On a lazy Sunday lunchtime, I was rather taken by something that Lee Waters wrote on his Amanwy blog today:
I'm bored of the economic debate in Wales. All the business organisations, the CBI and IoD, can come up with is the idea of spending £1 Billion on a new stretch of M4 around Newport, which would gobble up all the available money for the whole of Wales and only success in moving the traffic jams a few miles down the road.
His view on the proposed new M4 motorway should hardly come as a surprise, after all he was director of Systrans Cymru. But the first thought that came to my mind was that the new M4 is not just all that business organizations can come up with ... it is equally true that it is all that the Labour government in Wales can come up with (or the Tories, for that matter). Yet he is standing as the Labour candidate for Llanelli in the Senedd elections in May.
Which got me thinking ...
First, it reminded me that there are distinct divides in the Labour Party in Wales. A point I have often made is that Welsh Labour contains people who tend to see things from the perspective of the Welsh national interest as well as those who primarily see what is in the British national interest. Next, I remembered an article by Gerald Holtham in 2014 in which he suggested the best way of rekindling excitement in Welsh politics, especially one in which Labour always leads the government, is that Welsh Labour should supply its own opposition.
As I re-read that article, I smiled at how much things had changed in relation to the fortunes of our national football team, and smiled even more about what he said on adopting STV for elections:
A possible stimulus could come from multi-member constituencies. Suppose we reduced the number of Assembly constituencies and elected three members for each. Each Party would have to put up three candidates per constituency and the public would express their preference by voting 1, 2, 3 … Different views within the same Party could be judged and endorsed by the public, reflected in the order in which it voted for a Party’s candidates.
If people in Pontsticill are determined to vote Labour, they can at least ask "which Labour". Yes, that would result in a degree of intra-Party competition, traditionally anathema to UK politicians, but it would give the public more influence and the public would like it. For proof, look to the Republic of Ireland where such a voting system has long been in place. From time to time politicians have urged changing it and set up referenda to do so. Every time the public has refused and clung to the system. Admittedly a degree of selflessness is required of our politicians to move to such a system. What an opportunity to demonstrate that they are not "just in it for themselves", as cynics claim.
As it so happens, the Irish held elections for the Dáil on Friday, and I'm one of those people who are keeping half an eye on how the counts there are unfolding. It is a truly wonderful system, especially because it gives people the chance to throw out one candidate from a particular political party in favour of someone else from the same party who they consider to be better.
Turning now to more practical and immediate matters, we all know that Labour are going to form the next Welsh Government after the May elections, despite the long-standing traditional pantomine performance from most party representives that they are going to win. Labour will get 25-27 seats, the Tories 13-16, Plaid 9-10, UKIP 6-9, LibDems 1-3, Greens 0-2. They'll probably be able to govern as a minority government because the opposition on any issue would be so divided. Labour won't want to give any other party the credibility of a share of government if they can help it, and will look to play one small party against the others to get their budgets through.
So yes, in one sense it will be more of the same. Our government will be a Labour government. The question is, What sort of Labour? If the majority of Labour AMs are the sort that will put the Welsh national interest first, it will inevitably take us further towards independence. As I've said before, Labour boast that they were the party that delivered devolution for Wales, even though they were hardly very keen on it before they did; and we might well find that Labour are the party that will deliver independence for Wales, even though they are hardly very keen on it now.