Opposition exploits chink in Labour’s armour

Daran Hill says today’s plenary in the Senedd will be another example of time being filled with a debate of no relevance or purpose

As I wrote last week, the decision by Carwyn Jones to offer Pembrokeshire up as a potential site for the location of the UK trident missile system if Scotland gained independence was a significant political statement.

It continued to rumble on at the Assembly last week too. Challenged by Leanne Wood at First Minister’s Questions, the First Minister had to step back from his previous bold initiative and concede that, since Scotland would not be leaving the union: “It’s quite clear from the UK Government that the fleet will remain at Faslane, so the issue is now entirely academic”

This rather clumsy retreat left the First Minister looking wrong footed and, however Labour spins it, shows that he had not adequately substantiated his rather bold and interesting statement from the previous week. Far from being the clever move it first seemed, it now seems to have left the First Minister exposed in a way that he rarely is after exchanges at First Minister’s Question Time.

The chink in the armour is now being exploited more fully by Plaid Cymru, who are claiming to have played a key role in this change of stance. They have tabled a motion in Plenary today which will seek to propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

  1. Opposes the siting of Trident, or any other nuclear weapons, in Milford Haven or anywhere else in Wales; and
  2. Calls on the UK Government not to proceed with the replacement of Trident and to use the resources saved to create jobs.

This initiative will make sure the issue remains in the news today for a third week running. It is intended to cause discomfort to Labour, who have their own splits on the issue, and is entirely politically driven – a common feature of opposition tabled debates.

What is more intriguing, however, is not the attack on the Welsh Government but the way in which it seeks to put pressure on a UK Government. And the UK Government need pay no heed to the Assembly whatsoever. The second part of the motion is talking shop politics and will mean absolutely nothing whether or not it is passed.

Indeed, little the Assembly will discuss this afternoon will make a blind bit of difference to anyone. Also today the National Assembly will debate a motion calling for votes at 16 in referenda and elections. This has been tabled on a cross party basis by four Assembly Members, and supported by nine others. All very well and dandy, but electoral regulations are also non devolved and therefore the responsibility of the UK Government. This is another example of time being filled with a debate of no relevance or purpose.

It is interesting to see that thirteen years into devolution opposition parties and backbenchers are keen to give up half of their valuable time this week to discuss a series of things over which they have no control or influence whatsoever. Wales is demonstrating our democracy remains so insubstantial and undeveloped that our politicians would rather discuss issues over which they and their colleagues have no responsibility than matters over like education, housing, health or social policy. On the day the Americans celebrate their independence from Britain, we do not even seem to have independence of topic.

Daran Hill is Managing Director of Positif Politics

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