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

10 thoughts on “Opposition exploits chink in Labour’s armour

  1. Well said Mr.Hill…

    …the Assembly could well have debated “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

    What relevance has the opposition to the realities of life I wonder…

  2. That’s the trouble with devolution, it gives us the pretence of independence, without powers that it would bring. Devolution’s a sham.

  3. It takes a ‘hypothetical’ comment by the First Minister, based on an assumption that probably will not happen to raise any heat in the usually boring Assembly proceedings. The problems are that powers passed to the Assembly are then further passed to organisations, both public/private with the normal buck passing that goes between, however the money is still being spent and poor returns. I have come to the conclusion that devolution in Wales was actually a clever plan by the Treasury to reduce the impact of Welsh Labour over time in its capacity to control public expenditure/provision of services in England, where the real wealth is created. We have effectively been shunted into regional side track, but given just enough to keep us going, whilst all the real decisions that affect our lives are taken elsewhere. The only people who have really benefitted are the Welsh nationalists who have been given much greater power/influence in Wales than their support warrants amongst Welsh people.

  4. “This is another example of time being filled with a debate of no relevance or purpose.”

    A somewhat simplistic view of the Assembly, such as it is.

    Although the Assembly lacks powers in the areas under discussion, the debate serves to emphasise that very fact, and therefore is relevant and has a purpose. Even though the devolution settlement is about as weak as it can be, it has created a national forum where all issues relevant to Wales can be discussed.

    The Scottish Parliament lacks powers over defence and foreign affairs, yet it has, indirectly, the power to prevent Trident being sited in Scotland through a referendum vote.

    The National Assembly has that potential too, weak as it is. It is up to the people of Wales in the final analysis who they choose to elect to sit in it. As a democratic forum, it has the power to hold an independence referendum, which no Westminster government would dare deny.

    I agree, Alun, that devolution is a con, ‘power devolved is power retained’. That was obvious to most of us in 1979 when we overwhelmingly rejected an expensive talking shop. It is little more than that today, with a tame Labour administration, but, it is a democratic body, and it has the power to ‘talk’ – a very relevant power. The unionist parties are very wary of that power, and take every opportunity to limit it, as was illustrated in the LCO debacle and the 2006 Act, and Gillan’s attitude since 2010.

    Plaid is quite right to take Carwyn Jones to task for such a silly remark, so that the people of Wales can see where voting for his party takes them.

  5. Given that Carwyn’s biggest Weapon of Mass Destruction appears to be his tongue, perhaps he should be given a U-Boat to go with his U-turn this week.

  6. No Plaid were not right. You want to embarrass the First Minister? How about pointing out that the Welsh are the worst educated people in Europe and relative standards are still declining – and debating that? What about pointing out that we as a country are so dependent on English subsidy that any talk of independence is infantile fantasy. How about pointing out that the Valleys are the most deprived areas in the UK with feeble levels of economic activity and educational attainment and pathetic levels of aspiration? Why not ask him what he is doing about those things – his direct responsibility? Plaid might even propose a policy or two of their own to tackle these things. But no. The vice of Welsh political parties is they follow the Westminster template and would rather seek to trip up opponents over irrelevant things said than debate real issues which require things to be done. Not that Carwyn is any different. They would all rather score points than talk to the public in an adult way about the serious problems we face. For heaven’s sake, get a grip AMs. Wales is in crisis and deserves better.

  7. This is an issue that has angered a core element of Labour support; a generation who were either part of or were supportive of the anti-nuclear protests for decades. I find it a little difficult to accept criticism of Plaid questioning Labour on this non-devolved issue, when then the First Minister took it upon himself to speak on behalf of the nation in welcoming these weapons.

    I also do not remember such criticisms when Labour chose to have a debate on the monarchy (another non-devolved issue), in order to attempt to trip up Plaid over the rebublican views of their leader. The current Welsh Government and its leader frequently comment on non-devolved issues for party political purposes, both inside and outside the Senedd so frankly, so criticism of opposition parties doing the same holds little water. I would of course welcome more debate in the Bay on issues they have control of, but the current Government should be taking a lead in this area, which is where the problem lies – I suggest.

  8. I entirely agree: the debate over the monarchy was another futile attempt to score cheap points – by Labour on that occasion over the Plaid leader. My point was not essentially partisan; they are all at it. I know that the Welsh public don’t pay much attention and our news media are indequate but I still believe politicians would get more respect and achieve more if they were a bit more grown up.

  9. Some of the people of Wales will have read about this story on the BBC website but we have to accept it didn’t become a talking point, and the possibility of it ever happening is zero, as the economic disruption to the port would be unthinkable. However it is a strange argument that Plaid Cymru shouldn’t scrutinise something the First Minister has said because it is “not devolved”. If he has made a statement that lacks credibility it is completely right for the opposition parties to question that. The First Minister sets the tone for debate and the agenda, and choosing not to make a political point about what he has said in his official capacity would be self-defeating and bizarre.

  10. Can’t agree. A throw-away remark, not the policy of his Party, certainly not a policy of the government, is not worth a debate when you have one opportunity a week to discuss and debate actual government policy and performance. It was a lazy attempt to embarrass the First Minister. It will change nothing and shift not a single vote in any future election. Issue a press statement deploring what he said if you want to and then use the Assembly to discuss something real. Wasting precious time is truly ‘self-defeating’.

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