Tensions increase over state of the union

Welsh secretary Peter Hain has added his voice to warnings that the Conservatives’ call for English-votes for English laws risks the “Balkanisation of Britain”.

As celebrations begin for the 300th anniversary of the Acts of Union that brought together England and Scotland into the UK, rhetoric for and against separatist elements both north of the border and in Wales is heating up.

In an article for the Western Mail this morning, Mr Hain warned the Tories’ English votes plan, where only English MPs would be able to vote on Westminster legislation affecting England, was playing into the hands of separatists.

“Unless we see it off it will prove a one-way street to the disintegration of the United Kingdom – and a one-way street to irrelevance for Wales,” he wrote.

His comments echo similar warnings made by chancellor Gordon Brown at the weekend, when he called for supporters of the union between Scotland and England to “speak up” in the face of growing support for independence north of the border.

Recent polls have suggested as many as half of Scots back an independent Scotland, and a survey for the Sunday Times this weekend put the Scottish National Party (SNP) six points ahead of Labour.

“We should remember that from 1707, the union was founded not just on the respect for diversity that devolution recognises, but also on institutions that brought us together,” Mr Brown said.

“It is now time for supporters of the union to speak up, to resist any drift towards a Balkanisation of Britain, and to acknowledge Great Britain for the success it has been and is – a model for the world of how nations can not only live side by side, but be stronger together but weaker apart.”

However, the nationalists in both Scotland and Wales have dismissed such talk as scaremongering by Labour governments fearful of the results of the Welsh assembly and Scottish parliament elections in May this year.

“Labour are running a negative, ‘natbashing’ campaign,” said SNP leader Alex Salmond, adding that with its promise to hold a referendum on independence, his party was the only one to offer Scottish people a choice on their future.

Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, accused Labour in Wales of having no coherent policy, pointing out while Mr Hain was warning of the destruction of the union, first minister Rhodri Morgan asserted independence would not be an election issue.

“Labour in Wales is in disarray over their campaign. It’s about time Labour focused on the issues that matter,” said Plaid’s deputy assembly leader, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.

The Conservatives have also hit back at Labour for suggesting they back a break-up of the union. On Sunday David Cameron accused the chancellor of using the “fear of the economic consequences of going it alone” to intimidate Scots voters.

Shadow Scotland secretary David Mundell has tabled an early day motion celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, which was ratified by the Scottish parliament on January 16th 1707, as proof of his party’s support.

“My motion sets out clearly my party’s position on the union, recognising that it has been one of the greatest political success stories of modern European history,” he said.