The Welsh dragon awakens on devolution

The Welsh first minister will today call for a new "Union mindset" that seeks to provide a greater voice and role for the devolved institutions in UK affairs.

The Welsh first minister will today call for a new “Union mindset” that seeks to provide a greater voice and role for the devolved institutions in UK affairs.

Delivering a keynote speech at the Institute for Government this afternoon, Carwyn Jones will argue that, whilst a “devolution mindset” begins with the assumption that the Westminster Parliament is sovereign under a “union mindset”, it is the devolved parliaments and assemblies that are recognised as embodying “popular sovereignty in each part of the country”.

Jones will explain to those assembled:

“A devolution mindset starts with the assumption that the Westminster parliament is sovereign and we are a fundamentally centralised state.

“That thinking has led to Whitehall making concessions to national feelings by way of specific limited delegations to the so-called devolved administrations.

“A new Union mindset on the other hand says that the UK is a state governed by four representative institutions.

“Those parliaments and assemblies embody popular sovereignty in each part of the country and will work with one another for our mutual benefit.”

His remarks come just a day after the four parties represented in the Welsh Assembly have agreed on the wording of a motion to be debated in the Senedd next Tuesday on future powers to be handed to the Welsh institutions.

The motion calls for:

  • “Bilateral talks” between the UK and Welsh governments “that are informed by the Holtham and Silk 1 Commissions’ findings, including an updated assessment of the current level and likely future direction of Welsh relative funding”.
  • Talks to be completed by January 2015 with a particular focus on funding reform, “with the goal of securing rapid implementation of a funding floor which both addresses underfunding in a way that is consistent with Welsh needs and halts future convergence”. According to the Holtham Commission, Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300 million a year under the current Barnett Formula.
  • The same powers over Corporation Tax to be given to Cardiff Bay if they are provided to both Stormont and Holyrood.
  • Devolution of Air-Passenger Duty for direct long-haul flights.
  • A review of the level of the borrowing powers afforded to Wales in the Wales Bill.
  • The UK Government to work with the Welsh government to enable it to issue its own bonds.
  • Confirmation that the Reserved Powers model will be instituted for Wales. This would mean following the Scottish model whereby the Welsh Assembly has responsibility for all policy areas unless stated otherwise in UK legislation.
  • Calls for Welsh Assembly to be given the power to determine its own electrical arrangements.
  • Calls for progress on the Silk 2 recommendations on further powers that should be devolved to Cardiff Bay.
  • Legislative proposals to be published before the current Westminster parliamentary session ends to incorporate all the measures called for in the motion.

Responding to the motion, Carwyn Jones has called for the UK government to take seriously the agreement reached between the parties. Describing the content of the motions as “an ambitious set of reforms to the devolution settlement in Wales that would, if implemented, have very wide public support”, he continued:

“I trust that the UK government will listen to this very clear statement from Wales and will respond accordingly, starting with talks on a fairer funding agreement for Wales. If we can secure a funding floor that addresses the well-known problems with our block grant, that would unlock the door to further and more ambitious financial reforms.”

Arguing that the proposals were about “improving lives” and not simply “the pipe dreams of politicians caught up in a Cardiff bubble”, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew R T Davies observed:

“There will always be differences between our parties – but on this issue – it is important we make progress, and this agreement reflects that.”

For Plaid Cymru, its leader Leanne Wood has dubbed the motion as a “significant step forward” which she and her party believe “must lead to Wales taking its place as an equal nation, with self-government that will allow its people to prosper and its communities to flourish”.

She continued by arguing the importance of ensuring that “as Scotland and England press forward with reform, Wales is not left behind and hindered with third-rate devolution”.

For the Lib Dems, its leader in Wales Kirsty Williams argued that it is “critical that we make sure Wales is not marginalised whilst the UK’s political structures evolve and change”.

“The UK government”, she said “must deliver for Wales and ensure these vital changes to our democracy are put in place without delay”.

Whether the UK government will be prepared to meet the deadlines called for by Cardiff remains to be seen, but post-the-Scottish referendum Wales has successfully achieved what so far eludes the parties in Scotland – namely cross-party consensus about the way forward. That has to count for something.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.