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Former Archbishop of Canterbury to chair group considering Welsh independence

by Heather Preston
Rowan-Williams Welsh Commission.jpg - Banner image

Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has been appointed as co-chair of an independent Constitutional Commission to consider constitutional reform and ways to strengthen Welsh democracy which could include full independence.

Together with Professor McAllister, Dr Williams will lead the Commission in making recommendations on the constitutional future of the country and how to best improve outcomes for the people of Wales.

Speaking to Premier, Dr Williams explains that this Commission is timely, considering the "unstable" state of the United Kingdom.

"We don't quite know what the future is for Scotland or even Northern Ireland, with the possibility of another referendum in Scotland and so forth. I think the Welsh Government has felt this is a good moment for asking, 'What would a constructive, fruitful relationship be like, if the present four nation state of the union were to change? What would it be like for Wales to think about the kind of self-determination, the kind of political freedoms it needs in order to discharge its public life better?'

"We're responding to a situation that I think a very large number of people would agree about, that we're in a very mobile and uncertain position with regards to the whole of the Union."

The Commission plans to engage in a national conversation about the future of Wales, which Dr Williams says will seek unbiased information, perspective and wisdom from both the public and the Commissions. 

He explains that "intelligent debate" around Welsh governance and democracy more widely is essential. 
"We're not just considering a neatly circumscribed set of questions about the future of Wales. We are also asking what kinds of democracy are appropriate for the 21st century."
He continued: "Speaking as a Christian, as a theologian, I think there are very large questions about how we think of democracy in an age of mass communication, short term attention spans, the celebrity culture and politics and all sorts of things like that, where I think there are some necessary hard questions to ask."

Swansea born Dr Williams served as Bishop of Monmouth for eleven years before being elected Archbishop of Wales in 1999. Some have criticised his appointment to the Commission citing his lack of political experience.

He tells Premier that his long-standing connection to the people of South Wales in particular shouldn't be overlooked while his role as Archbishop of Canterbury also holds him in good stead as the Commission's co-chair.

"[As Archbishop] you try to create an environment in which people are not afraid to voice their disagreements and to work with them. So the task of an archbishop is partly to hold people to a task of shaping a common mind. I think it's something like that that goes on in the life of a commission, too."

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