Wales is waiting for Scotland to say no

Gareth Hughes says fewer Welsh MPs are the key to implementation of the Silk Commission proposals

There are always two faces to a politician. Out of one words are uttered for the benefit of the world at large and out of the other what they really think. Devolution is one area where often the two faces have been in play.

Take the response to this week’s Silk Commission report by First Minister Carwyn Jones. One face said the package  could “settle” the issue of devolution for at least a decade. But of course his other face knows that this is highly unlikely. He knows full well that on constitutional issues a snail would overtake the speed that his party is prepared to introduce a settlement that would “close” the issue for a decade.

The six Commissions established to look at aspects of Welsh governance to date have all tried to right the constitutional wrong done to Wales in the original devolution settlement. A settlement that was more akin to Heath Robinson design than a rational piece of constitutional change. It’s only purpose was to keep the home rule and the unionists wing of the Labour party from engaging in open warfare.

The First Minister knows that, for instance, he can welcome the transfer of powers on policing as much as he likes, but the Labour MPs in Westminster will have no truck with it.

It’s sad but true that Wales has only a chance of getting a logical settlement in the wake of what happens over Hadrian’s wall. No, Carwyn Jones can only hope that a comprehensive sort out of the UK constitutional will happen when Scotland decides to stay within the UK, as the polls are predicting.

Within that sort out, Jones might put his real devolutionist face forward and then and perhaps only then, will Wales have a proper devolutionary settlement. A settlement that serves the real needs of the Welsh people rather than the needs of self serving MPs.

Perhaps in such a constitutional shake up Wales will have sufficient Assembly Members to do the job of law making properly. The First Minister knows that they’re needed but also know that the only way this can be brought about is having fewer Councillors and more importantly fewer MPs.

It’s always been a mystery as to why the devolution settlement saw Wales with the same number of MPs. As they lost powers over a range of issues they were unaffected by the changes. Whilst Government press the rest of the country to be more productive, MPs’ productivity goes down and their pay goes up. Nice little number if you can get away with it. And it seems that Carwyn Jones allows them to get away with it. He should exercise leadership and tell them that the feather bedding is over.

MPs are an impediment to giving the people of Wales a National Assembly that really delivers. But they know that to vote for what is right will put many of them out of a job. Turkeys don’t tend to vote for Christmas.


Gareth Hughes is a political commentator who blogs here (

11 thoughts on “Wales is waiting for Scotland to say no

  1. I have some sympathy with the ill-fated ‘equalisation’ initiative started by the coalition government as I see no reason why there should be more Welsh MPs per capita than English. Wherever possible MPs at Westminster should broadly represent the same number of electors and it is true that Wales has been over-represented for a long time. If a reduction in Welsh MPs achieves general equalisation then I support it.

    However, it is quite another thing to reduce the number of Welsh MPs below this level as a consequence (and as some sort of mathematical function) of devolution and a ‘lighter’ workload. Whilst Wales is part of a union whose central parliament controls vast areas of policy it is absolutely essential (and constitutionally imperative) that Wales has equal representation over those matters that continue to affect it. The Westminster parliament can currently declare war on other nations in our name, set our fiscal policy, determine our human rights, determine our criminal law, fund our nuclear arms capability, etc., etc.. To reduce the number of Welsh MPs below a level that was proportionately the same as any other part of the UK would be a perversion of democracy. Reducing one’s relative influence over ‘reserved’ matters because one increases one’s influence over devolved matters is a constitutional (and logical) absurdity.

    It is clear that there is a perversion of democracy in the ‘West Lothian question’ and ‘English problem’ but the solution to that problem is not to be found in a crude reduction of Welsh (and Scottish or N. Irish) MPs whilst at the same time maintaining the constitutional status quo (two wrongs don’t make a right). It is to be found in a mature and robust restructuring of domestic English governance. Whether that can be ingeniously facilitated in parallel at Westminster through separating ‘English votes’ and ‘UK votes’ or whether something more radical is required I am fairly relaxed. However, any attempt to fudge the real issue by reducing non-English representation should be vigorously resisted (even up to the barricades I’d say – it’s that important).

    Reducing Welsh representation at Westminster (and I repeat – below any UK-wide standard of MP/capita) whilst the Westminster status quo pertains as some sort of populist gesture to offset a growth in AMs is even more perverse. The Assembly should be resourced consistently with its role and workload and it is high time that political leadership in Wales led on this matter.

    Clear heads and clear minds are required on this matter before Wales enthusiastically sanctions its own disenfranchisement over absolutely crucial matters of national interest. Nobody in Wales can possibly endorse inequitable representation on a decision to go to war can they? Or reintroducing the death penalty?

  2. Whilst I understand that Wales needs to be strongly represent at Westminster if the choice is more AM’s = less MP’s then I think that is a fair exchange. I agree with Gareth that at best Welsh MP’s at Westminster have been largely ineffective and at worse harmful to the best interest of Wales. In particular the Labour and Tory MP’s may have made the right noises to get elected but then turned “native” when it came to enhancing their political careers, remuneration and promises of lucrative jobs outside of politics. In short with a few honourable exceptions our MP’s have turned “Uncle Tom” whenever they have been called on to stand up for Welsh interests.

    The future for Welsh governance will increasingly be in the hands of our Welsh Parliamentarians in Cardiff bay and the powers needed to develop and enhance the creation of a Welsh democracy reflective of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the Welsh people should be transferred sooner rather than later.

  3. Britnot 11.00pm

    I’m afraid you’re falling into the trap of sub-altern thinking (see my comments on the previous article by Geraint Talfan Davies) when you impose a false binary opposite on Wales (“it’s either one or the other”). It is not “one or the other” since neither option has any intellectual merit and is of no credible value to Wales – we are not under any obligation to accept artificially engineered ‘either / ors’. That is a strategy that parents adopt to control their children and a strategy that dominant states adopt to control their client states.

    There is no intellectual case for lowering the number of Welsh MPs at the moment below that of the standard MP/capita ratio of the rest of the UK and there is a very strong intellectual case for increasing the number of AMs consistent with its workload and British and international norms. I will not concede the one in order to achieve the other since it is not in my interest to do so. I will do both as any self-respecting individual would do.

  4. i wouldnt say reducing the number of mps from wales would be a ‘crude reduction’ phil, its clearly manifestly unfair to people in england that mps from wales are able to vote on areas such as health and education yet mps in england cannot vote on these areas for wales. certainly anomalies like that are a running sore with many people in england and lend support to calls that the number of mps wales sends to westminister should be reduced….or they should not be allowed to vote on areas that are english only.

    and gareth is right to hint that a labour british government might be lukewarm about silk and some of its proposals – such as reducing the numbers of welsh mps. but its worth noting that it might not actually be a labour welsh secretary who will get to decide how far – if at all – to proceed with silk, as however unpalatable it might be to many of us in wales its not beyond the realms of possibility that the tories could be returned to power at westminister. certainly should there be another tory british government its very likely there’ll be a reduction in the numbers of welsh mps anyway

  5. It is hardly surprising that there is a growing suggestion that Wales should have less of a voice at Westminster, as well as in the Cabinet: this is simply another of the accurate predictions of the ‘No’ campaign in 1997.

    What is more surprising is that this suggestion appears to be coming not from the English but from some Welsh advocates of devolution.

    It is the equivalent of suggesting that the West Lothian Question can be solved by West Lothian deciding not to return an MP. That is, of course, the ultimate logic of the pure nationalist position, but not what New Labour were promising in 1997.

    We do not need more Assembly Members – in fact we did not need an Assembly in the first place – so there is nothing for which it is worth the price of weakening the Welsh voice in Westminster.

  6. It’s always heartening to hear Plaid supporters standing up for voters in England. I have recently heard them urging English people to form an England only Government. Such altruism is unusual in the modern political climate.

    We are equally concerned that our Welsh MPs might find themselves with too little to occupy their time and, recently, I notice how diligently the ConDem government is following the struggles of the Education and Health sectors in Wales.

    I have a solution! If we move responsibility for Education and the NHS in Wales back into the areas of responsibility of Westminster and leave the now overworked AMs in Wales to wrestle with the technicalities of new laws on matters of national importance we need not reduce the number of AMs nor MPs.

    Surely my idea must gain traction amongst Plaid supporters….an elegant and functional option to benefit all of Wales and the wider UK.

  7. Leigh 1.05pm

    Reducing the number of Welsh MPs in order to a) fund more AMs and/or b) address the West Lothian question is crude and unintelligent politics. Not only is it unintelligent it is actually self-harming. If you advocate it you must also be able to explain to Mrs Jones of Cwmbach Terrace in Treorci why she will have relatively less influence on whether this country goes to war, raises or lowers taxation or reintroduces the death penalty than does Mrs Smith of Lavender Lane in Gloucester.

    The answer to the West Lothian question is some form of English domestic governance (whether at Westminster or elsewhere).
    The answer to needing more AMs is in putting one’s hand deeper into one’s Welsh pocket or in transferring other Welsh expenditure to that end – that is what mature politics is about.

    If you wish to ensure the demise of the union, by all means go ahead and disenfranchise 3m people in Wales, since unequal representation of this type would surely, eventually, lead to bitter resentment and greater separatism. Personally I feel no particular allegiance to the union, but if Wales were to leave it one day I would prefer that it had been achieved constructively and honourably.

  8. The number of MPs should be reduced to a round figure, ZERO! There is nothing these people do that would not be better done by the democratically elected government of a Free Wales. United Kingdom Government of Wales is a failure and should be abolished. U.K. Government is only interested in what goes on inside the M25.

  9. The House of Commons is very dysfunctional on any measure so I am unsure why Messrs Jones and Richards would want to give it scrutiny over policies for Wales. Often Welsh interests and requirements are much the same as the rest of the UK but when they are not you can rely on Westminster to ignore them. Not surprising when 93 per cent of MPs don’t represent a Welsh seat. This reluctance to see Wales take minimal responsibility for its affairs in puzzling. Does Mr Richards go next door and ask his neighbour to run his life and take all his decisions for him? If not why not? He’s ready to do it for his country!
    If we are looking to save on politicians, how about shrinking the House of Lords from over. 1000 to, say, 100? That’s enough for the US Senate.

  10. Mr Tredwyn – great to see you back, by the way – it is precisely because I do not want my neighbours running my life that I would love to see the abolition of the Welsh Assembly, an entirely unnecessary level of government.

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