More Devolution

There has been quite a bit of discussion about whether Labour—if they fail to get a majority, or at least a workable majority, in the Assembly election—should try to form a coalition government with either Plaid Cymru or the LibDems. Although I do think it's unlikely that Labour will get such a majority, I also think that these decisions can only be made after the results are known.

Much more important now is what the manifestos of the parties will contain, because an effective programme for government can only be based on specific policies rather than just wanting to be in power for the sake of it.

As always, the big question in an Assembly election will be the spending priorities of the parties. After all, the main job of the Welsh Government is to make decisions about how to spend the block grant it gets from the Treasury. For as much as Labour would like us believe that this election is about "fighting the cuts" imposed by the ConDem coalition in Westminster, we can do absolutely nothing about the level of the block grant ... and we need to be clear that if Labour were still in power at Westminster we would be facing almost identical cuts. The choice we face is to decide which of the parties can spend the reduced amount of money we will get from the Westminster most effectively, so as to minimize the harm the cuts will cause.


But the second question is to ask how we can better protect ourselves from decisions made in Westminster which we in Wales would not make for ourselves. The only answer to that question is for us to push forward with an agenda for devolving more areas of responsibility to Wales. At the top of that list, or at least close to the top, is the devolution of police and the justice system.

I've just taken another look at the manifestos for the last Assembly elections in 2007, so as to remind myself of what the parties wanted then and to be able to compare it with what the new manifestos will say when they come out in a few weeks' time. This stood out:

We will seek to devolve powers and funding on policing and prisons, with appropriate transfer of funds, to Wales. In line with our wish for a Welsh Parliament with comparable powers to the Scottish Parliament we would also like to see many more criminal justice issues devolved to Wales, so that we can develop a sentencing and justice system that is responsive to the Welsh context.

Support the development of community justice panels to give local people a say in the punishment offenders carry out in their community, putting right the harm caused to victims, property and community, as an alternative to jail for non-violent offenders like shoplifters or petty vandals. Where appropriate we will promote youth conference where families and victims are involved in deciding on what can be done as reparation in the community, alongside an apology and repayment to the victim.

We will assess the need to increase specific prison capacity in Wales, such as addressing the lack of a women’s unit and the possible need for a North Wales prison.

It might come as a surprise to some that these are not extracts from Plaid's manifesto, but from that of the LibDems, here. I don't know whether they will still be in the 2011 manifesto, but I'll be disappointed if they aren't.

So when it comes to forming a government in May, those in Labour who are against any further devolution should not assume they will be able to kick it into the long grass by forming a soft coalition with the LibDems, rather than the more demanding coalition they would have to make with Plaid.

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Anonymous said...

if, as seems likely, the AV referendum returns a NO, and Lansley continues to drive forward his NHS reforms in England, the London coalition will put under considerable strain, even to breaking point, so a coalition with the LibDems in Wales would definitely be a possibility. If it happens, I just hope they do a better job of it than the last time they had a go after '99!

Anonymous said...

If something like this is in the LibDem manifesto, and the London coalition continues, wouldn't there be more chance of the London government agreeing to the changes if requested by the LibDems in Wales than if they were demands made by a hostile Labour/Plaid coalition mark 2 (especially given that a lot in Labour would be against)? If so, should those of us who are aiming for an independent Wales put country before party and hope that Lab does form a coalition with the LibDems rather than Plaid (therefore at the same time freeing Plaid to play the role of radical opposition, shifting further the discourse further in our direction?) Only asking ;)

Jac o' the North, said...

What Lib Dems put in manifestos and what they support when they become junior coalition partners are two very different things.

Anonymous said...

There's no such thing as a LibDem party. There's a manifesto. There are people elected on a LibDem ticket (there's no necessary link between manifesto and party membership), there's what LibDems campaign for and what they actually vote for. And then there's the people who vote LibDems of which about 10% are LibDemmers. The other 90% are just pissed off with all the other parties.

Saying there's a LibDem vote and trying to bring some relationship between their voters and the aspiration of those voters is pointless. Most people who vote LibDem disagree with most LibDem manifesto policies. It's not a party it's a political mirage.

MH said...

That's a real posibility, Efrogwr. After the 2007 election, Plaid were in the position of being able to choose between being in government in two coalitions: either as leader of the Rainbow or as junior partner in One Wales. If Plaid had been primarily interested the status that comes with having a Plaid First Minister, we might well have opted for the former (although some AMs would have worked with the Tories through gritted teeth). In many ways, the All Wales Accord would have been a very good programme for government, and as a bonus would probably have given us a much stronger Welsh Language Measure than the one we now have.

But we needed a two thirds majority to get the referendum on primary lawmaking powers, and that required being sweet with Labour and holding their hand. In terms of delivery, we made the right choice. Our long term game is constitutional advancement and the devolution of more decision making powers to Wales. If coalition with the LibDems is at the price of LibDems in Westminster getting their new Tory chums to devolve police and the justice system to Wales, that is a win for Wales. The problem is, as Siônnyn says, that they will have to up their game considerably compared with their 1999-2003 performance.

And the Tories themselves might well be very sympathetic to devolving prisons and probation to Wales (David Jones and David Davies might object, but they're not exactly big beasts so far as the party in London is concerned). One of the Tory think tanks, the Centre for Social Justice, recommended in 2009 that NOMS be completely reformed, and said Wales should act as a pilot for this because:

the assembly government was "absolutely ready and capable" of running the services "much better"

I commented on it in the second half of this post. In short, we might well have got as much as Labour can give us right now, and the next stage might be to focus on what the Tories and LibDems in Westminster are prepared to give us.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the further development of the theme, MH. I suppose the some of the potential influence of a Lab/Lib Welsh govt on the London govt would also depend on the balance of seats -how well the Lib vote holds up but the dynamic within the Tories is also fascinating (and promising) at the moment.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to the Lib Dems it was their insistance on the Richard Commission as part of the coalition deal in '99 that eventually led to the fudged Wales(Hain) Act that thro' the One Wales agreement gave us the referendum on law making powers. so they do have some history of pushing a further devolution agenda.

as I've commented elsewhere I think the push for further devolution of powers is more likely to come from Westminster than Cardiff over the next 4-5 yrs (as part of an agenda to push "responsibility" with the sting in the tail that the cut in funding these services will aslo be "devolved") and having the Lib Dems in govt. in Cardiff may well facilitate this.


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