I have submitted a presentation to the AWC, as below.
I urge anyone with an interest in moving the devolution process forward to do the same, by sending them an e-mail to:
My personal belief is that the Welsh Assembly has evolved successfully in its formative years, and has now matured into a competent institution capable of taking a decisive step forward to achieve full law-making status. This would be in the best interests of Wales, but is being held back by narrow party-political interests.
First, to introduce myself, I am a political blogger with a strong belief in eventual independence for Wales, but I am not a member or supporter of any political party. I have travelled extensively through the world in the construction industry, and have experienced alternative political and economic structures at first hand. This has led me to the firm belief that an independent Wales is more than capable of standing alone, but this is not the question at hand today.
I do not consider the current constitutional arrangements for Wales as being sustainable, as nationalists will continue to press for more powers, while the asymmetric nature of the different settlements in Wales & Scotland will cause increasing frustration in England, and this is an issue that Westminster will ignore at its peril. Any ‘final’ constitutional settlement must be seen to be clear and fair to all – I personally believe that the only stable constitutional settlement for the UK will be a federal arrangement, but again that is not the issue under discussion today.
Turning to the current devolution arrangements, there is clearly a lack of understanding of the arrangements in the general population. This is hardly surprising when you consider the lack of a distinctive Welsh media – with many choosing to read the English tabloids in preference to the Western Mail, or tuning into English transmitters. Even when watching the BBC ‘national’ news reporting on say a new health policy, it rarely mentions that some policies may apply only in England and the story may not apply in Wales. Most ordinary people are not obsessed with political arrangements – only in their practical outcome. They are not interested in plenary hearings or the role of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee – or even of the role of the All-Wales Convention! They just want to know about what services they are going to get and how much it is going to cost. But I estimate that only half of the population know that health services and education are actually run from Cardiff Bay and not Westminster.
In my opinion, one of the biggest practical outcomes of devolution, has been a raised awareness of being Welsh and pride in being able to take more control over our own affairs. Some UK companies have responded positively, for example Tesco promoting Welsh produce in supermarkets. It would be interesting to see says what their market research says about how successful this approach has been, and how much it has been influenced by devolution.
It has to be recognised that devolution so far has been an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process as it was in Scotland. The original Assembly started with very little real powers but as it has grown in confidence and ability, then so it has been able to acquire more powers progressively, and in that respect the original arrangements can be considered to have worked well and the Assembly has now reached a mature status where it is ready to consider a step up to the next level.
However, the recent system of LCOs seems more designed to prevent transfer of powers than encourage it, with certain anti-devolutionary politicians using them to stifle progress and using Westminster vetoes to block transfer of further powers. The overwhelming majority of the public have no clue what a LCO is, and when it is explained to them their eyes roll into the backs of their heads, and they are slowly bringing the whole political process, as well as the reputation of the Assembly itself, into disrepute. Maybe this is what its architects had in mind – Legitimised Constitutional Obfuscation.
The reliance on amendments to UK (or England & Wales) Acts to transfer power, is dictated to by political priorities and legislative timetables in London rather than the needs of the Welsh public, and leaves us to beg for crumbs from the Westminster table. An example of this failing Wales was in the delay in implementing a smoking ban in Wales due to political differences in London. Health was already a devolved area, and there was a clear political will on all sides to achieve this goal, and although we eventually got our ban, how many lives were lost due to the delay?
Compare the ‘Westminster knows best’ approach taken with the Welsh Assembly, to the hands-off approach taken to Scottish plans. In theory, Westminster could still block controversial Scottish legislation, but in practice they never have. If this approach works for Scotland, then why can it not work equally in Wales? Wales has all the necessary prerequisites for a competent legislative assembly – all it requires is for Westminster to let go.
The reality is that Labour politicians in London know that a law-making parliament in Wales would lead to a reduction in then number of Welsh MPs,(probably from 40 MPs to 32) and this would in turn make it harder for Labour to achieve a majority in Westminster. The future governance of Wales is being jeopardised for narrow party political purposes and for personal preservation, and this should not be permitted.
It is clear that a law-making Assembly would need more AMs to fulfil its functions, say 80 rather than the current 60. While the thought of more politicians would not strike a happy note with the public, the case could be made provided these positions were offset by a corresponding reduction in MPs, especially considering that the total cost of an MP is around 3-4 times that of an AM. Indeed, the redundant MPs could be offered alternative opportunities to stand as AMs so that their ‘undoubted’ experience is not lost.
Finally regarding the timing of any referendum, every opinion poll that has been conducted on the subject has shown there to be an ever-growing support for increased powers, and this at a time when there has been limited public discussion on the subject. While I am conscious of the need to ensure a clear decisive result, I am certain that when the issues are presented objectively that the public will positively support the proposals. There are this objectors who want to include an alternative option for abolition of the Assembly, and I would have no problem with this as I have no doubt that this option will be soundly rejected.
Penddu, January 2009