THE man behind the 1997 Yes campaign bemoaned the failure of devolution to deliver an economic boost for Wales in the Assembly’s first decade.
Raising concerns that Wales’ economy had not improved in the way he had argued it would, he said: “I’ve spent a long time over the last 10 years thinking with intensity about that missing dividend.”
Describing the absence of a link between prosperity and autonomy as “devolution’s dirty little secret”, he said: “On the basis of the economic trends over the last 10 years, it is at least arguable that we have been devolving our way to relative economic decline.”
To try and put Professor Morgan's comments in context, the Welsh economy (measured by GVA per head) was a poor 77% of the UK average in 1999, and the gap has now worsened to 75% in 2007. We are clearly the poor relation of the UK and getting poorer, and I have to agree with Professor Morgan that devolution has not delivered in this respect.
There are inevitably those who say that devolution has failed and should therefore be abandoned – but remember that it was direct rule from Westminster that led to our relative poverty in the first place, and the initial devolution settlement gave us very few real powers in any case.
Contrast the Welsh performance with Scotland – who were able to close their gap with the UK economy from an already respectable 95% in 1999 to 96% in 2007. Is it mere coincidence that Scotland’s fully empowered parliament have been able to develop laws and strategies to suit their economy and particular conditions, while we have had to rely on hitching a ride on the back of Wesminster legislation, or trying to negotiate the painfully slow drip-feeding of powers by the LCO process?
We have not been able to benefit from the flexibility that devolution should have delivered, because we were never given the powers that we needed. The new powers that will be voted on in the referendum will still not match the powers of the Scottish Parliament, but it will at least give us more of a fighting chance to address our underlying economic problems.
The proposed referendum is not about independence –
it is about empowerment– giving us the ability to react to rapidly changing circumstances and to develop Welsh solutions to Welsh problems.