True Devolution

This is a short interview with Katie-Jo Luxton of Cymru Yfory and Rachel Banner of True Wales on the Politics Show on Sunday.

     

Rachel Banner started as she always does, reminding me of an annoyingly cute doll which instead of saying "let's go out to play" when you pull the cord at the back of her head, invariably says a Yes vote will be "the slippery slope to independence."

Nothing new there, then. But what interested me was the idea that True Wales now wanted what she called "True Devolution". What she seemed to mean was that True Wales do want devolution, but for it not to be "heirarchical" like Westminster ... that local people should make decisions for Wales instead.

Who should these people be? She gives a list of possibilities: teachers, nurses, construction workers and factory workers. That sounds nice.

And who get to decide who would be chosen? Watch again. These people would be "brought in". And what would they be brought in to do? As she says, "into making decisions on politics".

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Now that raises a fairly obvious question. Who is going to do the choosing? There are only two alternatives: either we vote for them, or some other body or group decides who they will be. No prizes for guessing which body that will be - it can only be the government of the day at Westminster.

So let's get this straight. If you are against devolution on principle, the only option is for Wales (let's leave aside Scotland and NI for the moment) to be treated just like any region of England. If that is the case, then MPs at Westminster should be the ones directly responsible for making the decisions that affect Wales. They do not need to choose another group of people to "make decisions on politics" in Wales.

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It's very easy to think that True Wales are making this up as they go along. They probably want to give the impression that if they can come up with some so-called new idea, but are fuzzy on the details, some people will say, "that sounds good, let's have that instead."

But True Wales are not as naïve as they like to make out. Their intention is quite deliberate: to try and turn the clock back to a time before devolution. Their idea of an appointed council (whatever they chose to call it) is not so very different from the Council for Wales set up in 1949. From a historical point of view, it's possible to think of that as one of the first steps towards devolution, because it treated Wales as a distinct country for the first time in centuries.

But it was a short lived compromise, and was eventually replaced by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office in 1964.

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And as for this new idea of "true devolution"? Again, it's just another instance of trying to turn the clock back. This time to the Consevative Conference in 1994, where someone said:

Conservatives were not against true devolution 'because we practise it, removing tiers of administration and giving individuals choice over their own lives ... The other parties believed in an entirely different form of devolution to institutions acquiring power for themselves. 'We don't need an assembly, an ersatz parliament in Wales, to maintain our nationhood.'

Independent, 15 October 1994

And "true devolution" cropped up again just a few months later:

Being just one day after St David's Day, the Commons yesterday debated Welsh affairs. An English Tory minister lectured Welsh MPs, almost all of a different political hue, on what was good for the Principality and they, in turn, heaped him with opprobrium. This has been the pattern of the annual Welsh affairs debate since 1978 when the dearth of Conservatives with seats in Wales forced Baroness Thatcher to appoint an English MP as Secretary of State ...

Opening the debate, Mr Redwood said he believed in true devolution, in a Wales where free institutions - the family, churches and companies - should also be sources of strength and moral consideration.

Independent, 3 March 1995

Well, the people of Wales didn't agree, but True Wales haven't quite given up on the idea of taking us back to those halcyon days, when there just weren't enough Tories in the Commons for them to have a Secretary of State for Wales that was voted into Westminster by anyone living in Wales.

Plus ça change. They still don't have enough. Cheryl Gillan, their current Shadow Secretary of State, represents Chesham and Amersham; and the third Tory seat on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee is taken by Mark Pritchard - who is the MP for the Wrekin.

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True Wales aren't nearly as muddle-headed as they want us to think. They know exactly what they want to take us back to. But in contrast to their idea of "true devolution" a rather more obvious way of achieving it is for us to carry on electing people to "make decisions on politics" in Wales ...

... and for us to ensure that they get the right to legislate on those subjects that are already devolved to the National Assembly. For, despite all True Wales' smokescreening, this is what the referendum will actually be about.

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