“Wales has developed its own distinctive and ambitious sub-state diplomacy” Dr Elin Royles on #StatelessChallenges

News / 08.6.16

Dr Elin Royles, lecturer in Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, spoke at the conference entitled “Stateless Nations and Europe: New Challenges, New Opportunities” on the panel looking at stateless nations on the verge of political independence and possibilities for devising new territorial strategies in Europe, which took place at the University of Minho on 18 April 2016.

According to Dr Royles, the mobilisation of movements for independence in cases such as Scotland and Catalonia are understandably the main focus for current investigations of stateless nations in Europe. Nevertheless, the Welsh case illustrates the extent to which territorial strategies of stateless nation-building and discourses of post-sovereignty can permeate beyond nationalist to state-wide parties. Dr Royles argues that devolved governance in Wales has led to territorial strategies towards greater autonomy. Such trends can be illustrated in three areas strongly associated with stateless nation-building: (1) growing decentralisation, (2) national movements moving towards a doctrine of shared sovereignty and (3) the growth of sub-state diplomacy.

Firstly, since 1999 Wales has experienced an intensive period of constitution-building. A referendum in 2011 provided the Assembly with full legislative powers in twenty areas. The Wales Act 2014 opens the way for devolving tax-varying powers with provisions for the Welsh Government to gain partial control of income tax. After the UK Government draft Wales Bill was heavily criticized in 2016, the Labour Welsh Government responded with more far-reaching proposals, including devolving powers related to the justice system and creating a Welsh legal jurisdiction.

Such proposals reflect the continuing support for further decentralisation in public opinion polls. Second, the backdrop to constitutional change is the adaptation of post-devolution state-wide parties with shifts towards more ‘nationalist’ positions, infringing on the ground of Plaid Cymru. Consequently, the demands for territorial accommodation go beyond the ‘nationalist party’ and are most clear in the Welsh Labour party’s case.

Elin Royles article

A final trend in stateless nation-building evident in the Welsh case, according to Dr Royles, is the way in which Wales’ ambitious international activity across a range of policy domains reflects the growing external relations of sub-state governments, paradiplomacy or sub-state diplomacy. In the realm most often associated with sub-state governments with high levels of autonomy, Wales has developed its own distinctive activity, sometimes complemented by coordinating with UK-wide structures. These activities have been shaped by UK Government accommodation, opportunity structures at the EU and international levels. There are also examples where the influence of Plaid Cymru has been important in encouraging strong international dimensions. Nevertheless, sub-state diplomacy suggests that nation-building can be associated with Welsh Labour as part of its pro-devolution position. 

Dr Royles concludes that, overall, the Welsh case suggests the extent to which the nationalities question can penetrate beyond nationalist parties. Wales’ distinctive territorial journey suggests the degree to which state-wide parties, in response to constitutional and policy opportunities and challenges, adopt conceptions traditionally associated with ‘nationalist’ parties. This includes embracing strategies of sub-state territorial empowerment, conceptions of shared sovereignty and sub-state diplomacy.