Don´t suppose relaxing in the Elba Palace Golf Resort is the most appropriate location to reflect on the 10th birthday of the National Assembly for Wales. But on the other hand, distance provides perspective. So, against a background of chattering Canarian Sparrows (honestly), I turn to one of my favoured subjects, how my nation is governed. Can devolution reasonably be described as a success?
I begin by casting my mind back to 19th September, 1997. Around 04.00 hrs, we had learned that about 25% of the people of Wales had supported the devolutionary arrangements thought fit for them by the newly elected Labour Governemnt. Turned out that 25% was enough. You decide whether my response was unprincipled or pragmatic, but I changed my position from opposition to what was proposed, to total support for what the people had voted for. And my thought processes took me further. I believed that the only way that the ´dog´s breakfast´we had decided to establish could succeed (without being a threat to the British constitution) would require the devolution of full law making powers in all devolved policy areas. And when 60 spanking new Assembly Members arrived in Cardiff Bay in May 1999, I was one of them, believing that we could ´make a difference´- for the better. A summary of my refections, ten years on, is disappointment combined with an acceptance that I probably expected too much.
Lets look at the positives. Even though just 25% of the Welsh people voted ´yes´ in 1997, the National Assembly has become an established part of the constitutional furniature. In 2006 a new Act of Parliament was approved by the Queen, which created the right for the Assembly Members elected in 2007 to pass new laws for the first time. (I´ll ignore the bizarre way in which this actually happens in this post). The reality is that at some stage in the future, full law making power will be vested in the National Assembly in all devolved policy areas - whether it is transferred ´bit-by-bit´or ´all in one go´. I´m not even any longer certain that a referendum will be held before this happens.
Now to delivery, which is where the disappointment comes in. Now I accept that my perspective is that of a man from Montgomeryshire, living in a sparingly populated part of Wales which has traditionally looked to Shropshire for many of its services. Devolution has not delivered for Montgomeryshire. Successive Assembly Governments have let Mid Wales down. In particular, our healthcare services have been disrupted by ´devolution disputes´, and spending commitments in Montgomeryshire have been indescribably woeful. A glaring example is the failure to deliver cross border road schemes - as a direct result of devolution.
But on to the future. The National Assembly is not going away, so we had best make a success of it. Personally, I want to see full law making powers in devolved policy areas transferred to Cardiff Bay as soon as possible - so that we can move to a settled constitutional relationship between the Welsh and UK Governments. I hope that Montgomeryshire voters will decide to allow me to play a part in this. And I remain optimistic about the future. A decade hence, I see a Conservative-led Assembly Government, working smoothly with a third term Conservative Government at Westminster, and boasting what the second decade of devolution which has delivered for the people of Wales. And now I´m off to smash the championship course that surrounds this fabulous hotel. Ah, what joy we humans derive from unjustified optimism.
PS - for the offspring. I let rip with my new ´boomer´ on the 18th yesterday, and found the ´Tiger spot´, and then pitched my 2nd to within 10 feet of the flag. Missed the birdie by a centimetre. Managed three pars though, and Mrs D said I was insufferably full of myself all evening.