Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Welsh Devolution

It all seems so simple: Wales (similarly to what Scotland has) will get primary law making powers if the country votes yes in a referendum to be held sometime in the future.

Betsan's Blog on the BBC website contains daily udates on the Welsh political scene and of course much discussion on devolution.

While there's is much debate from the usual suspects (generally from people who are rabidly against devolution but have no idea why) about the Welsh Assembly and whether Wales should take responsibility for its own affairs instead of it being dictated by someone in Westminster (what was it, over 1000 quangos under previous administrations and none of them accountable to the Welsh electorate?), there is absolutely no discussion about why Westminster put all these restrictions on Welsh self-determination.

For example, the current discussion about what would happen after a referendum and in what areas Wales would take full responsibility reveals that the piecemeal approach by Westminster shows a bizarre degree of arrogance to Wales - but not Scotland nor Northern Ireland? Ironically it is England that actually suffers from a lack of transparency and democracy in this case.

So some questions:

  • Why didn't Wales get primary law and tax varying powers?
  • Why can't Wales get primary law and tax varying powers?

One answer is "history" and that the current system is "working" . Let's tackle the latter point first in terms of "working" ... should we go back to the situation where the decisions directly affecting the Welsh electorate are not made in Wales but by a group of politicians sitting in London, the vast majority of which do not have any interest in Wales at all?  This is effectively the West Lothian Question by applied to Wales. Secondly where in history do you wish to base your defintion of the "correct" time ... pre 1066?, 1535-1542? 1979? 1997? Why not use the Laws of of Hywel Dda?

But also as answers to the two above questions, the amount of tax payers money (in the UK as a whole) now being spent on managing a bizzarely, complicated LCO process for allowing Wales to even manage things such as the Welsh language is obscene (a link to this particular LCO is here). This of course produces another question as to why Wales didn't get responsibility for the laws relating to a language spoken inside her borders in the first place?  Why the utter arbitaryness of the whole process in the first place?

To answer the question of whether Wales needs these powers is quite simple, the smaller and more focussed government is the more relevant it is for the people. If Wales shouldn't have more devolution then why should Scotland or Northern Ireland, or even England? But this brings up another bogey term - federalism - which is banded around the UK press and uttered with the same contempt as the EU - but seems to work in Germany, Spain, Switzerland etc...not too dissimilar countries from the UK?

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