Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Wales Bill: will Wales find its teeth?

It was refreshing to see Prof Richard Wyn Jones publish a direct, unequivocal and “excoriating” criticism of the Wales Bill in the Western Mail yesterday. To date, too many Welsh politicians, lawyers, academics, journalists, commentators and representatives of civil society have couched their criticism of the Bill in measured, polite and even deferential terms, not wanting, it seems, to fall out of favour with the all-powerful Brexit junta which now masquerades as a UK Government. It’s as if they have almost fallen over themselves to apologise for having the temerity to disagree with such a brazen attempt to steel Welsh democracy; fallen over themselves to apologise for the feelings of disgust and offence that they have experienced as a result the Government’s contemptuous insult of Welsh intelligence. And it’s as if they so desperately wanted to believe that Crabb, Cairns and Bebb had innocent, albeit utterly misguided, intentions, that they convinced themselves that all that was needed was a well-penned submission of politely delivered analysis, fact and reason, and all would be well in this harmonious Union of equals.

This blog called it as it saw it nearly 18 months ago. This was a pre-mediated, calculated and intentional attempt to roll-back Welsh devolution in the guise of constitutional re-framing. It had no democratic mandate or legitimacy whatsoever, and has been presented to the people of Wales in a cynical, deceitful and dishonourable way. It was rotten from the beginning and it is rotten now.

If Prof Jones’s article does nothing more than to encourage a few others in positions of authority or influence to find their voice (and their teeth) it will be no bad thing. If, on the other hand, those very same people stand aside and allow what Lord Elystan Morgan described as Whitehall’s “colonial” attitude to prevail, it certainly will be our fate “to be governed on the basis of this nonsense”, as Prof Jones fears, for many years to come; and so might we deserve it.


  1. It should perhaps be borne in mind that Richard Wyn Jones hasnt been elected by anyone - he's an academic and i'm not altogether sure what direct experience he has of practical everyday political matters and campaigning. And while he's perfectly entitled to his opinion and to put his views forward he's no more qualified to speak on this subject than people like me who pounded the streets and gave out thousands of leaflets in both the 1997 and 2011 devolution referendums.

    Course there's nothing wrong with criticising a piece of legislation and seeking to improve it, and i certainly hope the tory government will take on board the views of people like Elystan and others and amend this bill accordingly. But if it is rejected by the senedd - which is what you and professor Jones seem to want - what will it be replaced by? Probably nothing and probably for a long time!

    It's clear from what nick bourne is saying that if this bill isnt accepted the tories certainly wont be in a hurry to revisit the topic again. And even if jeremy corbyn can overcome terrible polling figures and win in 2020 for all jezza's qualities an interest in and commitment to furthering welsh devolution doesnt seem to be among them. So unless there's some sudden sea change in political consciousness among people in wales and plaid cymru starts enjoying SNP style levels of support we may not see the important powers that are on offer to wales in this bill presented to us again for a long time.

    As for all it's flaws the bill does establish the principal of 'reserved powers for the senedd, and it enshrines the existence of the senedd in law (significant when there are still those who'd like to abolish welsh devolution). And perhaps most importantly the bill gives wales powers over income tax for the first time in our history.

    And you never know maybe the tories will surprise us and make the positive changes to this bill suggested by the lords and others? Do they really want to keep losing in the supreme court? As i think they've lost every time they've challenged the welsh government there.

    I dont for one moment question your motives (like me you want the best for wales) but i would say to you and those who think like you that sometimes - and this is especially true of welsh devolution i think - we should accept what's on offer because it takes us a couple of steps nearer to where we want to be. So i would advise people on our side of the debate to think very very carefully before they call for this bill to be killed off.

  2. I'm sorry Leigh, I disagree. The Bill as it stands reduces the legislative competence of the National Assembly in very, very important ways. The 1 or 2 steps forward in policy areas that you mention are completely overshadowed by the 4 steps back in general legislative 'space'. And this is not an abstract, constitutional, impediment, it is a very real block on the Welsh Government being able to freely execute its intentions in domestic policy areas.

    If it is not amended by the UK Government before enactment, it should be rejected by the National Assembly out of hand. The current GOWA 2006 dispensation is far more preferable to the unamended Bill.

    The threats and grandstanding by Tories that this is a 'once in a parliament opportunity' are the kind of bully-boy tactics that the 'old Wales' used to roll over and accept (whilst asking Westminster to tickle its tummy as well). Do not underestimate how much Whitehall wants to change the GOWA 2006 dispensation. Presently, the constitutional door is wide open for the National Assembly to legislate on vast areas of policy that Whitehall sees as the sacred preserve of Westminster. Therefore, the status quo is not such a bad place for Wales to be in if it really wanted to put the cat amongst the pigeons. Whitehall knows that, and whilst they are acting very tough, they are actually the ones with most to lose if the Bill falls.

    Most of the new concessions in the Bill are small-fry compared to what is at risk. It's that important.

  3. Well said, that Richard Wyn Jones article has caused such a stir tells you all you need to know about the weakness of Welsh politicians and civic society.

    I agree it’s better to have no bill than one that treats Wales with utter contempt and total disrespect like the current Wales Bill and if the welsh nationalist movement was stronger more would see this as an opportunity to call the UK Tory Government’s bluff, show up the self-interest of the Labour government in Cardiff and get on the front foot fighting for Welsh interests, but I expect Labour and Plaid Cymru to roll over in the end and accept it.

    There is another less commented upon reason for all the Tory haste, Nick Bourne let the cat out of the bag when he said there would a General Election next year, a view shared by ITV’s Political Editor Robert Peston on his Facebook page this week, again if Plaid Cymru were brave enough to bring the Bill down and show its flaws it would give them a fighting chance of winning a few more seats.