Since 18th September, 1997, I've accepted that the National Assembly for Wales is a permanent feature of the British Constitution. I've gone further than that. Since the referendum was lost (my perspective at the time), I've advocated that the toothless creature which began operations in May, 1999, should be granted law making powers in those subject areas devolved, without which it would not be worthwhile, or genuinely accountable. In May, 2006, the capacity for the Assembly to receive law making powers were granted by Act of Parliament, but by a complex system which I've consistently described as a "constitutional crisis waiting to happen" and as a "ticking time-bomb under the Union". Unsurprisingly, I've finished up taking 'stick' from both sides.
Yesterday, I shared two telephone conversations which caused me to revisit the main reason I was opposed to devolution in 1997. I reckoned Montgomeryshire would lose out more if 'Government' were to be based in Cardiff, than if it if it were to be based at Westminster. I reckoned that the M4 corridor would dominate in a devolved Wales. So lets look at what's happened. Not easy because the overall level of tax/spend has increased so much under Labour. Things like 'free provision for all' influences objective judgement. Its painful for me to acknowledge that in my opinion, the balance sheet of benefit to Montgomeryshire is in big deficit. That was just one sentence in a blog post, that 300 people at most will read, but I thought carefully and deliberately before writing it. It was born out of a sense of despair.
The economy seems to have gone backwards. Council services are going the same way, remote and centralised, outside the old county. Roads policy is a disaster. I have not the slightest doubt that the road improvement between Welshpool and the English border would have been finished by now if devolution had not taken place. I also sense, (but without the same degree of certainty), that a Newtown By-pass would be much further advanced. We just have empty promises. And then there's the health service.
The determination by the first Assembly Health Minister to 'do things differently in Wales' delivered shockingly long waiting times for elective treatment. We saw massive discrimination, compared with our neighbours over Offa's Dyke. Devolution has interfered with, and greatly damaged the traditional healthcare pathways that Montgomeryshire patients were used to. And confidence in the Cardiff based Assembly to deliver for our area has plummeted. There is just no delivery for us. We feel that we are off the Cardiff radar.
It wouldn't take that much. A new road improvement at Middletown or Newtown perhaps. Or the much promised satellite renal dialysis unit at Welshpool. The Assembly Government just doesn't get it. Doesn't realise how let down, and stranded we feel. It takes a fair bit to get me down, but that's how I feel about devolution tonight. But I do feel better for getting that off my chest.