We, the people

Lee Waters sets out the IWA’s plans to hold a ‘crowd sourced’ Constitutional Convention

Why wait for Westminster to grant you a Constitutional Convention?, Simon Jenkins asked at the IWA’s conference a week before the Scottish referendum. “Hold your own one; decide what you want, and ask for it – you never know, at this time, you might just get it” the former Editor of the Times implored his audience.

So that’s what we’re doing. On January 26th we’ll be launching the first ‘Crowd Sourced’ Constitutional Convention on the future of Wales, and the UK.

Thanks to dozens of small donations from across Wales, and the support of the UK’s Changing Union project, we are able to launch an eight-week experiment in deliberative democracy to run in parallel with discussions at Westminster to devolve further power to Scotland, England and Wales.

There are two critical elements to our plans – we’ll be asking questions, and not pre-judging the outcomes, and we’re putting people at the centre of our conversation. Everyone can take part, and anyone can shape the conversation.

Both First Minister Carwyn Jones, and Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb, seem to agree that any powers being offered to Scotland as a result of the Smith Commission should be available to Wales if we want them. But do we want them? And what would it mean in practice? That’s what we’ll be asking over the course of the next few months.

Before we kick-off the process at the end of January we’ll be publishing the detailed plans and questions on this site for you to comment on and change.

Our plan is to go back to first principles and ask: what is the UK for? If we are to have a Union what things should be the same everywhere, and where can we diverge?

We’ll look at the main areas being suggested for further devolution in Scotland – powers over the economy and the Welfare State – and examine how they apply to Wales; and then look at how devolution to England will impact on the workings of the UK, and what its future should be?

This will all take place on an especially designed website which will allow us to feature expert opinion and explanation, and a space for you to question, debate and suggest – and for us to measure it all.

We are working with a range of partners to engage as many people as possible in this debate, including NUS Wales, Wales TUC, Federation of Small Businesses, the Electoral Reform Society and Community Housing Cymru.

Our objectives are to ensure that Wales is not lost in a debate chiefly focused on Scotland and England, and, crucially, to ensure the debate reaches beyond the political elites. Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has set up a process of discussion amongst party leaders at Westminster to find a consensus further powers which will culminate in a St David’s Day Declaration on March 1st. We’re hoping our crowd-sourced discussions can feed into that process and help influence the party manifestos for implementation after May’s General Election.

We still need to fundraise to help us reach as wide an audience as possible. If you think our project is important we’d be grateful for a donation to help it reach its potential. And most of all we need your help to ensure we’re asking the right questions, and, of course, to take part.


33 thoughts on “We, the people

  1. Well done Mr Waters, I will donate shortly.
    Best of everything for 2015 to you and all the ‘Great’ staff

  2. Best wishes Lee with the ‘Deliberative Democracy’ – The very issue that has been absent in the Welsh media for the last 15 year and where the Invisible Elephant that was the brain child of Rhodri Morgan still looming large in Welsh public life and to the detriment of Wales.

    Perhaps a good starting point would be to debate Welsh Government’s failures of handling the existing powers in Welsh education, NHS and economy before demanding or deliberating more powers on the back of the Scottish situation?

    Equally, we should not forget to forensically examine and debate the impact of Welsh Governments Social Engineering policies on Wales over the last 15 years and the very policies that place Wales in a different context of the devolution journey that we are seeing in other parts of the UK!?

  3. @ Glasnost UK

    I see that someone bought you a new hobby horse for Christmas.

    However there is no change in the approach. You don’t believe in the existence of the Assembly and therefore wish to discuss its failure and forensically examine the details of its failure. What you do not offer, and to my memory have never offered is any constructive solutions to the problems we face.

    As far as I can see, based on your record, is that you want the opportunity to rehearse the grievances in the forlorn hope that someone will agree with you.

    I think that the majority of participants in this project will be seeking to examine what difficulties we have and what future powers and policies we need to try to overcome those difficulties. Alternatively, we could sit in a cave and throw spears at the buses as they pass by. I know which one of those is the easier and which one requires thought, intelligence, reasoned discussion and hard work to get to where we want to be.

  4. It looks like the ‘long march’ is gathering pace as the welsh ‘chattering classes’ keep up their introspection on constitutional matters. Whatever happens the ordinary members of public like myself will see no benefits at all,and worryingly the reverse could happen,however there must be losers in great events. Due to the relevant weakness of our economy,and lack of wealth any possibility of major reductions in public funding from English taxpayers is of concern,particularly as the Barnett formula is suffering from a death rattle and the Treasury will look to further cut payments to the ungrateful celtic fringe. At the end of this process there must be full disclosure to welsh public and a further referendum which hopefully will include the option to close down the Bay of Irrelevance and go to a new system of administrative devolution.

  5. I believe some useful work was done by a constitutional convention down in Cornwall a few years ago which might be worth looking into. Cornwall is after all a long estranged part of ‘Wales’ in its original wider meaning. It is also in its present state a warning as to the future shape of Wales if centralisation/anglicisation continues unchecked.

  6. AMC: long estranged is not the half of it. After the battle of Dyrrham in 577, the Saxons controlled the lower Severn valley and cut the British kingdoms in Dyfnaint and Kernow off from those in Wales. The various mini-states in Wales spent the next 700 years fighting each other as much as the English, facilitating their own conquest ending in 1282. I have never heard of any effort by the Welsh to make common cause with the Cornish, outside the Arthurian legends. I wonder what the response would be if Carwyn Jones offered the Cornish five seats in the National Assembly if they “rejoined” Wales. I think my money would be on a “no” vote in a subsequent Cornish referendum. I expect they’ve got more ‘Glasnosts’ than we have.

  7. I hope Howell Morgan gets his way and we have a referendum on abolishing the National Assembly. It would be interesting to see if the Welsh were to become one of the few peoples to opt to abolish their own limited democracy and put their fate entirely in the hands of their neighbours. I won’t say there are no precedents but there are very few.

  8. Good work click on wales – this initiative is excellent, and exactly what is needed. It is so important for real engagement with citizens to take place on the big issues, and constitutional reform is certainly in that category. Elites too often dominate the discussion and decision-making. Platforms need to be built to counteract that.

    I’d only like to emphasise the importance of two things:
    a) Serious commitment to inclusivity. Your collaboration with Community Housing Cymru is promising in involving some of the more marginalised in society, but needs to be done properly. This kind of engagement can easily go awry.
    b) Serious commitment to proper deliberation. Making it available for people is not enough. Methods that enable informed discussion throughout are required for deliberative democracy to be worthy of its name.

  9. @ R.Tredwyn

    I’m not sure if you are trying to be clever here but Westminster is made up of democratically elected people from all over this island! Tell me… were we “putting our fate in our neighbours hands” when Lloyd George was Prime Minister?? and what about the countless Welsh cabinet members that there have been and still are?

    …..and which neighbour are you talking about anyway? in which neighbours hands were we placing our fate when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister with Alistair Darling as chancellor? Those evil English again?

  10. If you compare the vibrancy and breadth of the current popular and intellectual debate in Scotland, ranging far beyond ‘small’ nationalism, into how the dead shell of elite bankruptcy that is ‘Politics UK 2015’ can be cast off, you get a sense of how totally “other” Wales now is. We have gone from “Re-designing Democracy” (sic) to Comatose Cymru without murmur or indeed even caring very much. The drugs obviously DO work.

    For Wales, see Bedtime.

  11. SMB The answer to your first question is yes. LlG was PM in a House of Commons with 630 MPs, of whom no more than 40 were Welsh. That’s fine for foreign policy etc where the UK acts as one but for matters affecting only Wales it means things are being decided elsewhere and we are not taking responsibility for our own affairs. Welsh cabinet minister are beside the point – and, by the way, they aren’t “countless”. You can count ’em quite easily! In answer to your second question: why does it matter which neighbours we are talking about? It’s still not us managing the affairs proper to us. That said Brown was not in a different position to LlG. Scots, Welsh, whatever, his power depends on a majority in the House of Commons. You don’t have to be clever to recognize that reality but perhaps you do have to be thick not to recognize it.

  12. Surprised at your intervention Lee – It’s easy to hide behind ‘policy definitions’ and be selective which comments to publish or not including delaying comments till minimal impact can be achieved – I thought you wanted a wide platform for your Devolution debate but as it stands now IWA seems to be stifling the debate by censorship and removing views that may not go down well with the Welsh privileged Elite!!??

  13. When considering a framework for this exercise, we do need to take a good look at Scotland. Whatever your views on independence, devo-max or status quo there, it is evident both in terms of the turnout last September and the overall level of engagement that Scottish civic society has raised its game to a level rarely seen in democracies in recent decades.

    What has Scotland got right? What has Wales missed out on? What can we learn from all of this and in what direction ought this to lead us towards?

  14. I agree that politics in the hands of the political class does not serve the needs of the many, in fact the political class in Wales represents a small number of interested parties. This crowd funding initiative to discuss a convention of the UK seems to me to be premature. Whilst I would welcome the opportunity to voice my opinion of what could replace the current model of devolution I would be more supportive of an open discussion around the waste exhibited by the political structures in Wales. European Parliament, Westminster, Welsh Assembly, Local Authorities and even community councils all demanding public funds to exist it is right to posit that, in Wales at least, we need to streamline and remove tiers of governance.

    An obsession with nationalities is not doing anyone any good.

  15. “Crowd sourced” Lee, This is as good as its ever going to get! # Wales 2015. #Zero interest. #Top Down.

  16. With respect, Lee, what you consider off the point might be extremely important to others. This is precisely why some of us might have reservations about a convention organised as you suggest.

    In particular, as is clear from these threads, there is a substantial – albeit currently minority – opinion among those who take an interest in these things that the Assembly has proved an unmitigated disaster in practice and therefore abolition should be an option on any table. No organisation speaks for us, not least because the Assembly either funds most of the public organisations in Wales or has a degree of influence over their decision-makers. How can we be sure our voice will be heard in your convention?

    The danger is that any convention will be the ‘usual suspects’ turning up, at public expense more often than not, and giving us their same old party line – the policies of all the main parties in this case being substantially the same: more and more of what has failed so far.

    Yes, Wales should take the initiative in proposing her own constitutional settlement rather than accept what comes from London in reaction to events in Scotland. However, the first step in involving the Welsh people is informing them properly. How can we have a proper debate when substantial proportions of the electorate are unaware of the Assembly’s powers or its record or even the identity of its leader? Here is an area where the Institute could do more useful work rather than putting the cart before the horse by calling conventions.

  17. Comments need to be on point. There are a small number of people on this site who try and make every debate about the Welsh language. We post plenty of articles about the language and you are free to post what you like within the rules. But on articles about other subjects we will no longer allow the debate to be subverted as it puts off others and closes the debate down.

    I don’t expect you to take this well

  18. Lee, who is the ‘you’ to whom you refer in your last? If it refers to the comment immediately before, you should note that comment never refers to the language – neither do my comments in general on this website.

    Indeed, like you, I find many of the comments on both sides of the language debate unnecessarily divisive and extremely tiresome, but what neither you nor I can deny is that there is a language debate, it is a necessary debate, and the status of the language has to be taken into account in any constitutional settlement, and vice versa.

    The language is one of several elephants in the room our rulers prefer to ignore when talking about devolution but which need to be discussed, and if you want to be the one organising a constitutional convention you are going to have to be the one organising that discussion.

  19. IWA fiddles while Wales burns…

    If a fraction of the mental energy that’s gone into constitutional disruption had been spent on the real problems Wales faces then maybe some progress could have been made on those problems? Instead the growing divisions between Wales and England simply serve to generate and aggravate those problems!

  20. John, we have launched a new strategy where we focus on four areas: the economy, education, health and governance.

    Our Constitutional Convention will not just be focusing on the constitution and does not start with the premise that we need further powers. Next week on Click we’re publishing our draft plans for you and others to comment on and shape.

  21. I think many are prejudging what the Convention will be about and its topics. As for fiddling while Wales burns? The IWA is a think tank and not the government and anyway Nero was in Antium at the time of the fire. Comparing Lee to Nero and Barry with Antium is a little over doing it!

  22. JWR what do you mean “the real problems that Wales faces”? Surely you mean the problems that Britain faces. Wales can’t have specific problems of its own because then it might need its own solutions. Heaven forbid it might need its own government to choose solutions and implement them. In fact why talk about “Wales” at all? It shouldn’t be a political entity, according to you. It’s just a piece of England with no need or right for self determination.

  23. JWR. Everyone must agree with you that the ignorance and indifference of much of the Welsh public about the way they are governed is a big problem. What do you want the IWA to do about that? People who are not interested in public affairs are not likely to be reading the output of the IWA. I thought calling a convention was an effort to work up a bit of interest and participation. Not bound to work, I grant you, but if you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it.

  24. JWR doesn’t have any solutions, other than to abolish the very mechanism which can help deliver the change in our economic performance that our society requires. Much more preferable, and easier, is to attack those who are trying to achieve just that for not having perfect solutions.

  25. Mr Tredwyn – no, Wales is not ‘a piece of England.’ Wales is a piece of the UK, and some of us hope, against the odds, that it remains so. Yet, despite that, Wales has problems not shared by the rest of the UK because, since 1997, it has been burdened by a superfluous level of government that has added to our burdens.

    The Institute has limited resources but it could use what it has to inform those with access to greater resources of some of those problems. A dialogue within the ruling class would be a good place to start.

    Tegid – as I recall my Suetonius, Nero did not fiddle: he recited an epic poem. It seems he had a genuine talent in that regard. One suspects he would not have been out of place in Welsh politics.

  26. RBJ – it not a question of ‘not having perfect solutions’ to problems: it is making the problems worse. Are you implying that those responsible for that should somehow be beyond criticism? If so, some of us do not share your deference.

  27. Many of the comments made to date go into some detail, often attempting to justify a strongly held opinion rather than open up the debate.
    But I would like to see the convention start at the beginning. What is devolution? What is democracy? If the answer to these two ‘d’ word questions suggest that power over Welsh affairs is put into the hands of Welsh people we have a long way to go before we reach that aim.
    Can we reconcile the deeply held and diametrically opposed beliefs of those amongst our inhabitants who think of themselves as Welsh and those who think of themselves as British? The minority who don’t accept that Wales is a country remind me of those in the Anglican Church who don’t accept women bishops. But they exist and they must be listened to. I would like to know what reasoned explanation they can give for their position.
    What lessons can we learn from the rest of the world? Has any colonised country anywhere been put off seeking self-rule or independence because of niggles over which currency it would use, or whether Standard and Poors would look at its credit rating?
    And has any previously colonised country – despite all dire warnings that independence would bring economic collapse – ever regreted the move and begged the previous colonisers to take them
    back again?
    Talking of economics we must ask how have we allowed ourselves to be misled into the fallacious belief that we are net recipients of largesse from the British public and private enterprise purses? Is this a result of the ownership and domination of our media by individuals and organisations which are not Welsh?
    In my humble opinion these and many similar questions are those we should be addressing.

  28. @ JWR

    Apologies for touching a nerve, John. However, the point remains. You criticise others for their shortcomings but put up no solutions of your own. This is an easy position to take.

    As for your personal remark that I subscribe to a position of deference, I’ll simply let that hit the wall.

    If we are to raise the level of debate, then we need to get beyond pointing the finger at those in authority and saying how rubbish they all are. Let us take the example of the NHS in Wales. Despite the confusing intervention of the Prime Minister, there are serious underlying problems facing the NHS in Wales as the statistics reveal. If we are to have a sensible debate about that, we need information, knowledge and analysis. The purpose of this is to find ways of improving NHS performance in Wales. Now I am no expert on healthcare and so don’t believe in shouting the odds as a substitute for reasoned evidence-based research. I prefer to shut up and listen to those who do have something useful to say on the matter.

  29. This should be a good debate, but as Mr Waters rightly states too many people going off the subject. As someone who has soent over 40 years in business in wales and England. And also in tandem spent the same amount of time in working for my community for free to make it a better place. I have learnt this simple truth This debate should start with finding ways in which the people can seize power back for themselves from the institutionalised political elites who have for too long in the UK not just Wales held us all back from real prosperity and happiness. We need to recognise that its the structures that we live by that no longe serve us all well. Thats what needs scrappng first. I have lost count of the times, i have been door to door in my community with a petition against these elites for some new crime they were perpertrating upon te people. And the following statement was all too common and often made and should make us all worry about what sort of democracy we really have, “Whats the point Jeff, you will never beat city hall”. Lets all start worrying for the future if this is actually true.

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