Roger Scully analyses some of the consequences of devolution becoming the settled will of the people of Wales
After a decade and a half of democratic devolution, what sort of politics do we have here in Wales? To answer the question I’ve chosen six numbers that encapsulate some important, though not always very comfortable, truths about the manner in which democratic politics is conducted in Wales.
My first number is perhaps the most obvious, and should need no explanation to this audience. 6721. To jog the memory of anyone who needs reminding: the margin of the Yes victory in the 1997 referendum was 6,721 votes. Put another way, the margin between Yes and No was 0.6 per cent of the votes cast. Or to put it a third way, in a nation of 3 million people, fewer than 3,400 people changing their mind would have given victory to the No campaign.
That scenario – a No victory in 1997 – is increasingly difficult for many people to imagine. Just as university undergraduates now generally have no memory of politics before Tony Blair was Prime Minister, they also cannot recollect a time before the National Assembly. To them, the Assembly and devolution is simply part of the familiar furniture of political life. It has always been there. Indeed, to a population cohort whose numbers grow every day, the period prior to Democratic Devolution is no more part of their lived experience than the Tudors and Stuarts, Gladstone and Disraeli, food rationing, or that mysterious, mythical era before the iPhone.
But had the vote gone the other way, as it might easily have done, the political landscape of Wales would look very different. If, after the crushing humiliation of 1979, devolution had again been rejected by the Welsh people in the much more favourable circumstances of September 1997, that would almost certainly have been that: the end to the political project of winning significant autonomy for Wales.
It’s inherently impossible to know how that counter-factual would have played out. But it’s none-too-difficult to imagine London drawing the conclusion that the Welsh (or most of them, at least) didn’t really want political recognition of their nationhood, and thus winding down much of the apparatus of Administrative Devolution, and increasingly governing Wales as little more than another region of England (with perhaps a few, token nods to cultural distinctiveness). In this parallel universe, none of the broad political superstructure that develops around institutions like the Assembly would exist. Plaid Cymru, having witnessed the destruction of a key part of its raison d’etre, would probably have faced an existential crisis and might even have ceased to operate as a mainstream political party. One could go on – the consequences would range far and wide.
However that would have worked out, we can, I think, be clear on this. September 18th 1997 was one of the most important and fateful days in the life of Wales as a nation. Whatever the inadequacies and limitations of the arrangements under which the National Assembly was created – and there were, assuredly, plenty of those – the 1997 referendum was what social scientists refer to as a Critical Juncture; or what more popular discussion sometimes terms a Tipping Point. By a vanishingly slender margin, Wales decided that it was going to be a political nation. And much has followed from that. It might very easily have decided otherwise. 6,721 votes mattered a great deal.
My second number, 67 per cent, requires some explanation. At the time of the 1997 Scottish referendum, devolution was frequently referred to – in words generally attributed to the late, lamented, John Smith – as the ‘Settled Will of the Scottish people’.
No-one could then seriously have described devolution as such in Wales. But the thing about Critical Junctures is that the path chosen has consequences, and it leads you in new directions. If you look at survey evidence gathered at the time of the referendum, or shortly afterwards, what comes through clearly is that support for democratic devolution in Wales was neither very wide nor very deep. And though few people challenged the validity of the referendum outcome, or the decision to proceed with creating a National Assembly, there were justifiable and quite widespread concerns about the public legitimacy the new body would possess.
One plausible ‘nightmare’ scenario’ was that the very existence of the Assembly, and the right of devolved Welsh institutions to wield significant governmental power, would continue to divide the people of Wales right down the middle; that the existence of devolution would be a running sore in Welsh politics.
Another ‘nightmare scenario’, at least for supporters of Welsh autonomy, was that unless the devolved institutions could be shown to deliver effectively, then the Assembly, lacking secure, majority public support, might be vulnerable to future abolition by a Conservative UK government (as had famously happened to the GLC and numerous other local authorities under Mrs Thatcher). Such fears clearly shaped the behaviour of some key actors in the early months and years of the Assembly: perhaps most obviously in Plaid Cymru’s contribution to the defenestration of Alun Michael, an action that, whatever wider merits it may have had, robbed Plaid of a substantial electoral asset…
Yet in practice these fears have largely proven groundless. After the devolutionist path was taken, an increasing proportion of the Welsh population came to accept and even support this. To be precise, the best evidence we have indicates that attitudes towards devolution and how Wales should be governed changed rather rapidly in the 5-6 years after the 1997 referendum. In the subsequent decade, the tide has continued to flow in the same direction, albeit at a much gentler speed. Opposition to devolution has come to be distinctly a minority taste – in most surveys in recent years, favoured by fewer than 20 per cent of respondents.
Yet there has been no rise in support for independence, which continues to be the preference of around about 10 per cent of voters. It is support for something in between the status quo ante and independence for Wales – devolution, Home Rule, or whatever you label it – which rose rapidly in the years after 1997, and has been the preference of the clear majority of people in Wales in all major recent surveys. In the most recent survey which we conducted, those favouring devolved government for Wales numbered 67 per cent of all respondents – even after including all the Don’t Knows and Wouldn’t Says. Devolution is now securely established as the settled will of the Welsh people, to an extent that was very difficult to imagine fifteen years ago.
Quite how that has come about is something that I’m still not sure we have a wholly satisfactory explanation for. One popular line in the period after the 1997 referendum was that support for devolution would grow as it was seen to ‘deliver for the people of Wales’. It’s none-too-clear that this holds much water. Public perceptions of the performance of devolved government have, in the main, been pretty moderate; moreover, the statistical relationship between evaluations of the impact of the devolved institutions and how people say they want Wales to be governed is generally pretty weak.
A more recent suggestion – voiced by Peter Hain in the run-up to last years’ referendum – was that support for devolution had increased in reaction to a Conservative-led government being installed in London. Given the history of Wales’ partisan preferences – something I’ll come back to – that is a very plausible idea. It’s just one which the evidence, rather inconsiderately, completely fails to support. The big changes in attitudes towards devolution happened well before Mr Cameron became Prime Minister; and, thus far, there is very little sign that the spectre of the Tories (or, indeed, of Nick Clegg) has had any significant further impact on public attitudes.
Part of the answer to the mystery comes, I think, from the very negative –occasionally hysterical – tone of devolution’s opponents in 1997. In parliamentary debates preceding the Scottish and Welsh referendums, Conservative spokesman Michael Ancram warned of the “dark, cold night” that would follow Yes votes. Well, people did vote Yes – and the sky didn’t fall in. If you issue people with blood-curdling threats about the consequences of something happening, that something does happen, and those threatened consequences don’t manifest themselves, that rather damages your arguments.
But also important in devolution becoming the settled will of the Welsh people, I think, is another factor. There’s plenty of survey and other evidence to indicate that most people in Wales retain a considerable – and for the most part, I believe, healthy – scepticism about the politicians in their devolved institutions. But they are similarly sceptical of those in power elsewhere, certainly including London. Where politicians in Cardiff Bay get at least some credit is for being more concerned with, and focussed upon, the specific problems of Wales. And since 1997, more people have warmed to the idea of having an institution devoted to addressing those problems. To put it very crudely, devolved government might be (in the evaluations of voters) a bit crap much of the time – but then so is all government. And this, at least, is our crap.
That might not seem very inspiring. But it’s valuable for us political obsessives to periodically remind ourselves that most people, most of the time, don’t find politics, politicians and government either very interesting or inspiring. The more general point is that, for whatever reason, a growing majority in Wales have come to accept the appropriateness of distinctively Welsh government institutions taking many major decisions for Wales.
There’s a final point I want to make in this section. This concerns the consequences of these changes in public attitudes. There is clear and settled majority support in Wales for the nation to enjoy substantial political autonomy within the United Kingdom. I therefore regard it as the responsibility of the political class (broadly defined) to deliver that: to produce a coherent and sustainable devolution settlement. Against a background of uncertainties elsewhere (most obviously those relating to the Scottish referendum) that may, in some respects, be far easier said than done. But it ought not to be beyond the wisdom of humanity to finally, a decade and a half on, deliver what we have manifestly yet to see. A stable, sustainable model of devolved government for Wales: a devolution settlement true to its name.
Democratic politics, though, is of course about far more than just institutional structures. Within any institutional context, the most important players in democratic politics are the parties and the voters. My remaining four numbers all relate to them.
The first of them is the number 3. It is relevant here in relation to the Three Wales Model. A brief refresher course. Prior to the work that was begun at Aberystwyth in the late-1990s, the most serious body of research into political attitudes and voting behaviour in Wales was that conducted by another Aberystwyth-based team in the 1970s and early-1980s. The element of this earlier work that is most remembered today is Denis Balsom’s Three Wales Model. This can best be understood, I think, as a simplified geographical projection of a broader and more complex interpretation of the nature of political attitudes and party choice in Wales. The Model suggested rather different patterns of politics occurring in British Wales, Welsh Wales and Y Fro Gymraeg. This built on an understanding of party allegiances as following lines of class, national identity and language.
The simple elegance of the Three Wales Model, and its apparent resonance with some subsequent events (most obviously the 1997 referendum, where all the areas identified as British Wales voted No and all those in Welsh Wales and Y Fro Gymraeg voted Yes) has helped the model to remain established wisdom on voters and parties in Wales.
In an article just published in Electoral Studies, we examine the Three Wales Model seriously for the first time. To cut a potentially very long story very short, our verdict is not favourable. Theoretically, we note that the model (and the broader body of work underpinning it) viewed party preferences and vote choice as driven by social background factors (class, national identity and language) even as electoral research was increasingly coming to recognise such social determinism to be inadequate, and developing more directly political explanations of party support. And empirically, class, national identity and language simply don’t do a very good job in accounting for how Welsh people vote: either at the time the TWM was formulated or now. Mot effective in accounting for how people vote are factors associated with what scholars term ‘valence politics’ approaches: that is, the leadership of a party and its overall impression of competence and effectiveness.
This matters because, unlike the background conditions of society, parties’ leadership and the overall impression they give of competence and effectiveness are things that parties can, relatively speedily, seek to do something about. The recognition of such directly political factors as central to driving party choice suggests much less inevitability about which voters end up voting for which parties. Sure, we all know some people who will reliably vote for the same party time after time. But there were never as many such people as the myth suggested; and all evidence shows their ranks steadily diminishing over recent decades. Parties’ electoral success is not simply down to fate, or the inevitable electoral consequences of social background factors. Things are rather more potentially malleable than that.
An immediate problem with this argument, however, would seem to be that it runs straight into the reality of long-term Labour dominance in Wales. Single-party dominance, indeed, has characterised politics in Wales for much longer than the era of Democratic Devolution; it stems back to the beginnings of democratic politics in the 19th century. For about half a century up until World War I, Welsh politics was dominated by the Liberals. The inter-war interregnum did witness something closer to genuinely competitive three-party politics in much of Wales. But since World War II the picture has been one of almost undisturbed Labour dominance. The party have won at least a plurality of the Welsh vote, and a majority of the seats, at every one of the 18 post-war general elections. Many Welsh constituencies have been a by-word for un-competitiveness. The situation has often been rather similar in many council wards. Even in the National Assembly, where a semi-proportional voting system helps create at least some space for other political forces, Labour has won the most votes and seats at every election; and has always been in government. Indeed, while the Labour party in Scotland continues to make heavy weather of fighting the SNP, since 2010 Labour in Wales has been resurgent.
This brings me to my final three numbers: 16.0 per cent, 12.7 per cent and 1.
16.0 per cent is the average gap in all post-war general elections between the share of the vote the Conservatives have won in England, and the share they have won in Wales. This is but one of many measures I could adduce of the historic failure of Welsh Conservatism. One of the UK’s two major parties (indeed, for most of the twentieth century, the leading party), has consistently under-performed in Wales by a wide margin. Such Conservative weakness and Labour strength has been so long-standing it has come to be thought of as normal. But by any international standard this is not normal. Politics where one side pretty much always wins is really not how democracy is supposed to work.
Of course, the socio-economic reality of Wales as a relatively poor part of the UK, whose economy was dominated by highly unionised heavy industries and more recently has had a heavy public sector presence, didn’t help the Tories. But Conservative failure has gone way beyond anything that such factors could account for. (The Conservative vote share has been consistently lower among all social classes in Wales than England). Our own research has suggested that the party has been hurt by being perceived as an essentially English party in Wales; for failing to articulate an attractive, distinctively Welsh Conservatism. Recent years did see some efforts to address this problem – rewarded, to some extent in 2010, which saw the gap between the Tory vote share in England and Wales at its lowest post-war level. But it is not obvious to me that the policies of the current UK government, or the approach of the current Welsh leadership, will do much to deliver voters an appealing centre-right option.
The one occasion in recent times when Labour’s dominance of Welsh politics did appear under serious threat was the first Assembly election of 1999, when a surge of support saw Plaid Cymru capture historic Labour bastions like Rhondda and Islwyn and narrowly miss out elsewhere. But this is where my next number comes in: 12.7 per cent. This number represents the decline in Plaid Cymru’s vote share (on the list ballot) from 1999-2011: testament to a decade of pretty abject electoral failure.
We have become used, in recent years, to the SNP being a far more politically successful party than Plaid Cymru – such that many people think it is inevitable and has always been thus. It’s widely forgotten that in the first round of devolved elections in 1999, Plaid won a higher vote share than the SNP did. In fairness, the SNP weren’t fighting Alun Michael. And after Michael’s ouster, Labour recovered to do much better in the 2001 general election and the second Assembly election of 2003. Yet when the tide of public opinion turned against Labour – to the point where Labour in the 2007 Assembly election under Rhodri Morgan ended up doing worse even than they had under Alun Michael – Plaid was wholly unable to offer the credible and persuasive alternative that might have made a similar advance to what the SNP managed in Scotland.
Our research for the 2011 election shows that the hostility towards Plaid that was once prevalent across much of the Welsh population is now largely a thing of the past. There is considerable public good will towards Plaid. However, the party was stunningly ineffective at converting that good-will into electoral support.
Democracy works best with strong, credible alternatives. This has generally been lacking in Wales. But we should neither accept this as normal nor as inevitable.
This leads me to my final number: the smallest, but perhaps the most important in understanding how democracy works in Wales – 1 – invoked here in relation to the most persistently defining feature of democratic politics in Wales: one-party dominance.
To argue that this long-standing dominance is harmful is not, primarily, an anti-Labour argument. One can hardly blame Welsh Labour for being consistently successful. As I have already indicated, if any blame is to be assigned, it should be directed at those parties that have consistently failed to offer effective and credible opposition to Labour in Wales. My point is not an anti-Labour one. It is simply that sustained dominance by any single party is not a desirable state of affairs. It is not something anyone should wish for their country. Of all the nations that have experienced single-party dominance within democratic politics Sweden is probably the only one to emerge as broadly politically healthy. Studies indicate that one-partyism tends to promote phenomena like intellectual stagnation (as the dominant party is under little pressure from challengers to develop new ideas; indeed, intellectual creativity is arguably positively discouraged, as new ideas emerging onto the political agenda might disturb the hegemony of the dominant party); corruption (as the apparatus of power and that of the dominant party become inter-twined); and a sense of entitlement to rule within the dominant party. It would be brave to suggest that these phenomena are wholly foreign to the Welsh experience.
But in the case of Wales, the pathologies of one-partyism are most clearly demonstrated in something I touched on earlier: the failure to develop a sustainable devolution settlement. As Richard Wyn Jones and I have argued in our recent book Wales says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum, for several decades the key debates on whether and how devolution might occur have been internal to the Labour party; the most important divisions have been those within Labour ranks; and the party’s devolution plans have often been more about trying to avoid or bridge damaging internal divisions than providing a coherent basis for effective devolved government. Put simply, we argue that the horribly flawed process of Welsh constitution building is itself directly linked to the dominant structural feature of Wales’ political culture: single party dominance. The Italian Euro-federalist Altiero Spinelli once suggested that the great achievement of Jean Monnet had been to unite Europe; but Monnet’s great failure was that he had united it so badly. I don’t know if that was quite fair to Monnet. But a similar statement would, I think, be at least close to fair regarding the Labour party and Welsh devolution.
Any remedy to the problem of one-party domination must, of course, come primarily from the non-Labour parties: the onus is on them to make themselves more effective and serious political forces. (I have occasionally been accused of being an out-of-touch academic; I’m not so out-of-touch as to expect Labour to start fighting elections deliberately badly just because some Prof has said that one-party dominance is bad!). Quite how this is achieved is a topic for another time. What we can say now is that a healthy democratic politics in Wales must offer a wider menu of options for government in Wales than just Labour on its own or Labour in coalition; the menu must include, and occasionally provide, for a non-Labour government in Wales.
To conclude: the last decade-and-a-half have seen both considerable continuity and significant change in Welsh politics. Some of that change can be seen as broadly positive: it’s good that devolution is no longer dividing the Welsh public right down the middle. But it’s not all good: that we are on our third devolved constitution already, with at least some more change likely, is testament to the failure of Welsh constitution-making. And the dominant continuity in Welsh political life – the persistence of unhealthily lop-sided political competition – is not something I find it possible to view positively.
But whatever our views on the political life of Wales, I hope that all of us here could agree that there is a need for politics in Wales to be taken seriously: by scholars and political activists, yes, but also by civil society very broadly defined. Ireland and Iceland offer two very interesting, and on-going, examples of widespread public involvement in political reform: not just at the level of people shouting drivel on phone-in shows, but getting seriously involved in the detailed hard graft. I hope we in Wales might reflect upon and learn from these examples, because the sort of politics we have in a nation is, ultimately, everybody’s business. And in the words of the Irish essayist Hubert Butler, “We live in a small country. But its problems are complex and interesting enough for the most ambitious intelligence”.
11 thoughts on “The six key numbers of Welsh politics”
An interesting and stimulating article, Roger, with so much to commend it.
I’d like, if I may, to add to just one of your observations:
I have thought for a few years now, and particularly since the results of the 2011 referendum in Flintshire and Wrexham (my home patch) and having read your and Richard Wyn Jones’s analysis of several years of polling in the same types of areas in the book you mention, that the single biggest factor in determining no votes in early devolution referenda, and transferring those to yes votes in 2011, was the existence/absence of fear. Values, tastes and prejudices take a very long time to change (which I think plays into your one party dominance discussion) but fear of change can appear and disappear very quickly (on a recent coasteering trip in Cornwall I wasn’t aware that I would be afraid to jump off a 40ft cliff into the sea until I got to the edge. Having done it once, I of course repeated many times).
I do not discount that there were (and still are) very many people who object to/advocate democratic autonomous government on ideological or even pragmatic grounds, but they are not the majority. The majority (or perhaps plurality that determine success in referenda), it seems are emotionally attracted to the idea but were fearful of its consequences in 1979 and 1997, but not fearful in 2011 because experience had created a new ‘comfort zone’. Whilst any proposal for further devolution for Wales remains broadly in the scope of their ‘comfort zone’ (autonomy within a bigger family), I can’t see this fear re-appearing. Proposals outside this comfort zone (independence or even, dare I say, returning to the unitary British state) naturally generate fear and are therefore not supported (but I would not discount however, that there could be an underlying plurality of ’emotional’ attraction to the idea).
Is fear of the unknown inevitable? Not if you subscribe to the idea that at the root of all fear is ignorance, and ignorance, of course, can be eliminated with information. That, I fear, takes us back to the discussion of one party domination and control of the political discourse.
A very good summary/perspective on the Wales’ devolution journey. It would be great to see it (or an abbreviated version) published in the Western Mail so the man in the street could read it.
I enjoyed reading that. It’s hard for someone like me, a habitual Labour voter who can’t imagine voting any other way, to say that I agree that Labour in Wales has become stale because they have no competent opposition. I have to admit that it’s true. Welsh politics is in an unhealthy state; any party which is long in power makes mistakes, policies driven by core ideology are impossible to backtrack on. The only correction comes when a party with an opposing ideology gains power and the deposed party heaves an almost audible sigh of relief and starts to look at itself and “learn lessons” from its defeat.
How strange is Wales, the Libdems are non-existent, the Tories are incapable of defining themselves convincingly as Welsh and Plaid are Labour with culture and language baggage that makes them alien to much of Wales. There was just one brief glimmer of hope when IWJ could have led a coalition of Libdems and Tories. Now even that slim chance is ruled out for ever.
Where I differ from you is in that you consider the devolution settlement as important. Further powers are like pearls before swine; there is no evidence that Wales would use those powers to best effect. A solution might lie in massive political reorganisation; scrap the 22 counties and form three regions based on the 3 Wales model. This would introduce instant conflict of ideas and ideology. Each region elects senators to serve in the two Houses in Cardiff, houses that have far more members than the paltry 60 incumbents we have at present.
“To put it very crudely, devolved government might be (in the evaluations of voters) a bit crap much of the time – but then so is all government. And this, at least, is our crap.”
The WAG may be your crap but it certainly isn’t mine. So far, I’m not even sure it’s that good! I want rid of it – period.
But you’ve got it right – all government is crap and that is precisely why we need less government instead of more. The EU + UK’s NUTS1 Region/home nation devolution model fails that basic test because it adds 2 additional layers of bureaucracy without removing another. This is deep crap! A federal UK in the EU would be almost as inefficient. We need fewer layers of governance and we need those remaining layers to do less and to interfere less, leaving individuals and businesses with more money in their pockets to make their own choices while simultaneously removing the dead hand of unnecessary state control from our lives…
This is a great article but I think it misses out on one of the main reasons why one party has been in power in Wales for so long, which is the weakness of the media in Wales. Most of the Welsh population get their news from media based in London and their constant focus on Labour versus the Conservatives mean that Plaid, and to a lesser extent the Lib Dems, aren’t competing on a level playing field come election day.
Absolutely excellent article, Roger. Was pleased to be at the lecture.
The most penetrating article on Clickon for a long time and hard to disagree with most of it. The interesting thing is that devolved government has not been good – nor would you expect that; new institutions like young people have to learn. Yet it has cemented itself in the attachment of most people in Wales. The exceptions are people who are ‘British’ but not Welsh and don’t like expressions of Welsh difference and people like John R. Walker who have views like those of the US Republican Tea Party.
Interesting article. I do have a problem with this claim though:
“Of all the nations that have experienced single-party dominance within democratic politics Sweden is probably the only one to emerge as broadly politically healthy”.
What about Finland, what about Japan?
I’m not necessarily advocating one-party dominance, it just makes the article less credible.
Thanks to all those who have read this and/or commented on it. (Including those of you who disagree which much or all of it!).
A couple of comments and points of clarification:
Tredwyn: it is maybe worth noting that the best survey evidence we have indicates that opposition to devolution actually decreased most rapidly after 1997 amongst those with a mainly or exclusively British national identity. (Hence, perhaps, some of the surprisingly comfortable Yes majorities in 2011 in areas that had voted No in 1997).
Osian: I don’t really regard Finland as an example of one-party dominance. The Centre party has had long periods in government, but I don’t think it could have been said to be dominant in remotely the same sense as, for example, the Swedish Social Democrats. Japan certainly did have one party dominance for an extended period of time under the LDP. But I – and perhaps more importantly, most Japanese specialists – would regard the latter part of this period, and its aftermath as quite definitely not politically healthy. Indeed, while the Japanese economy has been struggling somewhat for some years now, the pathologies of its politics seem in many ways far worse.
Tredwyn. The devolution of power/administration is a good thing to get decisions as near to consumer as is practicable, however we have created a structure that concentrates power in one-place, then transfers the management/responsibility to either a) other elected bodies, or, b) to organisations run by placemen/women who will dance to the current fashionable tune. We have created a virtual one-party state, as it is almost impossible to think of other party getting a majority based on a radical agenda to change things in a fundamental way. At least with Westminster there are regular changes of people in power, and we can vote them out if necessary, however here it’s permanent Labour/nationalists, and taken with token media supporting its main agenda the recipe is for major corruption/inefficiencies in future years. The early years were part of the Brown BOOM, and every pet project, particularly if it met the Welshification process as beloved by Rhodri Morgan got money, particularly if it had CYMRU at the end of it. Well those days are long gone, and retrenchment/cuts are in place for years, so the ‘misty’ views might be changing pretty quickly, as with wind turbines when they directly affect people. I think Mr. JR Walker ‘speaks’ for a lot of people with his common sense/practical views but when have they been fashionable this side of the border. I have just returned from London, and impressed as to its economic vibrancy and general ‘buzz’ about the place, and in discussion with young professionals (mixture of Scots/Welsh/English) was amazed as to their indifference to Wales and even Scotland! We are cutting ourselves off one of the world’s major economies/thought processes, and this drive by our ‘elite’ will end in tears for ordinary people like myself, however I can see the ‘ZIL’ lanes in Caerdydd in 20 years.
I was a ‘Yes’ Voter back in 97 at the ripe old age of 19! I was and remain proud to have done so. The one regret I have is how ‘crap’ it really has been since then. I knew then that it was never going to be a miracle cure for Wales’ ills and the Assembly would only be as good as its members and the scrutiny we the public place upon it. I find it hard to vote enthusiastically for any of the parties. This I find a shame. I believe in the Assembly as an institution (though hopefully it will have more with which to commend it following the Silk commission report) due to the very basic principle of self-determination for Wales. Unfortunately I don’t think our AM’s could determine their way out of a paper bag. The policies of all the parties are distinctly underwhelming and offer me very little positive cause to get out and vote.
If we get a referendum on tax raising powers I shall probably vote yes if only because I believe in the principle. I do not agree with those who wish to hang on to the coat tails of London or who say Wales is rubbish so we should best leave self-governance alone. Grasp the nettle! The only way to improve Wales’ lot is for our nation as a whole to make the necessary changes. We need the political institutions to make it happen. Westminster does us no special favours and we will never be anything other than a “region” there. With self-governance we can act with Welsh self-interest and get our economy going. Of course there’s a risk that things will continue to be ‘crap’ but does any new arrangement ever hit the ground running with spectacular excellence? It’s going to take time.
Most importantly of all I think the success of our Senedd will take a new constitutional settlement. We heard back in ’97 about the “West Lothian question” – we have our own “Tryweryn” question. Our constitution was not right prior to ’97 and remains flawed now. I honestly believe that we need a new British arrangement in which the constituent nations have their own parliaments on equal footings. There then should be a British parliament with a balanced representation based on population. The numbers of members can be made to fit the task in hand and to provide a fair representation of their constituents whilst returning value for money in comparison to the present system. I fear that if Britain fails to address this then not only will Wales suffer from indifferent politics but Britain will not function effectively in the political sense.
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