Wales needs the closest possible relationship with the EU
Right now Wales faces huge challenges but also massive opportunities, and on 8 June, Welsh people will have the opportunity to change the direction our nation is heading.
This election is about the type of country we want to be. Do we want to be an open, tolerant and united country that looks out to the world? Or a country that retreats, where inequality and division fester and where the life chances of the next generation are stunted by the decisions our new government will take?
Our first challenge will be to create an open, modern economy, which provides the opportunity for everyone to get on in life. For Welsh Liberal Democrats that means an economy with the closest possible relationship with the EU. So, any deal negotiated for the UK outside the EU must maintain membership of the single market. For the sake of our businesses, our tourism industry, our NHS, Wales must remain a member of the single market.
Spreading opportunity also means reducing inequality. We want a Wales where everyone has the chance to succeed. This means creating an education system that is a source of national pride, a fairer distribution of income and wealth, a properly-funded NHS, investment in high-quality affordable housing, and the creation of well-paid secure jobs.
To stimulate growth and create jobs we will give a ‘start-up allowance’ to help budding entrepreneurs with living costs in the first six months of setting up their business and will invest £100bn in Britain’s infrastructure, including investing in rural transport and broadband.
We would also stamp out abuse of zero-hours contracts, so people have the stability they need. We will create a formal right to request a fixed contract and consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time. We will abolish the economically distorting tolls on the Severn Bridge, after the bridge returns to public ownership in 2018, unlocking greater economic growth in the region and making Wales open for business.
Our long coastline and large tidal range means Wales has an opportunity to lead the world in marine energy. This Conservative government has turned back the clock on the progress the Liberal Democrats made in the Coalition. We need to harness our environment and work to build support and investment in in tidal and wave power so Wales can lead the UK in renewable energy. We will give the immediate go-ahead to Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and, in the longer term, a whole programme of tidal lagoons on Britain’s shores – up to ten over the next two decades.
Giving our children the best start in life means ensuring a world-class education. I am proud that it is Welsh Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams in government leading a national mission of education reform, giving our young people the opportunity to succeed.
We are reducing class sizes so our teachers have the time to teach, protecting our small and rural schools, and focusing on closing the attainment gap between our most disadvantaged children and their counterparts. These are Welsh Liberal Democrat ideas in action, changing the lives of our children for the better, every single day.
We hear time and again about the crisis in social care in England, but we are not immune from the challenges this side of the border too. Social care services have been left underfunded, and rather than focus on people and their needs, we focus on structures which prevent carers from providing effective, dignified care for our loved ones. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will put the needs of patients first in delivering compassionate, dignified and person-centred social care.
We will work to end 15 minute care slots, maintain community services, and deliver effective personalised care that keeps people in their homes and out of hospital. We will use the proceeds of our 1p on income tax, raising £6bn for the UK every year and more than £300m for Wales in social care services, GPs, and mental health services so people can live with dignity and access the care they need.
The political picture in the UK is incredibly complex at the moment. The potential repatriation of powers from the EU and the UK Government’s determination to take a harsh interpretation of the Brexit vote will only exacerbate that. We would use the repatriation of powers from the European Union to establish a new federal state of equals, and a new UK could emerge out of this division and turmoil with a stable constitutional settlement.
The Conservatives and Labour are putting their own party’s interests before the interests of the country. Wales needs the Welsh Liberal Democrats to put our nation first once again, to rebuild our economy, keep us engaged with our neighbours in Europe and to stand up for a Wales and Britain that is open, tolerant and united.
If you want to change the direction of our country, if you want to stop a hard Brexit, if you want a fairer Wales and UK, vote Welsh Liberal Democrat on June the 8th.
Mark Williams is leader of the Welsh Liberal DemocratsLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.