The Red Dragon and the Three Pacing Black Lions

Jonathan Gurirab compares economic development in Wales and Baden-Württemberg.

In an increasingly globalised world, economies are confronted with a plethora of issues. In the past, the economic growth and the competitiveness of nations was based on the quantity and quality of the traditional factors of production such as land, labour and capital. In the Western world, however, land is becoming ever more scarce. Furthermore, labour is comparatively more expensive in the West than in the rest of the world, and the Western population is increasingly becoming older. In addition, capital is no longer bound geographically as a result of liberal financial markets, leading to the free flow of capital. The economies of the Western world would have to rely on something else than purely the three traditional factors of production in order for their economies to grow and stay competitive. Thus, it has been proposed to extend the original three factors of production by what Austrian American economist Joseph Schumpeter calls ‘technological advancements’, which are essentially innovations. These innovations secure economic growth, prosperity and economic success.

When we compared Wales’s and Baden-Württemberg’s economic success i.e. economic performance on the basis of  conventional economic indicators such as unemployment rate, activity rate, gross domestic product per capita, net migration and health, it became apparent that Baden-Württemberg has a significantly better economic performance than Wales. We further established that Baden-Württemberg is the more innovative region, bearing out Schumpeter’s prognosis. This poses the question: why is Wales less innovative?

The nature of the innovation process has changed, as the process itself has evolved over time. In the past, sole individuals drove innovations. Their inventions were products of chance or luck and did not follow a systematic manner. Nowadays, however, as the most lucrative innovations are based on tacit knowledge, the innovation process has become increasingly more complex, as the exploitation of tacit knowledge requires collaborations.

In our research both theory and empirical data came to the conclusion that due to a lack of ‘institutional thickness’, Wales possesses an ‘institutional’ innovation system, whilst Baden-Württemberg possesses an ‘entrepreneurial’ innovation system that possesses an ‘Associational Economy’ due to an abundance of ‘institutional thickness’. We went on to consider the question of whether Wales can develop an ‘entrepreneurial’ innovation system akin to the one of  Baden-Württemberg.

According to the data collected, the reason for the lack of an ‘institutional thickness’ is the fact that contrary to Baden-Württemberg, Wales’s industry seems to face a mountain of obstacles.

In the period spanning from the mid-19th century to the post-war era, the main industries in Wales revolved around coal, iron and steel. In the mid-1970s, however, the Welsh economy went through major changes, leading to the demise of these industries. During the period between the 1980s and 1990s policymakers tried to strengthen the Welsh industrial base by attracting inward investment on a large scale. However, this exogenous economic development approach did not yield the desired results.

From the mid-1990s onwards, the devolved government then tried to boost the Welsh industrial base by opting for a more endogenous economic development approach, which purpose was to foster local entrepreneurship and indigenous SMEs. As things stand today, this approach has not been significantly more successful, as Wales’s industrial base remains relatively weak. What our research has brought to light is that politics mainly is to blame for this state of affairs.

There is unanimity from all – the public sector, academia and the Welsh government – that the Welsh Government’s decision to subsume the Welsh Development Agency was both ill-thought as well as ill-timed. It has been contended that the existing policy infrastructure in Wales that had existed within the Welsh Development Agency disappeared, leading to a ‘policy flux’. This implies that the policy-making process in Wales therefore started to be inconsistent.

In this context, it has been argued that due to electoral politics most politicians in the Welsh  Government pursue vested interests by promoting populist policies. In addition, a further shortcoming has been pointed out, namely that Welsh research institutions and the Welsh industry are too often excluded from the policy-making process with regard to innovation. This has led to a situation where numerous subjective policies are continuously implemented, which are not entirely consistent with each other. This in turn has been detrimental to the establishment of the required ‘institutional thickness’, as long-term and sustainable policies that would actually try to achieve ‘institutional thickness’ are not pursued.

It should be mentioned that our research has established two promising long-term and sustainable policies that might be able to strengthen the industrial base in Wales, fostering the development of ‘institutional thickness’. These are the ‘High-Impact Entrepreneurs’ policy and the ‘Linkage’ policy.

The ‘High-Impact Entrepreneurs’ policy would consider ‘soft landing zones’ that would reduce the bureaucracy for entrepreneurs coming into Wales. In addition, the policy would aim at establishing a vibrant creative culture in Wales, one that would be able to attract the technical, IT and science-focused individuals that are most likely to establish knowledge intensive and high growth SMEs.

The ‘Linkage’ policy on the other hand would focus on building cross-regional bridges. Through these, Wales would be able to tap into the growth field knowledge of other regions. This would have two significant advantages. First, Wales’s traditionally strong sectors would be able be commercialise this new knowledge in order to stay competitive. Second, the new knowledge gained could be used to establish new sectors and new types of activities thus increasing the overall competitiveness of Wales.

However, as outlined above, the development of ‘institutional thickness’ required for an ‘Associational Economy’ is hampered by a political impasse. It follows that it would be an uphill battle to develop an ‘entrepreneurial’ innovation system akin to the one of Baden-Würrtemberg in Wales. As long as economic development in Wales is a held hostage to Welsh politics, the establishment of such an innovation system in Wales will be what we call breuddwyd gwrach – Wishful thinking.


Jonathan Gurirab is a researcher at the University of South Wales. He is currently working in Munich.

39 thoughts on “The Red Dragon and the Three Pacing Black Lions

  1. Of course, Wales is not Baden-Wurrtemberg and is part of the presently constituted UK not the German Republic. Welsh politics may well contribute to the prevailing industrial and economic realities in Cymru but the influence of Westminster in the failure of growth and development in Cymru remains paramount. It may be a risk but freeing the Senedd from the control of Westminster and London centric interests will encourage internal self belief and greater and innovative entrepreneurship the buds of which can been perceived throughout our country. Unfortunately, but in reality, the political underpins most things in life and cannot be divorced from economics of any kind.

  2. A very good analysis of a)What happened after 1999,b)The political realities that we have faced since 1999 and how both have impacted upon the welsh economy. The WDA was ‘hated’ by the welsh labour party as it was a QUANGO and stuffed with right wing political appointments,so matter how effective it was it had to go to the wall. The activities of the WDA was then taken over/subsumed in the civil service,who whilst plainly very intelligent couldn’t organize/run the proverbial ‘ssip up in a brewery’.Its noticeable that any ‘inward’ investment is trumpeted by WAG,and its placemen/women in BBC Wales are out in force telling us how marvellous this is,and its WAG that deserves the credit. The fact is that the whole of UK is currently receiving huge inward investment of many kinds and by use of ‘public funds’ mainly generated outside our borders we are able to attract some to the Cardiff ‘bubble’.The idea that a failed institution needs ‘more economic’ powers to make it successful is surely a joke,however it will happen and we can see the results. In yesterdays Daily Telegraph there was joint letter by CEO’s of Bristol/Birmingham/Newcastle airports objecting to possibility of devolving Airport Passenger Duty to Scotland and Wales so the English ‘backlash is beginning’. The left wing/nationalist political classes who dominate welsh life,and are supported by its people will NEVER take the fundamental decisions to transform our economy,and that includes a)infrastructure,b)educational system,b)health system so its more of the same in future years.

  3. Excellent analysis! Nearly all the problems facing business development in Wales are home-grown and I can’t see any evidence that any of the past and present mistakes have been understood by the WAG, or the rest of the public sector.

    My take is that the public sector in Wales is so big and so all-consuming that regenerating itself has become the only game left in town. Wales is gradually becoming one huge white eliffant covered in loss-making vanity projects so most of the real talent just leaves or is effectively forced to languish unproductively the public sector to pay the bills. And most of this unproductive development is only there because there is a massive net inward flow of tax funding from the wealthier parts of England. But for this Wales would, by now, be worse off than Bulgaria.

  4. One should comment, perhaps, that neither education nor the NHS are doing that well in England either and our larger neighbour is controlled by a ‘right wing’ coalition under whose auspices poverty has grown, food banks for the truly poor have flowered-no thanks to the Westminster government-and political alienation has never been so profound and dangerous. Investment there may be but it is not trickling down to those most in need and even the unemployment figures which seem to show an improvement say nothing about the pay structures under which people are employed nor the fact that many of those hard working people the Westminster Government so laud for their industry are also forced to draw social support because they cannot ,live on their wage. For goodness sake do not move to England if you are looking to purchase a home and do not be so foolish as to think that renting is an option. Neither are a reality – unless, that is, you are rich! And it is suggested that devolved institutions in Wales are a failure! On the contrary, further devolution offers Cymru the best opportunity to grow and to thrive with the London Centric interests of the Westminster establishment kept outside of our land border.

  5. This article’s heart in the right place, but some of its underlying assumptions should be questioned.

    First, we should stop viewing regional economic development as a purely regional issue. It was bad enough doing that in the 1970s but it is completely unsustainable in an economy where globalisation is accelerating.

    Second, it is unwise to think in terms of isolating individual factors from economically more successful regions and transplanting them in a completely different economic, political, and cultural context. The problems of Wales will not be changed by yet another clever government programme but only by cultural change from the bottom up.

    Third, is it really true to say that the strategy of the Assembly has been ‘to foster local entrepreneurship and indigenous SMEs’? Really? That will come as news to most Welsh entrepreneurs and SMEs!

    Fourth, one should not view inward investment and indigenous enterprise as either/or alternative options. Best practice suggests that they ought to be complimentary.

    Fifth, although the current structure is even worse, one should not be too rose-tinted about the old WDA: it was certainly much better at attracting inward investment but just as bad at indigenous enterprise

    All that said, this is a useful piece and the last three paragraphs in particular contain some very valuable insights. If the Assembly committed itself to reducing the bureaucratic burden imposed by Westminster, rather than adding another layer to it, then devolution might be useful for something after all.

    Breuddwyd gwrach indeed.

  6. The main problem with devolved politics is we live in something close to a one-party state, which breeds complacency and inertia. We rely on the Welsh electorate to wake up sooner rather than later and “throw the rascals out”. I don’t expect miracles from any of the other parties but circulation is needed. I am always amused by other correspondents variously accusing Labour of being crypto nationalist and pushing Welsh culture or socialist populists trying to turn Wales red. Doing either requires a strategy and some energy. Strategy, energy? You must be kidding. What we have is drift.

  7. PS Mr Gurirab’s piece is well and good as far as it goes but it is written at a very general, almost abstract, level. Can’t quarrel with the generalisations but it doesn’t get to the brass tacks of saying what we should actually do. Welsh vice, I’m afraid. We are better at “ideas” than concrete policies.

  8. As you say Ross, a one party state but Labour looks like being undermined by UKIP at the next Assembly elections and the LibDems may become a memory. What will happen? The same as happened in the past; Labour will go into coalition with Plaid and Plaid will demand further devolution and more Welsh language legislation coupled with a move further leftwards in recompense.

    Labour is not therefore under threat and nor will they be because Plaid and the Tories UKIP and LibDems will never go into partnership.

  9. A question for the author:

    Why did you compare Wales with Baden–Württemberg and not also other states of Germany that had a similar population [ B-W has 10Million] – perhaps Schleswig-Holstein or Rhineland-Palatinate. Both have similar population densities and land areas as well. Also they do have more similar GDP levels and perhaps in Sch-H’s case geography.

  10. I would like to offer some observations on Jonathan Gurirab’s research. He suggests that in the course of the last two decades of the 20th century policy-makers emphasised inward investment and since it failed to meet ‘desired results’ it was a failure. As an employee of the WDA between 1987 and 1994 my opinion is this represents a partial view. Whilst it cannot be doubted that considerable publicity and column inches were devoted to inward investment gains over this period, especially throughout the 1990s, the reality was the Agency pursued a much broader range of activities than that implied by the writer. I would include Source Wales, land reclamation and the Agency’s venture capital unit amongst these. Whether inward investment was a success depends on its policy objective. That inward investment was regarded as a good thing per se was an accepted orthodoxy but the implicit public policy aim was employment creation. Measured in these terms it would be difficult to argue it failed.

    As to the decision to fold up the WDA I don’t feel qualified to comment on the unanimity of opinion on this issue. That after all is why researchers exist. I know many people, including many of my now retired former WDA colleagues who regard the decision as a substantial error of political judgement. I would though like to make the observation that there existed considerable fault lines in the WDA, especially towards the end of its existence. We should not be beguiled by a myth the Agency was a model organisation that should be resurrected.

    With regard to Jonathan Gurirab’s comments on innovation and what he implies as the absence of ‘institutional thickness’ I am ever so slightly lost. Perhaps what he means by this is that policy whose intent is to support and increase the rate of innovation in Wales is not sufficiently well crafted. Expressed another way Jonathan might be suggesting it is designed in a way that fails to acknowledge the realities of commercially driven innovation activities and in so doing allows too much influence for the behavioural characteristics of some public institutions. If my interpretation is correct one can only conjecture whether Jonathan includes universities amongst these institutions.

    Whilst Welsh performance on many innovation indicators leaves room for considerable improvement all is not lost. As the Director of Communications for the Alacrity Foundation I can share with readers of this blog there exists in Wales a unique incubation project. The Foundation’s charitable objectives include the mission to create the next wave of UK technology companies. As an educational charity it achieves this by nurturing and developing graduate skills in building businesses. Unlike nearly all incubation activities graduates receive an allowance as part of the Graduate Programme. The unique feature of the Programme is the institutional architecture and processes have been designed to reflect the realities of contemporary commercial innovation activities. Put simply members of the Programme face the challenge of creating a software-based product for which there is a proven market requirement. This flips the traditional incubation experience on its head. Far too many new technology innovations fail because at the end of the day not enough customers want to purchase them. The Programme would not exist if it were not for the philanthropic support of Welsh Government, the Waterloo Foundation and Wesley Clover. In my view the Alacrity experience demonstrates quite simply Welsh Government is capable of participating in initiatives that have clear objectives and excellence in execution and in the process create what Jonathan refers to as ‘institutional thickness’.

  11. The main difficulty with this one party state myth is that a triumph of hype over fact. The facts are:

    1st Assembly 1999-2003 – Lab-Lib coalition government

    2nd Assembly 2003-2007 – Lab minority government

    3rd Assembly 2007-2011 – Lab-Plaid coalition government

    4th Assembly 2011-2016 – Lab minority government

    The one party state idea has its roots in the number of MPs sent to Westminster down the years. The last time that the Labour Party had less than half of the seats in Wales was 1931. What needs to be recognised is that the government of Wales is becoming less influenced by Westminster with every passing election. I wonder if Jim Murphy will go down in history as the first Westminster MP to realise that there is more influence to be had at Holyrood than in London.

    So the question is when will the myth give way to the political reality? That all depends of course on how the Welsh electorate votes. Carwyn Jones has cleverly positioned himself within the Labour Party as a Welsh First Minister and the Labour Party as one who speaks up for Wales. Currently, Welsh Labour is not facing the same meltdown as is happening in Scotland and that is no accident. Also there is no real prospect of the other parties breaking through anytime soon. Plaid’s long-term strategy is to break through into the Valleys. Despite electing a Rhondda born and bred woman as their leader, there seems to be little prospect of Plaid realising that vision at the next election. The Lib Dems are close to meltdown after their coalition with the Conservatives, who themselves offer little in the way of a conservative vision for Wales. The one change that appears to be on the way is the rise of UKIP at the Senedd.

    So, for me, the talk of Wales’ being a one party state is put far too strongly and is not borne out by the facts. It is true that Labour has the hegemony in Wales and that looks likely to be the situation for some time to come. But the inertia and complacency that R Tredwyn refers to is more to do with the historical inertia of traditions that grew up in an undemocratic Wales still living on to the current day. I think there are signs that accountability, one tool for challenging complacency, is beginning to gain a foothold in public life. The Audit Commission, for example, has successfully held a number of various local authorities to account for unlawful practice. However there is still a way to go before a democratic culture is established to accompany democratic politics and I doubt it will happen in a systematic way.

  12. Rhobat, the Assembly was designed specifically to ensure that there is no likely election result which will lead to anything but a Labour-led administration – especially since Plaid’s blind tribalism makes their going into coalition with the Conservatives a practical impossibility.

    In every coalition or minority administration Labour has worn the trousers. That is partly a reflection of their superior political skill, especially their mastery of the dark arts and their clever use of patronage, both positive and negative, but also due to their inevitability. Even if they are temporarily embarrassed, everyone expects them to be back – a bit like the Taliban in Afghanistan – and fears them accordingly.

    That is why our one-party state endures and will endure unless and until we have a national awakening of consciousness.

  13. @ John Winterson Richards

    You have made no case for a one party state, simply for a Labour-led hegemony, which is the current state of affairs. And your assertion that the electoral system was designed to deliver Labour-led coalitions is made with the benefit of hindsight and contradicts your original position. The same could be said for Scotland. PR was designed so it would be difficult for one party to have an overall majority. That theory was blown apart in 2011 when the SNP returned to government with an overall majority of 12.

    This demonstrates that, whatever the system, parties have to win the support of voters if they wish to form majority governments. Indeed to point to electoral systems to explain the distribution of votes is to look at the finger while someone points to the moon.

    To date, the Welsh electorate have never delivered a majority government for any party.

  14. Interesting that this research shows government relationships with business as one of support and nurture, rather than hinderance. Obviously the Welsh Government are not doing it very well, but if the difference between a successful region and a less successful region is having the right government support, where does that leave the libertarians and free-marketeers of this world, ideologically speaking?

    It’s fair to blame Welsh Labour for a poor record in government. But a great many commenters seem to want to blame them for getting into government, which is surely a success story that others should emulate. Put another way, I don’t think it is Labour’s fault that no one has been able to challenge them for dominance in winning seats or by providing effective challenge within the legislature. Welsh Labour didn’t start in-fighting or alienate huge swathes of the population, as the Conservatives have. Welsh Labour did not mix their messages and fail to keep up with demographics, as Plaid Cymru have. And if John Winterson Richards thinks that Plaid should get over their tribalism and get in bed with the Tories, what better example could they follow than the Lib Dems? Just wait and see how the voters respond to them in the next general election! For now, at least, Welsh Labour look to be the best of a fairly bad bunch.

  15. There is no question that the most important issue facing Wales today is the state of the economy; all the ills affecting our nation – poor education, poverty, deprivation, poor health, lack of opportunity, unemployment (and under employment) – are as a consequence of an economy not just underperforming, but declining. What other nation on earth would celebrate three rounds of EU funding aimed at the continent’s poorest areas? Sadly this article does nothing to address or inform debate as to the future, relying as it does on out dated ideas and in-fashion jargon.

    The first and obvious question is why Baden -Wӓrttemberg? This economically successful area of Germany is as far away economically, socially and culturally from Wales as it is possible to be. Furthermore, no economist looking at development presents land, labour and capital as the beginning of a discussion on the future.

    The contemporary way forward is development through competitive advantage driven, as Porter suggests, through domestic rivalry which in turn depends on the creation of new businesses driven by innovation; indeed Porter notes that they “feed the process of innovation.” It is the driving force of economic growth, but to equate it with new blue skies thinking or entirely new, previously unknown products, is dangerously misleading. Innovation – to return to Porter – is a new way of doing things that already exist and in practice is “mundane and incremental rather than radical.” This important understanding is missed in the article and in fairness by many policy makers and academics.

    Turning to policy, I am astonished that “there is unanimity from all” that the failure of the economy is somehow linked to the demise of the WDA. Nothing could be further from the truth and I suggest Jonathan Gurirab (and the many others looking with rose coloured glasses at the past) take time to look at the real record of the Agency. (See evidence given to the Welsh Affairs Committee in 1998, 2011 and 2014 and the Assembly investigation this year into inward investment). Make no mistake, the appalling state of the economy is a direct result of the Agency’s over-arching commitment to the failed and questionable policy of relying on inward investment.

    The real disappointment in the article is the clear enthusiasm for further inward investment, if given a new twist. The suggestion to encourage “high impact entrepreneurs” to establish in Wales misses the simple fact that entrepreneurs set up their own home areas, how is “high impact” measured and in any event, there is no evidence to suggest that this has policy implications. In addition, I do like the phrase “cross regional bridges,” a wonderful euphemism for inward investment.

    In one sense Jonathan Gurirab is correct. Wales does lack the institutional thickness that drives growth, but this consists not just of businesses but of civil, legislative and political organisations.

    The political and economic reality is that the Welsh economy will continue to decline unless and until there is an overall, over-arching development policy based on contemporary thinking of models of success that must recognise the importance – and the challenge – of developing domestic businesses. No successful economy was ever built on external ownership.

  16. Rhobat, with due respect, you are being a bit disingenuous. The dividing line between one-party states and hegemonies is usually thin to the point of invisible. Most one-party states are careful to retain the trappings of democracy.

    As we have discussed before, Labour’s establishment of a polity of Wales within its current boundaries was not justified by economic geography: if you exclude nationalist factors, Labour’s motivation was therefore open gerrymandering, the establishment of a Labour stronghold. As with all British elections, they require only a plurality, not an absolute majority, to win power, and, unless there is a cultural revolution, the Valleys block vote will always give them that.

    They did indeed have a similar plan for Scotland and it can be argued that such a cultural revolution has in fact occurred there. So why Scotland and not Wales? For one thing, Labour’s grip on Scotland was not as tight as it is on Wales. On the other side of the equation, the SNP under Alex Salmond played their hand brilliantly. Plaid have not. In fairness, they actually made amazing progress when they had Dafydd Wigley as their leader but since then they have retreated to their comfort zones.

    Of course, if there was the remotest possibility of a Blue-Green coalition in Cardiff Bay, the whole nature of Welsh politics would change overnight, but we all know Plaid are too frightened of the reaction of their own supporters even to contemplate it. So they condemn Welsh politics to immaturity.

    A great deal more could be said but we are already dangerously off-topic in commenting on an article that deserves discussion in its own right.

  17. Interesting comparison especially as I am originating from the region compared with in Germany and I live in Wales now since a number of years.
    In my opinion one should always aspire to become the best and therefore it is useful to compare to the best.

    A lot of the blame has been given to the political parties, but maybe it is not the parties themselves and their political directions but the fact that the staff employed in the public sector in Wales is proportionally higher than in the rest of the UK, let alone Germany or Baden-Wuerttemberg (B-W), which obviously reduces the productivity and contribution towards the GDP.

    B-W today has the highest numbers of employed engineers per employed person and the highest numbers of patents within Germany essential key drivers to innovation and only about 540k staff (about 9.5%) employed in the public sector.
    In B-W 4.2% of GDP is spent on R&D, which is maybe not replicatable through the spending of industry yet in Wales, but at least the R&D should be a prime focus for the public spending.
    Furthermore currently 3 out of the 11 awarded excellency status of the Elite Universities in Germany are located in B-W, leading and maintaining also to strong links to industry.
    In the Pisa evaluations B-W also has scored better than many of the other German counties.

    But one should also look at the historical aspect to the analysis and why B-W has potentially evolved to one of the three-four counties in Germany supporting the rest of Germany financially.
    B-W exists only in its current boarders since the 1950s as a unified county within Germany. It has a broad diversity in climate and territory and quality of arable soil from excellent areas growing fruit and wine to harsh dry and barely exploitable conditions. Therefore it has been ground for famines in the previous centuries leading to several uprisings and revolutions, mass exodus but also ingenuity of making the best out of the given or overcoming challenges with new solutions. As a result of this heritage linked often to poverty has also been a sense on prudent spending privately as well as publicly.

    Since the end of the 1980s B-W together with Catalunia, Rhône-Alpes and the Lombardy are forming a county bridging association of economic driving force counties within their respective countries. Other counties of are aspiring to participate as well, but some of the central governments have objected to that aim. Meanwhile since the 1990s Ontario in Canada and Wales are also associated with those economic drivers.

    So in essence key drivers for the economy seem to be a hunger for innovation and dynamic for change, with the required educational basis for the engineering disciplines being the seed for the high yielding GDP which allows in return a sensible spending on R&D.

  18. @ JWR

    Definition of disingenuous: – Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.


    The term ‘one-party state’ has two main meanings. The first is that there is only one permitted political party and that the formation of other political parties is forbidden. There are currently four political parties represented at the National Assembly.

    The second is where other political parties are allowed but only one party is legally allowed to govern. Perhaps this is the meaning what you have in mind. Where that differs from our democracy is that any political party that gains the requisite number of seats is allowed to govern. There is no legal bar at work.

    Labour’s dominant position in Welsh politics is the result of having gained the largest number of seats from winning the largest number of votes. As I pointed out on a previous post, Labour have failed to form a majority government in any of the elections since the establishment of the Assembly. For a mechanism designed to deliver a one-party state, it has done a very bad job.

    Turning to your point concerning the nature of hegemony, there are several meanings ascribed to this word therefore let me clarify my use of the word. It stems from the Greek ‘hegemonia’ meaning leadership or rule. In modern parlance, it has come to mean ‘dominance’ and this is the meaning I have in mind. Labour has been dominant in the Assembly since its inception and where there have been coalitions, it has been the dominant partner.

  19. Rhobat, the word disingenuous was not used in the sense of implying any insincerity on your part but it does imply that a man as intelligent and experienced as yourself must know exactly in what sense Wales operates as a one-party state. No legal bar is required. In fact the constitutions of even official one-party states rarely have legal bars that exclude completely the possibility of non-party candidates being elected. Yet the ruling party remains the ruling party. The same is true in Wales. If you can think of a likely scenario in which that might change, it would be interesting to hear it.

  20. You’re forgetting that the Labour Party is in power in Wales because of the votes of the electorate and that the electorate has never returned a majority Labour Government to Cardiff Bay. The way that will change is when the electorate decides to increase its vote for other parties. Currently Carwyn Jones is doing a reasonable job of straddling the two horses of being Labour party leader and spokesperson for the nation. The other parties will have to find a way of competing with that; it won’t be easy.

  21. Rhobat, you can hardly say Mr Jones speaks for the nation when you are stressing that he does not have a majority. The fact is that the Welsh do not speak with one voice. Historically we never have. So we end up being ruled by party apparatchiks instead of maturing politically as we have to do if we are on the path to independence or autonomy.

    Anyway, we are arguing in circles and adding nothing to a thread that is important in its own right.

  22. The problem might not be the one dominating party issue, as in Baden-Wuerttemberg, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been the ruling party for 58 out of 62 years since 1952, i.e. the CDU has either formed a coalition or has been the sole party to govern the county. Only from 1952-53 Liberal party (FDP/DVP) and since 2011 the Green party together with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have moved the CDU and FDP/DVP into opposition. As a result B-W therefore is having the first Green prime minister amongst the German counties. This in view of the fact that the Green party has being founded in B-W is a nice success and maybe also the expression of the population to vote for innovation and innovative parties.

    Therefore, if we want to learn, the key seems to be that the party representing the population has the right persons behind it and it is rather secondary which colour or name the party has. Furthermore it is key that these parties rule with only a few public sector employees to avoid a top-heavy body, that is not capable of sustaining itself with manufacturing.

    The investments the government carry out, need to be supportive of the industry, i.e. in education, innovation and the manufacturing of the innovation rather than in the employment of the public sector staff.

  23. @ JWR

    He speaks for Wales in the sense that he is advancing the Welsh interest in the context of constitutional change and that as First Minister, he has that constitutional privilege. The idea that he would have to win a vote of 100% to be able to speak on behalf on Wales is a democratic nonsense. David Cameron was elected by 36.1% of the UK electorate but no-one, including myself, doubts his right to speak on behalf of the UK.

    Nations speaking with one voice is a totalitarian concept.

    Regarding your point about party apparatchiks, I’m not exactly sure what your point is. The general meaning ascribed to that term is usually that of the kingmaker being more powerful than the king, a behind the scenes Cardinal Richelieu figure operating in the shadows. Is that your point?

  24. Rhobat, the idea of a nation speaking with one voice is by no means necessarily totalitarian. If, for example, we could develop a true consensus, it would be less totalitarian than the oppression of minorities by a majority – or a plurality.

    An apparatchik is only a party placeman, nothing so grand as an eminence grise. If only we did have statesmen of the calibre of the Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu, then we might be in a better condition to contemplate the establishment of a new nation-state.

    This ties in neatly with the valuable points made by Dr Heuberger, from which our little dialogue is a distraction. We need to look at the quality and quantity of the people in the public sector, and their attitudes to enterprise. It could be argued that an even bigger problem than the existence of a one-party state – de facto, not de jure – is the way that party is dominated by people with limited experience of, and in most cases a negative attitude towards, the business sector on which all else depends.

  25. @JWR

    If you don’t think that speaking with one voice is totalitarian, why do you think we invented democracy?

  26. Rhobat, a democracy, or pseudo-democracy, can be every bit as totalitarian as any dictatorship or oligarchy.

  27. “He speaks for Wales in the sense that he is advancing the Welsh interest in the context of constitutional change and that as First Minister, he has that constitutional privilege.”

    I accept that Rhobat. At least I accept that he perceives what he does to be in the Welsh interest, no one will actually know for decades and no one will be able to say for hundreds of years. The problem of Wales is nationhood or nationalism with a small “n”.

    We are in a position where the perception that a political party or single politician isn’t “Welsh” by a rather perverse definition is very vulnerable to attack. In this respect Plaid, and Culture and Language nationalists both within Plaid and in pressure groups or within other parties have shaped the direction of Welsh politics over decades.

    If you look at the rhetoric that has been most effective in Wales it has been nationalist rhetoric and Welsh labour (as opposed to “English Labour” or “New Labour” or “Westminster Labour”) has moved swiftly since devolution to wrap itself in the flag and bring in numerous nationalist policies.

    For instance, we now have the “Cwricwlwm Cymraeg” which enshrines the “otherness” of Wales, as opposed to England of course, and this is still criticised by pressure groups such as RHAG :

    If you analyse how the direction of travel of Wales comes about you will see an established pattern; Government, advisory committee, consensus amongst politicians, acceptance and implementation.

    In the case of the Cwricwlwm Cymraeg the criticism of implementation (by RHAG, “Parents for Welsh medium education”) is even state funded; Rhag has a grant of £35,000 per year from government.

    If we then look at the big picture we can see a regional government that delegates power to non elected, sometimes openly nationalist committees, and reacts to and supports non elected pressure groups. The result is that opposition to policy is often non existent ……..consensus, or the lack of proper scrutiny and the death of a plurality of ideas.

    Wales does not have proper government, not because of a lack of powers, but because we have established an Assembly without conflict and without courage to challenge a nationalist agenda. Consensus is totalitarianism in this form.

  28. @ JWR

    What facts are you referring to, John? Let’s remind ourselves of the context of this conversation. Your assertion was that Wales is a one-party state without providing any evidence to support your argument. It’s clear from your last rather facile comment that your opinion is somehow of itself to be regarded as fact. In your world, that may be the case but political debate in Wales requires a higher standard if it is to be useful.

    So, to recap, your assertion that Wales is a one-party state has been shown to be baseless. You have provided no evidence to the contrary. You’re clearly not interested in having an intelligent debate on the nature of our democracy. I thihk it’s time I moved on to more useful discussions.

  29. Perhaps a bit late to be of much relevance at this stage but in its heyday WDA did recognise the importance of innovation and what the Author of this article calls ‘High-Impact Entrepreneurs’ policy’ – For that very reason WDA brought on board the German Steinbeis Institution (Stuttgart based organisation that linked Academia and Innovators across the globe).

    Sadly, the devo came and the WAG dismantled WDA but in my view this was done more for political reasons than some other explanations that we heard about.

    WAG saw WDA as a threat as WDA became relatively powerful and it did not have in its senior ranks the essential ‘Welsh Bilinguals’ which were subsequently brought in by a ‘buss load’ by WAG to establish the new order in Civil Service and elsewhere – An order where competence became a second priority to Welsh language and we now have a disaster!?

  30. Rhobat, you need to reread the comments carefully before declaring ‘Victory is mine!’ It was established as early as 28 November that a one-party state could be, and usually is, de facto rather than de jure. Are you specifically denying this? Details were then given about precisely how this operates in Wales – through the establishment of a polity on the current boundaries, through the electoral arrangements, and the practical unlikelihood of an administration without Labour as the dominant force.

    Thereafter the whole thing got a bit circular, going over old ground. You were, however, offered one opportunity to open up a more interesting debate when you were asked, ‘If you can think of a likely scenario in which that might change, it would be interesting to hear it.’

    You did not attempt to answer that – because you probably know that there is no likely scenario in which Labour would not be the dominant power in the Assembly – at which point the potential for broader debate expired.

    We are in agreement that it is time to move on. Indeed, as you reread the comments, you should notice that heavy hints to that effect were being dropped from 28 November onwards. If you wish to interpret the reluctance of an opponent to remain on a well-trodden field as victory for yourself, hey, whatever makes you happy …but, once again, facts are facts and the facts here speak for themselves.

  31. @JWR

    I understand the difference between ‘de jure’ and ‘de facto’ (Latin for concerning fact).

    That is why I asked for the facts you wish to use in support of your ludicrous assertion that Wales is a one-party state, de facto or otherwise. What you describe are the democratic mechanisms which constitute a democratic nation-state. That does not support your belief that Wales is a totalitarian state because one party is dominant. If that were the case, Westminster has been a one-party state since time immemorial since it was designed to deliver one-party rule.

    The facts that you have ignored because it does not suit your assumptions are that Labour has never been a majority government in Cardiff Bay but they have been the dominant party either as a minority or senior party in a coalition.

    So the question is how have they achieved that position? That would be because the electorate voted for them. No doubt you are now going to argue that the Welsh electorate has voted for a one-party state.

    You ask for likely scenarios in which Labour’s dominant position might be successfully challenged. That would be when the electorate decide to vote for parties other than Labour. What you posit however is to fantasise about a possible electoral outcome at some point in the future. I prefer to use what politically analytical ability I have to deal with the reality of how the electorate actually votes rather than speculate on ‘what if’ scenarios, amusing as that it is, it’s pretty useless as a way of perceiving the attitudes of the Welsh electorate and discerning current electoral trends.

    To conclude, facts do not speak for themselves; they acquire the meaning we ascribe to them. However it is a well-understood paradigm of academic study that we make the model to suit the facts, not select the facts to suit the assumption.

    Si I will conclude with an invitation of my own. Provide the facts to substantiate your assertion that Wales is a one-party state. In addition, you can demonstrate that the facts I have used taken from the electoral data for the National Assembly are incorrect. Or can we expect another assertion devoid of such facts?

  32. Rhobat, what happened to ‘it’s time I moved on’? Oh well…

    At the risk of being repetitive, the Facts again. Fact One: as you point out yourself, Labour has been the dominant power on the Assembly since it was established. Fact Two: the establishment of a polity with the current boundaries always made that the most likely scenario. Fact Three: the electoral arrangements adopted increased that likelihood. Fact Four: the only conceivable alternatives are another party winning an absolute majority or some form of Blue-Green coalition, both of which are, to put it mildly, extremely unlikely. Indeed, you are quite correct to use the word ‘fantasise’ of speculating on such a scenario.

    Are you actually denying any of these four facts?

    Rather you seem to be basing your case on redefining the term ‘one party state.’ Yet it has been established that a one party state can be, and usually is, de facto rather than de jure, and can even have some form of democratic endorsement. Your latest contribution seeks to equate a one party state with a totalitarian state – two different things. Of course, a one party state is at greater risk of turning into a totalitarian state, but the present limits of the powers of the Assembly mean that is not the case in Wales at the moment.

  33. As I suspected, assertion posing as fact.

    So let’s go through them:

    We agree that Labour has been the dominant party in Welsh politics for the last 15 years. That is, of course an assertion but we can refer to the number of votes cast and seats won to support that assertion.

    “Fact Two: the establishment of a polity with the current boundaries always made that the most likely scenario.” That’s an interesting assertion. To which evidence do you intend to refer to support that opinion? An opinion is not a fact.

    “Fact Three: the electoral arrangements adopted increased that likelihood.” Interesting opinion. To which evidence do you refer to support that opinion? If we look at the electoral evidence prior to the National Assembly, the General Election of 1997 shows that Labour received 54.75% of the vote and obtained 34 seats, 85% of the representation. In the 1999 National Assembly election, Labour received 36.8 % of the vote and obtained 28 seats, 46.6% of the representation. So the new electoral arrangements meant that Labour moved from having over-representation of 30.25% to an over-representation of 9.8%. How do those facts square with your third assertion?

    “Fact Four: The only conceivable alternatives are another party winning an absolute majority or some form of Blue-Green coalition …”. This is speculation or even a projection. Nothing wrong with that providing we don’t confuse it with being a fact.

    Let me turn to your questioning of my use of the term ‘one-party state’. Here is my understanding of the term:

    A one party state is a type of state in which a single political party has the right to form the government , usually based on the constitution. All other parties are either outlawed or allowed to take only a limited and controlled participation in elections. If you seriously believe that this term defines the political nature of Wales, then you clearly have no concern for your own credibility.

    Let me then turn to your term “de facto one party state”. It is also known as the dominant party state. One definition has been supplied by Suttner as:

    “a category of parties/political organisations that have successfully won electoral victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future.” On this proposition, you have a basis for an argument. So let’s examine the facts regarding Labour’s performance in the Assembly:

    Year % vote No. seats % seats No. seats on % vote % + seats over-representation

    1999 36.8 28 46.6 22 9.8 / 6

    2003 36.6 30 50 22 13.4 / 8

    2007 31.3 26 43 19 11.7 / 7

    2011 40.5 30 50 24 9.5 / 6

    What we can see therefore is that Labour doesn’t have a dominant share of the vote. It was only in the last election that they were able to break through the 40% barrier. What is clear however is that the current electoral system gives them a share of the vote advantage of about 10% plus which results in a seats gained advantage of about 6 upwards. In an Assembly of 60 seats, that’s a significant figure.

    A large part of politics is about perception and if we look at the result for 2007, it makes interesting reading. Had the Labour Party obtained their seats based on the proportion of votes gained, they would have had about 19 seats. Had such a result prevailed, then Labour’s image of invincibility in Wales would have been shattered. As it is, the electoral system provided them with the extra 7 seats that enabled them to retain their position as the largest party that had suffered a bit of a hiccup.

    That is the only analysis that I can see that supports the view that Wales is a dominant party state. But it is an unconvincing one. Within the Assembly itself, members from different parties chair important committees so that power is not concentrated in the hands of one party, the exact opposite of your assertion. If anything it is an argument for a more representative electoral system than we have at present.

    However my point regarding the dominant party state is how useful an idea is it in analysing political activity. It tells us that the Labour Party is the largest party, and it tells us that the other parties have difficulty in breaking through. It is descriptive, rather than analytical and therefore its usefulness as a term is severely limited. It is also the case that the SNP in Scotland, using a similar voting system, not only succeeded in breaking through but has succeeded in winning an overall majority. The dominant party state term could have been used to describe the situation in Scotland but it would have been meaningless.

    If we want to explain Labour’s position in Wales then DPS does not come close. We have to look to other tools to provide a more convincing explanation. In my view, DPS is a lazy term that helps no-one.

  34. The table used in my post is not clear. Here is a re-tabulation:


    % vote 36.8%

    No. seats 28

    % of seats 46.6%

    No. seats on % vote 22

    Over-representation % 9.8%

    Over-representation seats 6


    % vote 36.6%

    No. seats 30

    % of seats 50%

    No. seats on % vote 22

    Over-representation % 13.4%

    Over-representation seats 8


    % vote 31.3%

    No. seats 26

    % seats 43%

    No seats on % vote 19

    Over-representation % 11.7%

    Over-representation seats 7


    % vote 40.5%

    No. seats 30

    % seats 50%

    No. seats on % vote 24

    Over-representation % 9.5%

    Over-representation seats 6

    Hope that’s clearer.

  35. Rhobat, a great deal of effort has obviously gone into your last post. So apologies are necessary that this reply is not going to deal with your detailed points as comprehensively as they deserve. This is partly due to the continuing feeling that a thread on Baden-Wurttemberg is not the appropriate forum for this debate, but mainly to the prospect of an early start and a long working day tomorrow.

    To remove the obvious non sequitur, the proportion of votes cast is irrelevant since we agree that Labour is proportionately over-represented in Wales – a point that, let us say, did not escape the Labour Party in 1997.

    Your figures in response to Fact Three are interesting but since they refer only to the degree of over-representation, they do not alter the basic Fact that the electoral system adopted favours the Labour Party. That a system that might favour Labour even more might have been adopted is not the issue here.

    The burden of your argument appears to hang on two questions of definition. The first is the distinction between ‘assertion’ and ‘fact.’ Such a distinction exists, but, unless one wishes to retreat into Cartesian doubt, one reaches a point where an assertion is so probable that for all practical intents and purposes it is a fact.

    You could still, if you wish, quibble that something that is 99.99% probable is still an assertion not a fact, but it would be a bit like Bill Clinton arguing about the meaning of ‘is.’

    So the question becomes at what level of probability does an assertion become a fact? Here is an assertion: after the next Assembly elections, the First Minister will be a nominee of the Labour Party. Given your knowledge of psephology, what is the probability of that? 97%, 98% 99%? If that is not a one party state, what is?

    Of course, it is legally and theoretically possible that, say, the Monster Raving Loony Party might win every seat, so that the First Minister would not be a Labour nominee, but (1) that is not going to happen, and (2) if it did, that would be the sort of cultural revolution, mentioned above, required to end a one party state. In the same way the one party states of the Soviet Bloc remained one party states up until the revolutions that ended one party rule and then ceased in that moment to be one party states. Note that revolution in this sense of fundamental cultural change need not be violent or unconstitutional.

    This leads directly to the second question of definition. You tried in your last to resurrect a definition of one party state that depends on a legal prohibition of other parties, but it has already been established that this is not necessarily, or even usually, the case with one party states. You then introduce an entirely new phrase, the ‘dominant party state,’ and then argued at great length against a definition of it that you supplied.

    In doing so, you are arguing only against yourself. What has actually been said before is this: Wales is at present a de facto non-totalitarian one party state, no more, no less, and Facts – or, if it suits your amour-propre, Assertions – One to Four are true statements about contemporary Welsh politics. Again, leaving aside quibbles about the difference between facts and assertions, are you, on your honour as a serious psephologist, actually denying them?

  36. Given your lack of opportunity to answer my points fully, I shall try be succinct.

    “…the proportion of votes cast is irrelevant …”

    The proportion of votes cast is relevant since it provides the basis for measuring the degree to which the governing party is over-represented.

    “…the electoral system adopted favours the Labour Party.”

    On the evidence I presented, the electoral system appears to favour the largest party. If Labour is the largest party, then your assertion is true. What we cannot say is that if another party was the largest party, the system would not favour them. In all likelihood, it would. To establish that point however one would have to look at other countries using the same or similar to see if that was borne out. Your assertion however seems to be that this system was adopted in order to deliver an electoral arrangement to the benefit of the Labour, thus substantiating your assertion that we live in a “one party state.” Let us assume that that was the case. If so, then it has failed in its objective. An electoral system designed to benefit a particular party should deliver a majority for that party. In every election, Labour has failed to achieve a majority and, on current opinion polling, does not look likely to do so at the next election either. But let us go back to your assertion that this was a system designed to favour Labour. Do you have any evidence for that? Are you aware of any conversations that took place to support your view?

    “So the question becomes at what level of probability does an assertion become a fact? The general response to that is when there is sufficient evidence to support an assertion. So to take your example, “After the next Assembly elections, the First Minister will be a nominee of the Labour Party.” I agree with that assertion not because you think it or indeed whether I do but because the evidence supports it. If we look at the last four elections, Labour has been the largest party in all of them and current polls indicate that they are likely to be so at the next. That doesn’t make it a fact since it has not happened yet. Should it do so, then it will be a fact. However politics is contingent on events. The big event due to happen between now and the next National Election is the General Election in May 2015. The result of that will effect voting intentions in Wales.

    I’m not sure why you challenge me on the definitions of one party state since I have accepted and elaborated on the distinction between de jure and de facto. It is clear that the term de jure one party state cannot be used as it does not fit the facts. That is why I dealt with the issue of de facto one party state. The term dominant party state is a term used interchangeably with de facto one party state. I have used it because it better fits the political reality of Wales without detracting from the substantial issues involved.

    It seems to me that you have confused two scenarios, one where I argue against myself and another where I examine a proposition that has a credible basis and decide as to its accuracy as a statement. As I said, that Wales is a dominant party state can be argued. As I demonstrated, I don’t agree with it but I gave my reasons for doing so. As for your comparison with the Soviet state bloc, this is something that the Daily Mail is fond of asserting but with little or no foundation. I’m surprised you do not take the issue of credibility seriously.

    You also haven’t explained how the SNP have successfully challenged Scottish Labour’s dominance under the same electoral system.

    So to conclude:

    Assertion One: substantiated by electoral debate. Accepted as fact.

    Assertion Two: no evidence presented.

    Assertion Three: some evidence presented but debatable.

    Assertion Four: speculation for which little evidence is available.

  37. Rhobat, to summarise our differences:-

    First, the boundaries of the current polity of Wales favour the Labour Party. You deny this.

    Second, the electoral system adopted favours the Labour Party. You say this is debatable.

    Third, it is likely that the First Minister after the next Assembly election will be a Labour nominee. You say this is speculative – which is, of course, strictly speaking, true, but speculation so close to fact as makes no difference. The bookies are not even offering odds against it, but, if they were, would you place serious money at anything less than 100-1?

    Rather than go through the whole argument again, let anyone still following this thread read that three-point summary and decide for themselves which of us is closer to the facts.

    You introduce one interesting new question into your last contribution: do the electoral arrangements favour the largest party rather than the Labour Party per se? That is an arguable point but, to use one of your favourite words, speculation, because the Labour Party is the largest party. Off the top of the head, the system might favour Plaid but not the Conservatives if they became the largest party, but, again, we are in the realm of speculation.

    This leads on to your question about the SNP. Scotland seems to be experiencing one of those fundamental cultural revolutions mentioned above. Two factors contributed to this: poor Labour leadership and excellent Nationalist leadership in Scotland. To give Welsh Labour their due, if they lack in vision and administrative ability, they make up for it by being the smartest political operators this side of Offa’s Dyke. One might speculate on how things might have been different of Dafydd Wigley had remained in charge at Plaid but, once again, that would break your rule against speculation.

    Finally, we agree on one point: the General Election next year will do more to determine the future of Welsh politics than any Assembly election.

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