Government of Wales

For those interested in news of the Government of Wales Bill, I’m posting my column from The Big Issue last week.
The Bill, launched yesterday, proposes a system under which the Assembly would seek permission from Westminster every time it had a new legislative proposal.

Confused future for devolution won’t wash

Put those shopping bags down, take the weight off your feet and let me tell you about my washing machine.
A couple of weeks ago, the dial began clicking around endlessly and a red light flashed.
Either something was broken or it had joined with my other aging kitchen appliances in a conspiracy against me.
Now, as we know, information on everything can be found on the internet, especially conspiracies.
On a trouble-shooting website, I discovered the light was a manufacturer’s code. The number of times it flashed – and its speed – indicates the problem.
I rang the machine’s maker to ask them what was wrong. They said they couldn’t be sure on the phone, they’d have to send someone out. That would cost half the price of a new machine.
So I posted a question to this internet plumber – I was at a loose end that day – telling him I was seeing a flashing light.
The plumber replied: “Eleven flashes, are you sure? It’s the manufacturer’s code.”
“Yes,” I said. “But what does it mean?”
“I don’t know,” he responded. “If I knew that and you knew that we’d all be able to fix it.”
Life is often complicated, I concluded as a lesson for the day, because someone made it deliberately so.
Now, take devolution. As I write this Peter Hain is making sure the ink’s dry on his Government of Wales Bill.
I’m sure for a select few – Mr Hain, some letter writers to Western Mail and a selection of dogged political journos – the document will carry the same erotic charge as Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
But, I ask you, would you allow your wife or your servant to read this bill? I think not.
Neither would they wish too.
The Scottish knew exactly what they were getting with devolution and they are now tottering onwards into the future.
In Wales, devolution was mixed into a fudge, simmered as a stew and is set to become a lumpy dish of spaghetti. That’s no mean culinary feat.
Our diluted devolution was a compromise from the beginning: between pro- and anti-devolution Labour.
The White Paper on which Mr Hain’s new bill will be based was wrenched from the gut of another internal power struggle.
Perhaps our interest is being intentionally discouraged. (Just wait till you start hearing about the new bill’s ‘Orders in Council’.)
Even a constitutional expert like Lord Richard, the man whose commission recommended giving Wales the same law-making powers as Scotland, admits it’s all a bit confusing. “If you are going to have devolution in different parts of the UK then you should have the same type of devolution,” he said recently.
And, although the Welsh Assembly Government’s powers are limited, Downing Street still appears to want to put the boot in for the way it uses them.
When Chris Bryant criticised Rhodri Morgan’s “clear red water” policy, it seemed as if devolution might not have happened at all.
It is for us, the Welsh electorate, to decide whether or not we like the direction Rhodri Morgan is taking.
We do not need signals from Number 10, even if they come via the Rhondda.
It’s easy for Bryant to chip away from behind a 16,242 majority in a safe Labour seat.
However, who is to say that his pro-hospital privatisation, pro-student top-up fee, pro-Iraq invasion opinions resonate any better than Morgan’s with the people of Wales?
Many here still feel their hearts warmed a little by the “ideological glow” he seeks to belittle.
Many here might think some of Bryant’s ideas seem un-WAG Labour because they feel quite clearly Conservative.
And when one hears the line that there need not be Welsh solutions to Welsh problems, one is reminded of Tony Blair’s dismissal of the “f***ing Welsh” for daring to have minds of their own.
Rhodri once asked rhetorically if a one-legged duck swam in circles. Well, yes, it does, and so does one with a leg tied to its body.
Prepare for a confused debate about the Government of Wales Bill and ask yourself if this was the way to sell devolution.
I won’t hear you, mind. I’ll be in the launderette.

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