakeford insisted that any notion the UK does not need to be overhauled because of the struggles of parties like the SNP in recent years – something he claimed right-wing commentators pushed – is “foolish and dangerous”.

He went on: “The commission was put together and set on its job at a time when the constitutional geography of the UK appeared to be particularly unstable.

“One of the things I think some of the right-wing commentary on constitutional matters gets absolutely wrong is that that moment of risk has passed because the SNP’s fortunes are in a more difficult place than they were a couple of years ago.

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“[The idea] that that somehow means we don’t need to think about any of these things, that is both foolish and dangerous. The UK continues to be urgently in need of reform.

“In Scotland, while support for the SNP is not, at the moment, what it was, support for independence in polling is only a couple of percentage points different than it was a couple of years ago […] and here is our own commission saying independence is a viable option.”

Drakeford, who last month announced he would be standing down as first minister, repeatedly cited the report of the Commission on the UK’s Future – headed up by former prime minister Gordon Brown – as containing recommendations for expanding devolution that he would like to see implemented in Wales.

The report suggested pushing power away from London and recommended more powers for Wales and Scotland with stronger constitutional protections.

It did not go as far as recommending policing and justice be fully devolved to Wales – which is what the Welsh commission’s report said should happen – but it did say responsibility for probation and youth justice should be devolved.

As part of the proposals, a new upper chamber at Westminster would be able to block legislation that affects devolved matters but has not gained the consent of the devolved institutions.

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The UK Government making decisions in devolved areas has become a major concern post-Brexit and Drakeford said in the past few years, he had realised devolution was not as protected as it should be.

He said: “What we’ve realised since 2019 is that the safeguards we thought were there turned out to be conventions, the way in which good actors behaved towards one another, and when you have a government which has little respect for those things, the settlement has been far more vulnerable than we realised.”

Drakeford said he wanted to see any incoming Labour UK government headed up by Keir Starmer act fast on the recommendations in the Brown report and legislate for the bulk of proposals within the first term.

Asked what he would like to see from a Labour UK government, he said: “I would look to it to make a firm commitment to the Gordon Brown report.

“It provides as close as you will get to a detailed set of proposals to reform the constitutional basis of the UK and to entrench the current devolution settlement.

“I would expect an early commitment to that and I would expect a map over a four-year term to show how those proposals are going to be taken forward.”