Our newspapers and TV were full of the news recently of the St David’s Day agreement, launched at the Millennium Stadium by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Of course, it was neither an agreement nor was it launched on St David’s Day. It was surrounded by hyperbole and peppered with words like “historic”, “ground-breaking” and “unique opportunity.”
Immediately the First Minister described it as “slow to start, ad-hoc and poorly prepared.” He went on to say that, “Wales was still not being treated with the same respect as that being afforded to Scotland.” Similarly, Plaid Cymru claimed that Wales was being handed a “third-rate devolution.”
Not the greatest of starts especially when one of its key planks was that the Welsh Assembly should be formally recognised as a permanent institution, enshrined in legislation and have the power to change its name if it wishes. Oh, how generous! You know what, David Cameron? We’ll call the Welsh Assembly whatever we feel is appropriate in the same way that we talk about the Poll Tax and the Bedroom Tax and not the ridiculous names the Tories gave those taxes.
Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Wales described the UK as the most successful political union the world has ever known in a speech launching the St David’s Day agreement. It can’t be that successful if both Wales and Scotland have nationalist parties seeking independence from the Union. I’ve always felt that a federal system like the ones in operation in Australia, Switzerland, Germany, India, USA, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Belgium, South Africa and Mexico is the way forward for the United Kingdom. However, the prerequisite is that we are all on an equal basis. Clearly there is huge inequality at the moment in terms of powers of the various constituent parts of the UK and don’t get me started on the Barnett formula which is totally unfit for purpose. It was only supposed to be a temporary measure and Barnett himself has called for it to stop being used.
I downloaded the full document, “Powers for a purpose: Towards a lasting devolution settlement for Wales” and quickly decided that it would be a particularly good cure for insomnia. The Government devoted quite a lot of the document to talking about the two models of “conferred powers” and “reserved powers.” Essentially, the government is seeking to move us from the place of conferring powers on Wales to devolving all powers to Cardiff except those things it keeps for itself. This sounds rather good but the list of powers which would be retained by Westminster covers two A4 pages of two columns, so the Government is certainly reserving its position. Some powers, such as defence, foreign affairs, our currency and national security are obviously candidates for central control but many of the others, such as policing, welfare and broadcasting should obviously be devolved to Wales.
Historically, the people of Wales have accepted whatever was handed down to them. That time has passed and the Government needs to accept that all parts the United Kingdom need to be treated fairly, with justice and people need to be put before politics.