Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fueteventura - Day 4. Refections from Distance.

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.


Sad for Wales said...

10 years of WAG and Welsh prosperity has gone down, not up. So GVA has declined to 77% of the UK average and Wales sits at the bottom of just about every UK economic league table. Welsh graduates are leaving Wales, and Welsh R&D spend is pathetic, which is not surprising given the awful patent protection policy of WAG (essentially, WAG doesn’t have one).

… what will another 10 years of WAG accomplish in terms of economic prosperity and growth for Wales?

Will Wales see another 10 years of relative decline and former third world nations moving ahead of Wales?

I have drawn attention several times to the lack of emphasis on turning Wales’s greatest assets, its people, into economic dynamos for growth. Welsh universities are world-class, they produce some of the best research in the World. But most of it goes unprotected and as a result commercial development (the “D” in “R&D”) doesn’t happen in Wales.

Wales produces huge numbers of scientists and engineers and many opt (at least initially) to stay in Wales, but are forced to make excuses to themselves along the lines of, “Yeah, I didn’t set out to take a job pushing a pen working at a government job, but beggars can’t be choosers”. After finding that their science/engineering skills are getting stale some opt for doing a graduate degree to get back on track and then done with making personal excuses head out of Wales with cutting edge skills.

The reason this is happening is very clear: it’s a vicious circle – which can be, like a plasmid, snipped. WAG has the power to insert a gene into the plasmid coded to protect Welsh inventions and discoveries. Even though the guy with the brief for Science in Wales is also the First Minister, all we get are elitist words of how well Wales is doing in terms of scientific achievement but very few words about protecting that achievement for the Benefit of Wales (Welsh families, job growth, increase in average earning power, etc.)

Should we be surprised that Wales’s share of GVA per head has dropped from around 80% to 77% of the UK average over the lifetime of the Welsh Assembly Government?

I am amazed that the Welsh people put up with it, but put up with it they do.

Well, that’s not true, a lot of highly skilled Welsh people are not willing to put up with it and so vote not with their hands, but with their feet. Welsh families bear the cost of a poor Welsh economy, families get torn apart with family members obliged to live huge distances away to have a decent job that uses their skill set.

PS Valleys Mam has an excellent review post on this (see VM’s post of 5/5/09 at 11:57 AM local time).

Jeff Jones said...

Counterfactual history which basically asks 'What if?' should be used to look at the last 10 years. What if devolution had been defeated in 1997 and Wales was still run by the Welsh Office would anything have been different? Perhaps we should start at the three achievements mentioned by AMS to the Western Mail. The first was free bus passes. This was a Labour manifesto pledge before the Assembly was set up and would probably have been introduced by a Sec of State. The second was the Children's Commissioner. This again would probably have been introduced since it was a recommendation from the Waterhouse Report. The third was a more confident Wales. I've always found this argument difficult to understand because I'm never seen or even read a measurement for national confidence. Another argument is that the Assembly has allowed Wales to act swiftly both in the presetn economic downturn and dealing with foot and mouth. As for foot and mouth I can't see how a Sec of State together with a junior minister would have acted any differently. In terms of the present situation it is obviously far too early to assess the effectiveness or otherwise of ProAct and other measures. the education reforms such as the Foundation phase might bring about change but we wouldn't know about that for at least another 20years. What would have been interesting is to have seen how a fairly radical Sec of State such as Peter Hain would have used the huge increase in money from the UK government in the last 10 years.Possibly a radical Welsh Office might, for example, have made better use of the millions of regeneration money that has been wasted in the past 10 years.It might alos have found easier as the Irish did to develop a strategy to use objective one money to transform the Welsh economy. Who knows. Chou En Lai once argued that it was early to assess the impact of the French Revolution. Using that arguement a tenth anniversary might provide a story for journalisst but it is probaly not the time to assess the success or otherwise of devolution. The true test of the Assembly and the Welsh political elite will come when they have to handle a very different financial climate in the next 10 years.

Glyn Davies said...

SfW - No doubt in my mind that education and enterprise are the foundation on which national wealth is based. This is probably the ssembly Government´s greatest failure.

Jeff - Cannot disagree with what you write (again). Chou reckoned that after 200 years it was too early to make a judgement! It will be interesting to see how The National Assembly and local government copes with the famine that will now follow the years of plenty.

penlan said...

Oddly,I suspect that the fact that few would now seek to abolish it is both its great strength and a measure of its apparent innocuousness to many people.

I would leave the question of its success open until we have experienced a First Minister of genuine stature,charisma and ability.At the moment it seems we may be waiting for some considerable time further.

Mad about Wales said...

A further aside, but what a wonderful lady and role model is Joanna Lumley. Her loyalty and determination are sights to behold. Who or what am I to say this, but imho Joanna Lumley is a blessing on the nation.

Anonymous said...

its not as if cross border roads were a priority pre wag though glyn at least now the issue is on the table, and i understand wag are ready to fund but england won't play ball.

Lembit me with that said...

Lembit-a-minute, the OP (opening post) is the lead letter in today's Western Mail. Wales's national newspaper.