We’ve occasionally been known to complain about other parties stealing our ideas, but we’re not averse to stealing theirs where they’re good ones. One of the strengths of being a syncretic party, with no left wing/right wing axe to grind, is that we can take policies from different sources and combine them in ways that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Recently my own attention has been drawn by two excellent ideas from two very different sources. The first came from Simon Brooks, who’s standing to be Plaid Cymru’s Senedd candidate for Dwyfor and Meirionnydd and who’s been mentioned favourably in these pages before. Writing in Golwg360 at the end of May (in Welsh – there doesn’t seem to be an English version of the article available), he suggests that Gwynedd and Anglesey should seek to form part of a City Region centred on Dublin, since this is their ‘local’ city to a far greater extent than Cardiff, Swansea or even Liverpool. While Brooks, as a keen EU-remainer, seems to see this idea as part of a plan for tying Wales more closely to the EU, to me as a Brexit-supporter this still seems like an excellent plan. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it is not at all necessary for cities or regions to form part of a political or customs union to have very close economic links. It seems to me that there’s everything to be gained by capitalising upon the proximity of these ‘remote’ regions of North-West Wales to what is, whichever way you look at it, a thriving European city.
The second idea, though not original to him, was articulated this week by Boris Johnson. According to the Telegraph, he has suggested that ‘half a dozen’ tax-free ports – where goods can be landed and exported without any taxes or duties being levied -should be established in various parts of the UK in order to regenerate coastal areas far from London. While Johnson seems particularly to have had the North East, Scotland, and Northern Ireland in mind for the locations of these, it seems to me that Holyhead, and quite possibly Fishguard and/or Pembroke Dock as well, would be ideal locations for such schemes.
A piece of the action
The idea of free ports in the UK has been around for a while – here’s an article on the BBC website from last November describing their benefits – but they are simply not allowed (and some would argue, not necessary) while we are within the EU. On leaving the EU, however, they become possible. Many would argue (and I would agree) that cutting taxes and tariffs across the whole country would be better than doing it in just a few small areas; but even so, if free ports are to be set up anywhere in the UK, then it is absolutely essential that Wales gets its piece of the action and Holyhead seems like the number one candidate.
After all, as this article on Bloomberg.com points out, more trade goes through Holyhead than across the Irish land border, over $40 billion a year – up sixfold since 1993. As a roll-on roll-off ferry port it is second only to Dover. Yet it is in the part of Wales that consistently comes at or near the bottom of average incomes tables.
The trick would be to ensure that, in the event of such a scheme going ahead, it didn’t result in the Welsh economy’s age-old blight of companies piling in from across the border or even across the world, gorging on grants and subsidies while they are available, and then disappearing again as soon as the subsidy tap is turned off. Strict controls would be needed to prevent this from happening, and to ensure that the benefits would be reaped by local people and businesses, stimulating local entrepreneurship and establishing locally-based companies committed to the region for the long term.
A call for pragmatism
As a syncretic party with an international outlook, Ein Gwlad is better placed than any other party to work pragmatically with other parties and other regions to do whatever benefits Wales the most. We’ll happily work with the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru or anyone else if it means that Wales benefits, and we don’t claim to be able to think up all the best ideas ourselves. Credit should go where it is due, but it is hard to imagine any other party in Wales or anywhere else advocating policies from both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives at the same time.