The drip-feed of more powers will continue

As always, we have to wait a few days before the full details of the BBC St David's Day poll are published on the ICM website; but they're now available here. This is the BBC's report from last week:


I thought it would be good to look at the broad trend on devolution arrangements over the past few years. Click the year for access to the relevant poll.

More Powers43%40%37%
Same Powers30%33%28%
Fewer powers3%4%3%
Abolish Assembly13%13%23%

The percentage wanting independence has stayed about the same, and I would only repeat the point that one reason why it is so low is because of the unnecessary addition of the word "separation" to the question. Wording does matter, as the next paragraph will show.

There has been a marked decrease in the percentage wanting to see the Assembly abolished. Whether this represents a change of sentiment is debatable. Up to and including 2014, the exact working of the option was: "Wales should remain part of the UK and the Assembly should be abolished", with this being the only option to include "remain part of the UK". Since 2015 the wording of the option has been: "The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster". The change of wording is probably responsible for most of the decrease in those choosing this option, though not all of it, for the percentage wanting the Assembly to have more powers has steadily risen by some 3% each year.

For me, it would have been good to ask a question about which additional powers people wanted the Assembly to have; but the only specific question was about income tax (54% wanted Cardiff to control some income tax, with 42% against). There was, however, one question asked which wasn't featured in the BBC reports. As well as asking people whether they thought the Welsh health service was run by Cardiff or Westminster, the poll asked the same question about the welfare and benefits system. 50% thought it was run by Cardiff, with 45% thinking it was run by Westminster.

I have commented before on the high, perhaps surprisingly high, percentage in Wales that want to see control of this devolved to Cardiff. One poll showed that 59% of people thought decisions about welfare and benefits should be devolved to the Assembly, with only 23% thinking these decisions should continue to be made at Westminster. This, combined with the fact that half the people in Wales think it is already devolved, means that the subject should be very much higher up the political agenda than it currently is. If the 50% which thought it was already devolved had been made aware that it wasn't, then it would surely have increased the percentage who think the Assembly should have more powers than it has at present.


In the recent discussions over the draft Wales Bill, one recurring theme voiced by both politicians and experts has been the desire for Wales to get a stable, long-lasting constitutional settlement ... particularly in view of the fact that none of the previous settlements has lasted for more than a few years. Frankly, I don't hold out any hope of this happening.

The only possible way of creating a stable settlement would be to devolve such a comprehensive package to Wales that only a small minority (say less than a quarter) would want more. It would put any talk of further devolution off the table for maybe the next twenty years. Stability would be bolstered if our devolution settlement were to be linked to that of Scotland and the Six Counties, because that would make devolution more monolithic across the UK and therefore harder to change.

But, bless 'em, the current crop of politicians in the governments of both Cardiff and London don't think in such terms. They are primarily concerned with what suits their immediate political agenda. In broad-brush terms, this is where each of the parties stands.

For the Tories, the only thing that they really want to see devolved is tax setting powers. They have always been a party of low taxes and low spending on public services. Therefore, so long as the Welsh Government is only able to make spending decisions rather than decide how much money to spend, the Tories will always be at an electoral disadvantage. The reason they now intend to give Wales tax setting powers without a referendum is because they realize that Labour in Wales wouldn't support a Yes vote in such a referendum any time soon ... and who can blame Labour for this? Why would they want to give away their main electoral advantage to the Tories?

For Labour, devolution of more powers to Wales is more nuanced. On the one hand, they want to be in charge of more areas so that they can pursue their policy agenda in those areas in an unbroken way. At present, they can't do that in non-devolved areas when the Tories are in power in Westminster. But, on the other hand, they need to have enough policy areas reserved to Westminster for them to be able to blame the Tories in London for what is wrong in Wales.

The LibDems are more principled about wanting equality of devolution, but have dropped to such a low level of support that it hardly matters.

Plaid Cymru will say that they want everything to be devolved, although it's hard to be sure if they mean it, particularly when it comes to how things will be paid for. It's easy, for example, to be in favour of new nuclear power stations if either tax- or bill-payers across the UK are the ones subsidizing or underwriting the investment. But if these things had to be paid for only by Welsh tax- and bill-payers, they would have no choice but to pursue a less expensive, more cost effective energy policy.

I pragmatic terms, what matters is what governments in Westminster choose to give Wales rather than what the people of Wales want ... which means either Labour or the Tories. As one example, as things stand at present, the Tories are unwilling to give Wales control over policing, but Labour want policing to be devolved. This simply means that if policing is not devolved in this Wales Bill, there will be a new Wales Bill devolving policing when Labour are next in power in Westminster. This pattern will continue, requiring a new Wales Bill at every change of government.

I would say that it has now become an ingrained into our way of thinking to expect this, and it will keep the constitutional question on the agenda despite Labour and the Tories saying they wish it would go away.

Update - 15:22, 7 March 2016

Right on cue, there has been a very significant development today. The Welsh Government has published its own version of a draft Wales Bill. It's clever, in that it introduces the concept of "deferred" areas of devolution – areas that will not be devolved to Wales immediately, but will be devolved by 2026. The best document to read is the Explanatory Summary. The full draft bill is here.

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DaiTwp said...

As always with devolution particularly in Wales it comes down to the lowest common denominator between the Westminster parties. As such the drip feed will continue as the lowest denominator inches along the devolution spectrum. The Tories (having been traditionally anti any further move along that spectrum) have proved that they are willing to concede power where there is a potential for political advantage as you point out with the devolution of income tax without even the proviso of a referendum - almost inconceivable 10 years ago.
I'm not sure it is Labour policy to devolve Policing? It certainly wasn't before the last General Election (although there was mention of devolving aspects of Policing, whatever that means?). Although it is the Party's wish in Cardiff certainly, I still don't think this is necessarily their "National" level policy, indeed the lack of agreement over the devolution of Policing between the First Minister and the then Shadow Welsh Secretary was highlighted as one of the reasons why it wasn't included in the St. Davids "Agreement".
Although as discussed if devolving Policing was decided to be advantageous to the Labour Party, I'm sure it would be adopted as party Policy in short shrift.
Regarding the St Davids Poll, I'd argue the question regarding Income Tax is coming to the end of its useful life (as with the law making powers before it) given the intention to devolve it without a referendum. Maybe next year it'll be replaced or another question regarding Powers of Policing and Justice and or a separate Legal jurisdiction will be added?
To be fair I think the pace of devolution in general has been dictated by the lowest common denominator in Scotland also. It's just that the lowest common denominator was much further along the spectrum to begin with and has carried it's trajectory along the spectrum towards independence at a much quicker velocity than in Wales.

DaiTwp said...

The latest announcement by the Labour government in the Assembly is very interesting. It certainly represents a leap forward from the Labour Party's official policy regarding Welsh devolution. It would be interesting to know who signed this off and the internal debates before it was approved.
The whole internal debate within the Labour party has proved a t be a sub text to Welsh devolution. With the pro devolution wing slowly gaining in power. Vaughan Roderick has mentioned this a fw times over the years. It is an interesting time in many ways as there is some what of a vacuum given the splits in Westminster and the majority of Labour MPs. I wonder if Carwyn Jones has used this to his advantage to push through his agenda. I can't imagine Owen Smith and his ilk are too happy with this latest announcement. I've not idea what the views of the present leadership are.

MH said...

I think you're right to highlight the potential differences between what Labour AMs want and what Labour MPs want over policing, Dai (both comments were by you, for the sake of others reading).

In the 2015 Westminster election manifesto, the compromise you mention was that Labour committed themselves to devolve powers "to shape priorities for policing" to Wales. Which was at least a halfway provision. Alan Michael had wanted policing and the bottom, but not the top, half of justice devolved too, here. And even one of the MPs most sceptical about it, David Hanson, said in 2013:

"... but there are some really complex issues around this in relation to serious organised crime, counter terrorism, the legal system, justice, probation, which need to be examined in very great detail before such a major step would even be considered to be taken. It isn't just a simple matter of devolving policing to Wales because counter terrorism, serious organised crime, cross-border issues, much of the crime in my part of Wales derives from people who live in England."

Mr Hanson stressed that he was not arguing against the idea: "I'm just saying there are many challenges to this."

One thing that has changed is that Owen Smith, one of the more-anti devolution MPs, is no longer the Shadow SoS. I don't know for sure, but I suspect Nia Griffith would be rather more open to the idea. She would if she had any sense. She was very bitter in her criticism of the Tories for wanting to cut 1,100 front line police jobs in Wales (an interpolation from an Englandandwales figure, I think) and the obvious way of protecting Wales from such cuts would be for policing to be devolved. I think that Jeremy Corbyn would probably be in favour of devolving policing too.

But yes, today's announcement is obviously a case of Carwyn Jones trying to push through his agenda, and that of his AMs. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have run it past the Welsh MPs as a group beforehand. But, clearly, this document has taken more than just a few days to put together, so he has probably run it past a few of them.

Anonymous said...

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said in the House of Commons today that devolving policing isn’t UK Labour policy, only Welsh party policy but that he‘d give is serious consideration

MH said...

Prompted by the argument of whether it is or isn't Labour policy to devolve policing to Wales, I've just written a new post about it, here, 22:10.

Andy Burnham is mistaken.

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