Saturday, 26 February 2011

Caging The Dragon, Freeing The Dragon

Wales has a very particular oligarchy which has long existed in some form, but which has been given the run of the place by devolution. Based in English-speaking areas, but using the Welsh language as its cordon sanitaire, that oligarchy is hostile and damaging to the general populations of English-speaking and Welsh-speaking areas alike. And now, it is embarked upon yet another power grab.

This coming Thursday will see the referendum on further Welsh devolution which David Cameron, who has repeatedly expressed to Parliament his indifference as to the constitutional status of Wales (a position incompatible with that of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), has long been determined to hold. This referendum, never mind a Yes vote, is wanted by no one except the members of the Assembly and their entourages.

Created with the support of fully 26 per cent of eligible voters, the Assembly has already given the land of Bevan, as staunch a Unionist as it is possible to imagine, longer waits than in England for elective surgery, a 46 per cent (in some areas, a 17 per cent) ambulance response time to Category A emergencies compared with England's 77 per cent, the worst stroke services in the United Kingdom, and the endangerment of cross-border services because of a refusal to work with English Health Trusts.

More broadly, investment per pupil is now 9.5% lower than in England, there is a worsening lack of local access to A-level courses, 70 million pounds recently had to be sent back to Brussels because it had not been spent on time, and there is a 60 million pound shortfall in university funding. Even Professor Kevin Morgan, who chaired the Yes campaign in 1997, now speaks of devolution as "devolving our way to relative economic decline".

None of this would be helped by primary legislative powers for the body that created the mess. There is a proposal for a Welsh Stock Market, but, as much as anything else, why would anywhere want such a thing these days? A Welsh Honours List is a faintly charming, and reassuringly monarchist, idea, but the main argument against it is that it seeks to solve a problem which does not exist: Wales, with about five per cent of the United Kingdom's population, already receives about six per cent of honours. Good on the Welsh.

That leaves the rumbling about a separate judicial system. Lots of extra public money for lawyers, mostly or entirely South Wales-based but bilingual lawyers, deliberately as detached from the life of an English-speaking former pit village as from the life of a Welsh-speaking agricultural community. Extreme inconvenience in securing justice from the higher courts if one lived in North, Mid or West Wales and had to make the time-consuming journey to Cardiff, via exactly the English cities where one's case could previously have been heard.

But very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid if the Welsh Assembly were given primary legislative powers. At the very least, any such legislation must need approval by both Houses of Parliament, following a recommendation as to expediency or otherwise by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, before proceeding to Royal Assent, in the same way that Measures passed by the General Synod of the Church of England require such approval, following a recommendation as to expediency or otherwise by the Ecclesiastical Committee, before proceeding to Royal Assent.

Furthermore, the majority of those MPs voting in favour should have to include the majority of those sitting for Welsh seats. Along with the (often very Old Labour) Welsh Peers who could be relied upon to turn out in force on these occasions and to exercise that great sway which is the manner of the House of Lords when true experts speak; these could be identified by the fact that Peers are registered voters at local elections, for which people who genuinely live in two different places can be and are registered at both of their addresses. Thus would both English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Wales be spared many a monstrosity that would be imposed without such checks and balances.


  1. Distorted and selective arguments from you here.

    It removes arguably the most pointless and beauracratic piece of legislation in modern British politics.

    Wales needs to vote Yes, and will be better off if it does.

  2. Frankly, you don't sound as if you expect it to happen.