Wales’s future in the United Kingdom will only be guaranteed if the country elects a Conservative government next year, the party’s leader in the Welsh Parliament has said.
Paul Davies said there is “no scenario whatsoever” in which he would consider leading the country into independence, and he accused First Minister Mark Drakeford of pandering to nationalists.
His comments come amid a surge in support for Welsh independence during the coronavirus pandemic, during which the Welsh Labour Government and its leader Mr Drakeford have repeatedly criticised Westminster for alleged shortcomings in its co-operation and communication.
Mr Davies said there is no likelihood, even if Scotland chooses to leave the UK, that he will support independence, as he claimed Mr Drakeford has stoked support for the movement by publicly criticising the UK Government.
He told the PA news agency: “If you look at the Welsh leader’s track record over the last few years, I believe that they’ve pandered to the Welsh nationalists, they pandered to independence, and that’s a very dangerous place to be in.
“We are very, very clear that we believe in a strong Wales and a strong United Kingdom. That will be our message to the people of Wales next year, and I believe we will be the only party conveying that message.”
Asked whether his message is that voting for the Welsh Tories will be voting to save the union, Mr Davies said: “Vote Conservative to make sure that Wales stays in the union. Yes, absolutely.”
Pro-Welsh independence campaign group Yes Cymru has increased its membership from 2,000 at the start of the year to more than 15,000 now, while Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has called the coronavirus crisis a “game changer” for the independence movement.
But when the May 2021 Senedd election campaign throws Cardiff Bay’s response to Covid-19 under the spotlight, Mr Davies said his party will seek to persuade voters that Wales’s ability to survive the crisis is thanks to its place in the UK.
He said: “I don’t think we would have been able to survive without being part of that union because, of course, during this pandemic, the UK Government has provided the Welsh Government with £5 billion to support it in fighting coronavirus.
“And if we weren’t part of that special union, then we wouldn’t have been able to get that money to actually fight the virus. I think this pandemic has brought that to the fore.
“As unionists, we will be going out next election, telling people to vote for us because we are probably the only party that will actually stand up for the union. And being a part of that union will mean that Wales will be protected going forward in the future.”
The Welsh Tories will offer the public a “devolution revolution” at the election, he said, by retaining and then using the powers Wales currently has “much more effectively and efficiently”.
One area of focus will be the Welsh health system and NHS waiting times, which Mr Davies said are issues that anger him most.
In January this year there were 27,314 people in Wales who had waited more than 36 weeks for treatment, even though NHS targets state no patient should wait that long.
In the latest performance figures issued last week, that number had risen to 168,944 people due to the pandemic.
Mr Davies said: “I see constituents coming to me saying they’ve been waiting so long to get an operation, or even their operation has been cancelled three or four times.
“It’s when people come to me and they’ve been waiting two years to get treatment because they’ve been on a waiting list. That’s what angers me. And that’s why I want to change things. I wouldn’t be sitting where I am otherwise.”