First Minister tells Scots UK has a future

Carwyn Jones says the Welsh experience of devolution offers the prospect of a stable future settlement for the UK as a whole

Grown up politics, delivering for people, requires strong relationships; serious negotiation between Governments working on common goals in the interests of the people we represent.

Take for example, what happened earlier this month in Wales. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister came to Cardiff to announce a package of measures, including borrowing powers for investment, full devolution of several smaller taxes and partial devolution of income tax, if backed in a referendum.

Responding to Silk

This is the 10th in the series responding the UK Government’s announcements on the Silk Commission.

Read the full UK Government response to the Silk Commission’s recommendations.

 

For a Scottish audience this will sound familiar, since broadly similar powers are already in the process of being transferred to Scotland. This was not a perfect response from our perspective. There were areas – air passenger duty, for example – where we had hoped the UK Government would have delivered. It will be no surprise if I say that the path to this announcement was not entirely smooth. I won’t recite the full saga – I’ll save that for my memoirs!

Suffice to say that at times I was reminded of Churchill’s famous comment on hearing that the Americans had joined the war: “you can always rely on them to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives”. What matters though is that we got there in the end.

Despite the one or two areas where we had hoped for more, the overall package on offer is a very significant step forward – and a step forward achieved between a Labour Government in Wales and a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition at Westminster. It represents real progress for devolution in Wales. In my experience virtually no political announcement receives an unconditional welcome, but the UK Government’s response to Silk 1 came as close as any I’ve ever seen.

All four parties in the Assembly were strongly supportive, reflecting the fact that all were represented on the Silk Commission and had worked together effectively to agree a unanimous report. Business leaders were also very vocal supporters.  And public opinion is also very much in favour – around 80 per cent of people in Wales back devolved borrowing powers, for example. There is no doubt in my mind that this strong consensus was central to securing UK Government backing for the Silk reforms.

In Scotland of course the constitutional debate is very strongly contested at the moment. My proposition is that if you do choose to remain within the United Kingdom, then it seems to me that our recent experience of co-operation and successful negotiation with the Coalition Government means that there is a very real prospect of forging a new consensus on a lasting settlement – one that is soundly based in a UK framework. I see absolutely no reason why that should not be possible.

Building this consensus in Wales has taken time. On fiscal devolution, the Welsh Government set the ball rolling back in 2008 when we established our own independent Holtham Commission to review our funding and fiscal powers.

As a result, Holtham gave us rigorously argued evidence on the flaws in the Welsh funding settlement, as well as constructive ways forward. This included the case for devolving some tax powers, which really did move the political centre of gravity in Wales.

On the block grant, Holtham showed that claims of huge funding shortfalls were ill founded. But there was indeed a still significant gap of some £300 million per year between what the Welsh Government received and what was justified by relative needs. This gap was very likely to grow over the longer term, unless action was taken.

It is evidence that I, as First Minister cannot ignore, but let me emphasise that I am in no way seeking a reform to the block grant that would favour Wales at the expense of the Scottish budget. In fact, our short term priority for addressing this issue, the introduction of a funding ‘floor’ to stop further declines in Wales’ relative funding, was endorsed by the Scottish Government – an excellent example, by the way, of solidarity between nations of the UK in advancing argument with the centre

Let me be clear that what I am asking for is a fairer funding deal for all of us in the UK. I am confident that a solution to this can be found without driving a wedge between Wales and Scotland. We must not let this issue detract from the bigger question of our shared future in the UK

Overall, the central message that I think emerges from the Silk / Holtham process, is a tremendously positive one for all of us who hope that Scotland will remain within the UK family of nations.

Put bluntly, I know that some people have doubted whether pledges by the pro-UK parties to look at greater devolution post-2014 are to be trusted. In raising those doubts, the separatist case tries to polarise the debate into a choice between independence on the one hand, and an unreformed status quo on the other.

The example of Wales shows that this is a false choice. When faced with a reasonable, evidence-based case for reform that enjoys broad support, the UK’s political structures – regardless of whatever party colour is at the helm – are capable of rising to the challenge and delivering real change.

Carwyn Jones is First Minister in the National Assembly. This is an extract from a speech he delivered in Edinburgh last night. The full text of the speech is here ()

8 thoughts on “First Minister tells Scots UK has a future

  1. At last, Wales has finally found its voice.

    Next stop, Damascus! Kabul! Jerusalem! Mogadishu! Kashmir! Belfast!

    I can feel good times for Wales coming on ……….

  2. Whilst we have a weak compliant unionist lackey of Westminster Labour running Wales, there is no hope of a future for us. Wales has loyally supported the Labour Party for a century.

    Following thirteen years of Labour at Westminster, and fourteen years of Labour or Labour-led administrations in Cardiff, Wales has become one of the poorest, if not the poorest, country in Europe. To say that Carwyn Jones’ government lacks vision, would be a massive understatement.

    The Coalition’s response to Silk Part I was late and pathetic, yet Carwyn has grasped their pitiful offerings with both hands. He has shown himself a lackey of UK Labour, which is desperate to keep Scotland in the Union, as its exit would be a disaster for the party, virtually ruling out much prospect of ever being in government at Westminster again. Accordingly, grasping the straw thrown to him by Cameron, he has the gall to go to Edinburgh to tell the Scots how well devolution is working in Wales, and that it’s getting better.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. On just about every conceivable parameter for which Carwyn’s government is responsible, performance has been abysmal, from huge increases in NHS waiting lists to relative declining pass and literacy rates in the schools. Wales’ economy under Labour is languishing below every other region on this island. No meaningful employment is being created for our young people, except low-paid jobs working in bars, restaurants or call centres.

    Other small European countries have flourished while Wales has declined. I find it unbelievable that Carwyn Jones could lecture the Scots on their future in the UK. He thinks it’s better for them to be governed by Tories in London whom Scots have rejected time and time again, rather than electing governments of their choosing 100% of the time.

    The majority of Scots want rid of WMD from their country, sited just twenty miles from Glasgow. The only way to achieve that is a resounding YES next year. Unbelievably Carwyn has stated in that event those nuclear missiles would be welcome in Wales! Speak for yourself Mr Jones. If the Scots have any sense, they will easily see through your posturing on behalf of London Labour. Wales doesn’t have a future in the UK either.

  3. Scotland has the best politician in these islands as First Minister leading her to freedom and prosperity.
    We have this man who wants to base nuclear submarines amonst the petroleum and gas plants at Milford Haven, Scotland is full of hope, Pembrokeshire will disappear in a big puff of smoke!

  4. Silk 2 is not due to be published until Spring 2014. Based on Silk 1, the UK government will not deliver a response until after the Scottish independence referendum. In those likely circumstances, and the with the need to keep the First Minister onside not so politically relevant, it will be interesting to see whether there is a similar level of acceptance of the proposals to those of Silk 1. Or am I just being unnecessarily cynical?

  5. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the people of Scotland for the fact that the Unionist Labour Party saw fit to inflict their Regional Under-manager (Wales) on them to tell them where they are going wrong.

    All you have to do is compare for a moment the dynamic government and political culture and discourse in Scotland today with their moribund, backward, servile and thoroughly tribalist counterparts here to realise that Carwyn Jones has nothing – but nothing – to offer Scotland other than an illustration of how not to go about things.

  6. This is an argument for ‘devo-max’. If that were what Westminster had in mind then they would have allowed, indeed insisted, that it go on the Scottish ballot paper as an option, and Better Together would be campaigning positively along these lines. Instead, ‘devo-max’ was firmly rules out, and the unionist block has promoted a consistently negative campaign, in their own words ‘Project Fear’. It is more than likely that a ‘devo-max’ option if available would have swept the board, the Scots being somewhat cautions by nature. Since no extra powers have ever been outlined, why should the Scots imagine that any are on offer? They were fooled once before with offers of ‘jam tomorrow’, instead they got Thatcher and the destruction of much of their industrial base.
    Might I suggest that the Welsh FM is afraid that following the departure of Scotland from the UK, Westminster may well decide that devolution, instead of ‘killing nationalism stone-dead’, is rather a slippery slope, and respond by withdrawing powers from the Welsh Assembly, which at the very least would relieve the pressure from UKIP etc.

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