Do the Small Things/Gwnewch y Pethau Bychain

Daran Hill discusses the St David’s Day Pact with praise for the quick turn around and a solid, if uninspiring result.

Wales reached another important milestone in its devolution journey today as details of the cross-party talks, led by the Welsh Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, were published. Putting aside the fact that the outcome of the St David’s Day Pact is being made public to coincide with the start of the Welsh Conservative and Welsh Liberal Democrat conferences – hardly the most non-partisan time to announce – Crabb should nevertheless be praised for delivering a package so quickly and with so much consensus.

The Silk and Richard Commissions may have produced consensus amongst commissioners and the Cardiff Bay Bubble, but that consensus ended there. What Crabb has led is a consensus between political parties, and that is in stark contrast to the way in which devolution settlements have been developed for Wales in the past.

However, as with any party political consensus, it has been drawn at the lowest common denominator. In order to reach a consensus in the cross-party talks, all parties had a veto during discussions, a power that one would easily imagine that the Conservatives and Labour used to oppose the devolution of certain areas to Cardiff Bay. That’s why we don’t see policing and criminal justice as part of the package.

In terms of the things that are to be devolved regardless, it is therefore a solid but uninspiring list – energy production up to 350MW, significant changes to the “jagged edge” of transport responsibilities, and the Assembly will finally have control of its own election processes. Perhaps it is this sparsity which makes it so apt this is being done on St David’s Day. After all, our patron saint did commend the people “Gwnewch y pethau bychain”, which translates as “Do the small things.”

Naturally, both Plaid and the Lib Dems would have liked it to have gone further in different ways. But imaging this package would have brought an extra £1.2bn to Wales is the way that Plaid was demanding was simply tilting at windmills.

It is important to keep a sense of perspective. The St David’s Pact package is all about what is there, not what is not. It is better to look at it as a cup half full because, beyond the purely functional aspects of additional devolution responsibilities, are some much bigger commitments. The removal of the Secretary of State for Wales from the Assembly’s processes is a long overdue action and will probably help strengthen the case for the post’s abolition in a few months time. There is also a pledge to give the Assembly the powers to rename itself in the future, perhaps as a Parliament, perhaps as a Senate, perhaps as the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet. But the key thing is that the power of self designation is being conferred.

Further, the Assembly will get powers to expand its numbers following an alleged “consensus” around the need for such a move. Whether that consensus is bigger than the Bay Bubble remains a moot point. Anyone fancy taking that one to a referendum? Because, of course, a referendum is promised in this deal around moving income tax powers to Wales too. Don’t expect that one too early either. Despite the pressure being exerted by the Conservatives, everyone else knows that one can’t be won on the doorstep any time soon.

In conclusion, it was an ambitious objective by the Secretary of State for Wales to try and settle the devolution question. What the package does is not so much draw a line in the sand but to define where the debates of the next five years will be. They won’t be over devolving additional powers like policing and criminal justice. The debates of the next five years will be around if and when a tax powers referendum is held, what the Assembly should name itself, and how many toga clad senators might sit there in future.

Listen to Daran’s reaction to the announcement below:

Daran Hill is MD of Positif.

11 thoughts on “Do the Small Things/Gwnewch y Pethau Bychain

  1. Surely the most important aspect of today’s announcement was a reaffirmation that the Assembly will only remain, devolved powers notwithstanding, if a majority of the voting public remain in favour of it.

    Judging by the comments expressed on this website over recent weeks it would seem that the life of Welsh Assembly and Welsh government is rapidly approaching its useful end.

  2. The only thing this announcement does is to keep prospective Welsh Devolution Commission chairmen (yes they’ll be forming a professional association and publishing a monthly trade mag soon) happy in the knowledge that there is at least one or two more blocks of 24-month (highly remunerated) work out their for them until the Welsh Labour and Conservative parties overcome their intellectual myopia on (respectively) fiscal federalism and jurisdictional federalism.

  3. Here we go again. Another so-called ‘settlement’ that comes too little, too late. The proposals of the Silk Commission have been rendered out of date by events in Scotland – and these patchy plans by Cameron and Clegg do not even meet Silk’s recommendations. Just how long will we put up with being treated as a third-class nation? Wales is entitled to equality with Scotland, in powers and funding; and the next referendum should be about that status, nothing less.

  4. Thank you Daran Hill for explaining the photograph that appeared recently in the press. The one with the two party leaders against a backdrop of a sports stadium. A field of dreams, perhaps. But whose field?

    “Gwneud y Pethau Bychain” reminds us that the Welsh Government has a forwards game to play in the consolidation of the legislative and policy initiatives that remain on the agenda. All slog on difficult ground.

    I was reminded of this in a recent announcement about the proposed planning bill:

    Ar gael yn Nghymraeg:

  5. Nice one Karen. You put comments on a website and then appeal to those comments to support your argument.. Most Welsh people want to keep the National Assembly, however many times you say they don’t. They may be disappointed in the Welsh government but they have the solution in their hands: vote it out of office and vote in another one. You want to rob them of their democratic birthright. Why, are you Welsh, English or Russian?

  6. Dafydd Williams @
    Dach chi wedi dweud, “Wales is entitled to equality with Scotland, in powers and funding”.

    While I fully support an independent Wales, I cannot possibly see how the above statement can be justified. Wales is nowhere near ‘equal’ to Scotland in many ways. To take just two :

    1. Constitutionally Scotland joined with England by choice (at least by the choice of those who got to have a say in those days) and was never conquered. The Scottish parliament is an ancient institution, revived after being dormant for 300 years, this was clearly stated in the opening speeches. It is built on rock. OTOH Wales was annexed by the English and became legally part of England, the Welsh Assembly is simply a layer of local government, it has no historical basis, it is built on the shifting sands of Cardiff Bay;

    2. For many years now, despite English propaganda to the contrary, Scotland has contributed financially to the UK more than it has received in return. It is therefore fully capable of standing on its own two feet. Wales in contrast really does survive on subsidies from London, and he who pays the piper …

    I’m sure this list could easily be enlarged, the limited and static support for Plaid in contrast with the massive and growing popularity of the SNP, for example, but I’d much rather learn how you justify your claims for Wales. Welsh independence can surely only be achieved on the basis of sound arguments rather than vacuous statements?

  7. My answer – both Wales and Scotland are nations, both are entitled to the same measure of self-government. It is up to us to demand it.

  8. Alasdair you are kidding yourself. Scotland is not so big a subsidy junkie as Wales, that is true. But it is a net recipient of subsidy all the same as the Scots government’s own figures show. With the oil price at $60 a barrel Scotland is nowhere near paying its own way. In the circumstances your readiness to go it alone is brave and admirable. Trying to tell people it would not involve an economic sacrifice is dishonest and unworthy.

  9. Dafydd @
    Wales has an assembly, a recent exercise in local government introduced by Westminster. London also has an assembly, does that make it a nation? Please justify your assertion that “Wales is a nation”.

    Tredwyn @
    Scotland is doing OK thanks very much. It is running a deficit at present as are most countries, but much smaller proportionally than the overall UK deficit. The oil price is a red herring, oil is a bonus.

  10. Alasdair, I admire your ability to look at reality and see only what you want rather than what is there. The Scottish deficit at the moment is proportionately bigger not smaller than that of the UK. Scotland has no capacity to run the more generous welfare state its people appear to want without much higher taxes. And given the importance of oil revenues within total tax receipts in Scotland, to call oil a bonus is a bit like saying being able to eat every day is a “bonus”. Still, I wish the Scots all the best.
    What counts as a nation anyway? Are the Kurds a nation? Are the Palestinians.? Wales has a distinctive language and culture which some people still speak and practice. Unlike Scotland our distinctive culture is genuine, not made up by Sir Walter Scott.

  11. Different ‘nations’, however defined, are held together by different combinations of factors. Wales has no constitutional basis, “power devolved is power retained”. Our friend the Wee Ginger Dug (blog) very effectively used the analogy of a yo-yo the other day. Wales is not united by language, language drives a wedge through the Welsh, nor very much these days by religion. Socialism? Where did that go? I would love to see an independent Wales, but must ask, on what existing foundations can it be built.

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