Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do they really want to take the risk?

The Western Mail's Tomos Livingstone is writing about proposed changes to the way Wales is governed again today. Since this is a subject of great interest to me, I cannot resist the temptation to add my twopenny worth, taking Tomos' article as my text. My first thought was to wait until 18th November, when a bit more clarity may descend. But my second thought was that the Labour/Plaid Assembly Government will come up with yet another prevarication mechanism - so we might as well start considering the issue now. And after all, Tomos was writing with great certainty last week that Sir Emyr Jones Parry is going to advise the Assembly Government to 'go for it'.

Two points I want to make as I write this. Firstly, there's the casual reference to the proposed referendum as being a choice between 'the status quo' and a 'Scottish-style Parliament'. Well yes. This is the phrase I use. But the emphasis should be on the word 'style'. We shouldn't pretend that we're considering a change to anything like as powerful a body as the Scottish Parliament. I'm told that about 60% of the latter's work involves 'criminal justice' - and there's no suggestion that this policy area should be devolved at all. Personally, I've never seen the full transfer of powers in already devolved policy areas as being that big a deal. The change involved is not sufficiently radical to justify continuation of the constitutional threat inherent in the current incremental system of power transfer.

Second issue is timing of a referendum. Tomos describes the process of moving from the current process (which I've always thought illogically complicated) as 'complex'. Its not so much complex, as deeply embarrassing for Labour politicians. First step is a two thirds majority of Assembly Members voting for a referendum. That could be done next week. The Assembly Government have the numbers. That was Ieuan Wyn Jones' supposed reason for taking Plaid into a coalition with Labour in the first place. The complexity comes in because of a requirement for a subsequent simple majority in the House of Commons. In theory, it should be straight forward. Labour has a large majority in the House of Commons - but no commitment whatsoever to vote for a referendum. So to avoid embarrassment, Labour's friends in Cardiff Bay will not ask for the vote. They would rather wait until there's a Conservative Government at Westminster. At present we don't know for certain what would happen then. I've always taken the approach that the appropriate time to commit to a referendum is when the Assembly Government commit to asking for it. If they don't go for it, it will look very much as if they are not looking for success, but an excuse for failure!!


Draig said...

Good post Glyn. I've always been in favour of a "Scottish style Parliament" (which as you say is not what's on offfer) but this post ties into a growing sense I have that the Assembly's basic problem is not lack of powers, but basic political will, and that quaint word - courage.

In the middle of a recession, in particular, many people will want to know exactly what a "beefed up" Assembly (as opposed to a full Lawmaking Parliament) will deliver that the current set up can't. I'm not sure this has been fully articulated.

I'm just not fully convinced that the Assembly has the guts to stand up and take a stronger stand on this issue. Unfortunately, expectations have been hugely raised by the prospect of a referendum, and if Assembly members bottle it, I think it's fragile reputation will be damaged irreperably, and there will be civil war in some quarters.

There are only two directions on this issue - forward, or back.

alanindyfed said...

A Conservative government could have the effect of pushing Labour AMs towards the need for a referendum.
It would also presumably have the effect of inducing more Labour (and Plaid) voters to vote Yes in a referendum.
This is another reason why I would like to see a Tory government in Westminster.

Glyn Davies said...

Draig - Been saying this for ages. Whenever I hear Plaid spokespeople demanding to now what a future Conservative Government would do if a referendum were to be asked for, I hear a desperate attempt to avoid the obvious question of whether the coalition will as for it - an example of a pathetic absence of courage and leadership.

Alan - The irony of it. Depending on a Conservative Government to help deliver greater powers that cannot be delivered under a Labour Government.