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INTERVIEW-Wales says Scottish independence battle will benefit UK

Source: Reuters - Wed, 5 Mar 2014 17:52 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CARDIFF, March 5 (Reuters) - Scotland's fight for independence is unlikely to succeed but the battle will benefit the entire United Kingdom by leading to a rebalancing of powers, the leader of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said on Wednesday.

Jones, first minister of the Welsh Assembly, opposes Scotland's bid to leave the United Kingdom, arguing it is risky and that the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that dates back 307 years is stronger together.

Admittedly Wales, the second-smallest component with a population of 3.1 million, cannot consider independence as it does not have the potential wealth of oil-rich Scotland.

There is little desire among the Welsh to go it alone, with latest polls showing only five percent support, while about one third of Scots favour independence, putting them behind pro-unionists in polls but with a possible shot at success.

But Wales is closely watching the Scottish campaign before the Sept. 18 vote as the debate has put a spotlight on the shape of the United Kingdom and is fuelling demands for the London-based government to devolve more powers after the referendum.

"It would be disastrous if this didn't happen for the stability of the UK, which is moving more towards federalism," Jones told Reuters in an interview at his office in the 60-member Welsh Assembly by Cardiff Bay.

"A 'No' vote in September will not be the end of the issue of devolution, far from it...as it is in everyone's interests for that to happen and, for someone like myself, who wants to see the UK prosper in the future."

QUESTIONS POINT OF INDEPENDENCE

Jones, 46, the Labour leader and ex-barrister who has led the assembly since late 2009, said the debate over the United Kingom's future was timely as a clearer model of devolution was needed.

Devolved legislatures were established in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland about 15 years ago but they were all based on different models with few inter-governmental links.

Jones said if Scotland became independent, the United Kingdom would become more unbalanced with England having 92 percent, or 53 million, of the population. The interests of smaller entities would need protecting.

"There is certainly friction between the government here and the government in London over the extent of the powers that we have and that is due to the fact the settlement is not clear," Jones said.

He said the three legislatures had all taken different paths with the Northern Ireland Assembly the most devolved.

Only Scotland, home to 8 percent of the UK population with 5.3 million people and 9.5 percent of GDP, wants independence.

With the three main UK parties opposing independence, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond has railed against the "Westminster elite," striking a chord with Scots who resent being told what to do by southern politicians.

Jones backs the UK parties' rejection of Salmond's proposal for an independent Scotland to share both the pound in a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom and the services of the Bank of England, an issue that has taken centre stage in the debate.

"It won't work. I don't know of any currency where you have two governments that effectively run the currency," Jones said.

"(Scotland) wants to be an independent state but then wants to cede a lot of that sovereignty back to an independent central bank in which case what is the point of sovereignty. There are just too many unquantifiable risks involved."

The Welsh Assembly, which has the power to run education, health and local government, has taken a more cautious approach towards self-governance but is gaining more power.

A government-appointed commission this week recommended further devolution, suggesting Wales - known for its mining heritage, green valleys and rugby - take over policing and be given the right to decide on energy projects. An ICM poll last week found 37 percent of 1,000 people questioned in Wales wanted greater devolution.

"From a Welsh perspective we are a nation in our own right, we can express our national identity, have autonomy in important areas, support our own language, we have our own national football and rugby teams, what is the point of independence?" Jones said. (Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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