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An unequal Union will not be a sustainable one - Unionists need to understand this; Western Mail.

* OST people in Wales will be astonished to learn that they are expected to chip in towards the cost of reducing water bills in the south-west of England and the construction of a major new sewerage works in London.

The fact that such an outcome is the consequence of a quirk in a funding arrangement that few understand makes it an even more bitter pill to swallow.

One of the reasons Wales continues to get the funding short straw is that the great majority of people find the complexity of the situation too much to get to grips with. It is certainly difficult to explain in simple terms - but at a time when the constitution of the UK is in a more unsettled state than in living memory, it is essential the interests of Wales are not overlooked.

As the Welsh Government points out, this latest funding row underlines the need for a fairer allocation of funds to the nations of the UK. Currently, of course, the major constitutional pre-occupation is whether Scotland will become independent if there is a Yes vote in the referendum Alex Salmond wants. Such an outcome could have potentially devastating implications for Wales, whose influence in a smaller Union dominated by England could diminish even further. The worst-case scenario would see the funding of Wales cut further by English MPs convinced that they have been subsidising the other nations to an inordinate degree. The likelihood of a near-permanent Tory majority in such a Southern Union could encourage a greater determination to uphold English hegemony.

Issues of this kind will doubtless be discussed during the three-year project to consider the future of the UK being launched in Cardiff today. But the controversy over the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act, as it will soon be, demonstrates the need for more immediate steps to be taken to ensure injustice does not occur. The Welsh Government should make the strongest possible representations to Westminster about the new law and insist that Wales should receive a Barnett consequential payment. If the Treasury refuses to budge, the Welsh Government should be prepared to invoke the disputes procedure that governs the relationship between the UK Government and the devolved administrations.

Wales is the poorest nation in the UK and it is not right that our taxes subsidise richer regions. This is a matter of straightforward justice that should transcend political affiliation. Whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, there is an urgent need to create funding arrangements that are transparent and designed to allocate resources on the basis of need. In parallel with this, we need to establish constitutional arrangements that are in themselves founded on equality between the nations and not on the hegemony of the largest. An unequal Union will not be a sustainable one - and that's a message Unionists need to understand.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 30, 2012
Previous Article:T.B.C.

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