is a political author and the Chief Reporter for Media Wales. This guest post is taken from his preface to the series of essays included in the publication.
There are those who would
have us believe that the discussion of constitutional questions represents
little more than a diversion for those who shy away from confronting the real
concerns of ordinary people. Politicians in that camp will tell you that when
they canvass voters, hardly anyone mentions the constitution. Instead, they
want to talk about ‘bread and butter’ issues like jobs, the cost of living, the
health service and their children's education – as well as more parochial
concerns like parking and street-cleaning.
To a degree this is correct,
of course. It's natural for people to be preoccupied by fundamental issues like
having enough money for a decent life, and the expectation that public services
will be of a certain standard. Yet it's disingenuous to suggest that ordinary
people are neither affected by nor interested in constitutional issues. Last
year a higher proportion of voters participated in the UK's EU referendum than
in any General Election since 1992. What question could be more
constitutionally focussed than whether the UK should be in or out of the
Throughout British history,
constitutional questions have been closely linked to putting right material
injustices. The Chartists, for example, had no doubt that improving the lot of
ordinary people could not be split off from constitutional aims like extending
the ballot. ‘Sovereignty’ may not in itself put food on the table, but the
referendum Leave campaign was able to garner support by making the concept
resonate with many who wouldn't, if asked, define it as a constitutional
It was a sense of injustice
that drove people to campaign for devolution in Scotland and Wales. And now,
concerns over the EU (Withdrawal) Bill focus on what would be another
injustice: a power-grab by the UK Government at the point of Brexit. Despite
the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, there is a
sense felt by many that the UK is not functioning well. Current arrangements
are showing the strain, and the voices for change are getting louder.
Action to deliver reform
will not take place automatically, however. The propensity for inertia must not
be underestimated. We like to think of ourselves as living in a well-developed
democracy, yet one of the UK Parliament's two Houses remains wholly unelected
by the people and is composed entirely of individuals who are the beneficiaries
of past or present patronage. This is hardly a good advertisement for British
democracy, yet attempts to get rid of such a constitutional travesty have been
a complete failure.
We can either bury our heads
in the sand and pretend that things can carry on as they are – the approach
largely adopted by the current UK Government. Or we can listen to those who put
forward reasoned proposals for change. The suggestions to be found in this
series of essays by a new, self-styled ‘Gang of Four’ are motivated by the
desire to see greater fairness in the way we are governed. In this respect,
they form part of a long and honourable tradition, and deserve to be taken
While the present UK
Government will be reluctant to take any of the proposals forward, there are
indications that a future Labour-led government would be open to examining the
case for constitutional change.
In order to preserve the unity of the United
Kingdom (UK), the reality of devolution and the harmony between the various
constituent nations of the UK, respect should be shown by the mother parliament
in Westminster to the parliaments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Indeed, those are key political and social considerations.
The matter that I wish to discuss is in no
way contrary to that, but runs parallel. It is a marvellously simple
constitutional point, and I think I can deal with it in very short compass. It
concerns the reserved powers constitution that Wales achieved under the recent
Wales Act 2017, which became law earlier this year. The purpose of that Act was
to change the whole pattern of devolution for Wales from a conferred model—a
confetti type of approach in place from 1964 onwards, when Wales achieved its
Secretary of State—to a reserved powers constitution.
However, it is axiomatic as far as a reserved
powers constitution is concerned that two matters should be dominant in its
establishment. The essence of a reserved powers constitution, as we appreciate,
is that there is a transfer in the first instance of the totality of power from
the mother parliament to the subsidiary parliament, but that at the same time
there should be a reservation of a strict number of exceptions and
reservations. It is axiomatic, therefore, that two conditions must prevail.
First, the mother parliament must be seized of all the legislative power and
authority that is relevant to the situation. That is obvious. Secondly, the
mother parliament must be cognisant of the powers that it has, and must be in a
position to know exactly where to draw the line between that which is
transferred and that which is reserved. Neither of those conditions exists in
Why is that so? I remember a piece of dog
Latin that I learned many years ago when I was a law student in relation to the
sale of goods: ‘nemo dat quod non habet’—no man can give that which he does not
have. Or …nobody can transfer that which they do not hold! When it came to the
question of deciding what powers Wales should have in the initial devolution
settlement, the mother parliament did not have a mass of those powers relevant
to the situation. There is a huge body of authority that is missing.
Proportionally, it may be 25%; it may be 30% or 40%. Nevertheless, it is
massive in relation to the totality of legal responsibility. That authority was
missing from 1st January 1973, ever since the European Communities
Act 1972 came into force which ruled with regard to a very considerable swathe
of competences in the UK.
Many powers were never with the mother
parliament in Westminster to dispose of. It could not possibly give them to Wales
or to Scotland for that matter—in Northern Ireland, the situation was entirely
different, because its constitution goes back to 1922. The central concept of a
reserved constitution is the idea that the mother parliament has ‘on the table,’
as it were, the totality of powers that are available and relevant in the
situation, and that the mother parliament looks upon those powers and says, ‘This
is all that we have. This is where we draw the dividing line between the
totality that is transferred and that small remnant that is retained and
current Brexit negotiations will impact greatly on the Wales Act 2017. Since a
good proportion of powers have historically resided in Brussels there is a real
risk that these will be repatriated, of course, neither to Wales nor to
Scotland but indeed, to Westminster. We must ensure a settlement that is fair,
just and lasting.
What is to be done? The following matters
have some relevance, broadly. Of course, there is the question of the Sewel
convention, which has been written into both the Scotland Act and Wales Act.
That will have its effect gradually over the years. There is also the question
of the joint ministerial committee, which meets in confidence and is able to
discuss, in a situation of total secrecy, matters that are of the utmost
importance to the mother parliament and the devolved parliaments. There is also
the question of protocols, which were greatly promised in the late-1990s when
legislation relating to Scottish and Welsh devolution went through, but have
since been as ‘dead as the dodo,’ I am afraid, and must be revived.
That is why I have proposed that the Prime
Minister and the First Minister for Wales should be responsible for forming a
body that will look carefully at the situation to determine:
ofirstly, what is the scope of legislative authority that is missing
osecondly, what is the nature of that authority?
othirdly, what entrenched rights—what established rights—have come into
being in relation to that since January 1973?
olastly, what situations exist where there has been legislation under the
1972 Act which has been deemed to be incompatible with the European
Many people will say that all this is not
necessary and that Wales, from Cardiff, and the Westminster Parliament can
negotiate at arm’s length. I do not believe for a moment that that is feasible.
We have seen exactly, over the past year, when dealing with the Wales Bill how
almost impossible it was to persuade the Westminster parliament that much of
what had been reserved was utterly trivial and an insult to the Welsh nation.
Things such as sharp knives, axes, dogs, licensing, prostitution, hovercraft – all those matters
which scream for domestic consideration – have now been
So, putting Brexit aside, how did we get to
this rather awkward point?
In July 2014 the Supreme Court, presided over
by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, was required to decide upon
the crucial issue of exactly where the boundary lay between Westminster and
Cardiff in relation to devolution. The matter before the court was the desire
of the Welsh Assembly to pass its own legislation relating to the wages of
agricultural workers in Wales. The case for the Westminster government,
presented by the then Attorney General, was essentially that a decision as to
wages belonged classically to the field of employment. The Supreme Court found
differently and said that whenever there was in any one of the twenty fields of
devolved authority an intention to transfer substantial powers to Wales, then
unless there was a specific exemption to that effect, all other powers belonged
to the Welsh Assembly. This is what the Supreme Court called the ‘silent
transfer’. The consequence of the ruling was particularly mindboggling in that:
oIt was clear that huge areas (hitherto ‘silent’) had in fact been
unwittingly transferred to the Welsh Assembly
oIn many other areas there could have been no certainty that
matters had not in fact been transferred.
Much of the controversy surrounding the Wales
Act emanates directly from that uncertainty described. The Act is deeply flawed
and is a blue print for failure and disaster, particularly because of the fact
that there are about 200 reservations—the very nature of which makes the matter
a nonsense. When you deal with a long period of transferring small powers, day
in day out, coming from hundreds of different sources, you create a situation
that almost guarantees some constitutional neurosis on the part of many
generations of Welsh lawyers. Avoiding that would be utterly worthwhile. There
has to be some mutual trust and a sense of balance. If the Westminster
parliament refuses to accept that, then the whole moral geometry of the
situation is affected.
One could suggest that there has been a
permafrost of attitude towards Welsh devolution from the beginning. I believe
that it has a lot to do with the fact that Wales was England’s first colony.
When thinking of many of those reservations in the Wales Act, can you imagine
the Colonial Office of the UK some 70 years ago, particularly when Jim
Griffiths was head of that department, approaching a British Caribbean or
African colony and stating: ‘These are
the trivial reservations I demand of you?’
Dominion status is not about a rigid pattern
of government. The principle is enunciated in the Statute of Westminster 1931
and has developed politically over 85 years thereafter. Obviously one is not
speaking of a replica of the constitutional situation of New Zealand or
Australia, but specifically of Dominion status in the context of Wales and
these isles. It is an open secret that about 10 years ago the governments of
the UK and that of Spain almost came to an understanding – this is hardly
believable – about the future of Gibraltar, with a plan for some form of
Dominion status as a solution. In other words the concept is so flexible, so
malleable and so adaptable that it was possible for those ancient conflicts
surrounding that important rock, which guards access to the Mediterranean Sea,
to come very near to a friendly settlement. There are endless possibilities
that can be considered.
At this pointI am tempted to
mischievously highlight that for many centuries Wales was indeed a Dominion of
the UK in law. The actual wording of the Act of Union 1536 refers to the:
‘Dominion, principality and country of
So, as I proposed when the then Wales Bill
undertook its passage through the House of Lords, the Secretary of State for
Wales should be responsible for establishing a working party to report to
Parliament as to the operation of the reserved powers retained by Westminster,
particularly those matters which can properly be regarded as belonging to the
province of the devolved parliaments. The function of the working party would
be to winnow out the dozens of trivial matters whose inclusion in the reserved
powers list is an affront to Welsh nationhood, which are the cobwebs of
colonialism and would never have been considered in the 1950s in the context of
a British colony in the Caribbean or Africa. I venture to think that this is of
the most crucial importance to the Welsh devolution settlement in that it seeks
to correct a fatal flaw in the heart and cornel of that settlement.
The concept of devolution which inevitably
espouses principles of domestic rule and subsidiarity inevitably rests
fundamentally upon the acceptance of what I would call the watershed of justice
and reason. This is no more and no less than an acceptance that while certain
matters belong inevitably to the mother Parliament (Westminster), such as
succession to the Crown, Defence and Foreign Policy, the vast bulk of the
remainder are matters which palpably belong to the jurisdiction of the devolved
parliament (the Welsh Assembly). A denial of this watershed is both an affront
to common sense but a betrayal and devaluation of devolution. This is exactly
what the Wales Act creates in Wales when functions such as liquor licensing
(devolved to Wales in 1881) and the organisation of charitable collections are
set amongst the now reserved powers.
I would expect the proposed working party to
report to represent the broadest interests in Wales, both politically and
socially. If the Secretary of State wishes to have a working party ‘off the
shelf,’ as it were, he could do no better than invite the Silk Committee to sit
again, remembering that this distinguished body which represented all political
opinions has reported twice, unanimously and constructively, upon Welsh
concurrently, a study should be advanced on the future possibilities for Wales
as a land and nation, and of constitutional advancement within the terms of and
consistent with the principles of the Statute of Westminster 1931, and
developments thereafter. Despite the
devolution of the last two decades, the UK today remains one of the most
concentrated systems of parliamentary government in the democratic world. There
is a desperate need for a UK -wide Constitutional Convention, with the
involvement of all political parties and elements of British society, to
discuss the future of the Union, particularly in the context of Brexit.
For well over a century the debate as to whether a federal, or similar,
structure should be created has ebbed and flowed. All creative efforts, however,
have floundered on the grim rock of fundamental disproportion. The fact that
England has the vastly dominant share of the kingdom’s wealth and 82% of its
population creates an imbalance which makes any federal structure a daunting
task. But whilst this is true in relation to the composition of the House of
Commons, why should we not consider whether a restructured, elected House of
Lords could form part of the solution?
The House of Lords owes its origins to a dominant caste of nobles and
aristocracy. In Saxon times they sent their representatives to the Witenagemot
– the Council of Wise Men to advise their King. From that there developed the
concept of government as ‘the shining ladder’.
At its top was the monarch answerable only to Almighty God. Immediately
below was the House of Lords. Many centuries later, and then countless degrees
lower, came the early House of Commons. When the will of the elected House of
Commons encountered a brutal and existential clash with the unelected Lords in 1911,
thanks to Lloyd George, the Parliament of that year guaranteed that the Commons
would have its way – but subject to a delaying process.
This historic legislation, however great its impact at the time, was
seen by many as a constitutional stop gap. The preamble to the 1911 Act of
Parliament speaks of a more representative form of government. Many interpreted
this back then as referring to an elected Second Chamber. Yet over a century
later, despite the culling of hereditary peers to a low level of 92 members,
the second chamber remains unelected by the public at large. Although the 1958
Life Peerage Act has provided for a wider representation of members in social
and gender terms. Could not an elected House of Lords (suitably renamed the
Senate) be such a federal body?
I believe the clue lies across the Atlantic. In the USA the lower house
of Congress (the House of Representatives) has its members elected in
proportion to population, but in the second chamber (the Senate) a different
system is resorted to. Each state irrespective of its economic strength or its
population has two senators. Thus the tiny population of Rhode Island has the
same number of senators as California and Texas. It is a model of the
enlightened and chivalrous majority towards the minority.
So a second chamber (the Senate) can carry a federal structure amongst
units of disparate strengths and size given certain imaginative checks and
balances. I would personally advocate a Senate of some 70 members each for the
four nations of the UK. Their numbers could be topped up by 10 elected members
from each of the devolved bodies and 10 representatives from the House of
Commons. This federal elected Senate would have all the powers of scrutiny and
examination enjoyed as present, but with broader powers to delay legislation
(including regulations), albeit for a period of months rather than a year.
Surely such a plan points the way forward to a more progressive Parliamentary
future as a starting point?
I appreciate that this does not deal with the bountiful problems of
regional devolution in England. But the background created could not be
anything other than beneficial for such a principle. I will not touch upon the
slogan EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) because I believe its whole campaign
is ill founded. If one deducts from the 650 members of the House of Commons
those Members of Parliament (MPs) that are not from England, then one is still
left with a huge majority of English members. They have never been defeated on
the floor of the Commons by the Celtic fringes nor, as far as I know, in any
Bill Committee during modern times. Therefore England has nothing to fear.
However, I would like to touch again on the matter of Dominion status
which was conferred on Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Although there was no formal definition of
it, the Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the Dominions
as ‘autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no
way subordinate to one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external
affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely
associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.’ So the Statute
of Westminster 1931 did not create a rigid model of Dominion status but rather
enunciated a principle of immense flexibility and subtleness. The present
situation in the UK is of total flux and it is therefore incumbent upon us all
to consider the many possibilities existing, as who knows what the
circumstances will be in five to ten years’ time from now?
I conceive of nationalism
in the context of Wales as being a patriotism that knows no hatred of any other
nation. That is what Welsh nationhood and Welsh nationalism at their very best
should be and are. My appeal is when we are thinking of the future of Wales is
to think big. If you think big, you will achieve something worthwhile; if you
think small, what you will achieve will be insubstantial and inevitably lesser
than what you set out to accomplish. For far too long
we have begged for the crumbs of devolution, and it is now highly necessary
that we should raise our expectations to be worthy of our position as a mature
national entity, whether it be embarking on a journey through models of
federalism, confederalism or Dominion status. That is the situation confronting
us in 2017.
After being involved with the devolution issue over many decades, I am
rapidly coming to the conclusion that Wales is being mercilessly short changed
over devolution. This assertion rests upon two incontrovertible pieces of
evidence. The first was the willingness on the part of Her Majesty’s Government
to contemplate nearly 200 reservations, most which were so childish and trivial
as to give the lie to any sincerity concerning a reserved constitution. The
second was the willingness to pretend that a lasting and long-term settlement
of the division of authority between Westminster and Cardiff could even be
contemplated, whilst the very substantial proportion of that authority was not
in the gift of the Government, but was ensconced in Brussels.
There is therefore a ringing challenge to Welsh political
representatives, both in Westminster and Cardiff, to demand a more equitable
approach on the part of the Government to the fundamental rights of Wales as a
land and nation. Failure to act in this way would be a signal of disloyalty to
the people of Wales.
The questions on
the future of the UK Union have been gathering a strong head of steam over the
last three years. Discussions had particularly ‘kicked-off’ following the
outcome of the Scottish Referendum in September 2014, and the promises made by
the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, as well as leaders of the Labour and
Liberal Democrat parties to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament
in Holyrood. These, more or less, have been now enacted. Then there was the
Wales Act 2017 which caused a significant amount of controversy, particularly
in relation to the reserved powers aspect and defeats in the House of Lords
over amendments that would have transferred responsibilities concerning
transport, policing, broadcasting and water to the Senedd.
Intermixed with these issues have been the
2015 General Election and the EU Referendum of 2016. Both of which, for
differing reasons, provided unexpected results, with the latter leading to the
resignation of David Cameron and the emergence of Theresa May as Prime Minister. The outcome of the EU Referendum particularly
focussed the minds of devolutionists, federalists, and many in favour of
independence alike, on potential future governance models for the UK Union, or
even its prospects for survival, with several significantly thorny Brexit
issues appearing centre stage. These included the High/Supreme Court hearings
and the enactment of Article 50.
Many powerful voices joined the constitutional
debate at this time, most notably the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones,
the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown,
the much experienced Lord David Owen and, a long time supporter of a powerful
Welsh Parliament, Lord Elystan Morgan. The momentum was such that the Labour Party came
out strongly in favour of a Constitutional Convention, as witnessed by an event
held at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff in late-March 2017. Additionally,
Jeremy Corbyn spoke in support of a Convention at the Scottish Labour Party
Conference in February 2017 and has reaffirmed his stance more recently.
In Wales, an
emerging non-partisan and all party group called Yes Cymru produced
a booklet on Welsh
independence. I was pleased to have been
asked to speak at three of their rallies in Carmarthen, Cardiff and Swansea
over the last year or so.
Then, in spring
2017, the Prime Minister whilst breathing the beautifully rarefied mountain air
of Snowdonia one weekend, emerged in London on the Monday morning to announce a
snap General Election – despite having promised publicly on at least five
occasions not to do such a thing. Theresa May was enticed by an opportunistic
calculation, founded on a lead of 20 percentage points in the polls, a
seemingly dysfunctional Jeremy Corbyn, and a considerably weakened Liberal
Democrat party. Indeed for several months prior to early-May 2017, it was
forecasted that the Conservatives would have a 100-seat plus majority in
Westminster following any snap election, with the Labour party annihilated.
Also, in late-April 2017, a sensational poll conducted by YouGov for ITV and
Cardiff University projected the Tories as winning 20 Westminster seats in
Wales, Labour 16, Plaid Cymru 3 and Liberal Democrats 1. The lure of temptation
was far too great for our Prime Minister to ignore.
So after a century
of Labour hegemony in Wales, it looked for a few weeks during spring 2017 that
we were heading towards a political earthquake of serious magnitude in nature, which would have been an enormous
culture shock to the body politic of this country. But as Harold Wilson often
used to say, ‘a week is a long time in politics,’ or to quote Harold Macmillan
when asked about what shapes political fates, ‘events dear boy, events.’
the full extent of the fateful events that transpired, the ‘strong and stable’
Theresa turned out to be ‘weak and feeble’ whilst the seemingly ineffective
Jeremy became transformed with substantial crowds attending his rallies. I had
not witnessed such gatherings since the 1950s when politicians like Aneurin
Bevan spoke in public. Theresa May’s
performance was the poorest, if not the most disastrous, by any Tory leader in
my memory, other than Sir Alec Douglas Home in 1963 and William Hague in 2001.
Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand was a revelation, a man inspired, totally renewed
from the inept and ineffective performer he had been at Prime Minister’s
questions time over the preceding year. He was in his element as a superb
campaigner, attracting unprecedented numbers of people to his meetings,
wherever held across the country. Incidents such as the Conservative manifesto
debacle and the appalling terrorist attacks also played a part in forming the
The final outcome was effectively a hung
Parliament until the Tories were saved by the Northern Ireland Democratic
Unionist Party. Now the headlines and sub-plots of that election is testing the
commitment, determination and mettle of all devolutionists, federalists and
other interested stakeholders engaged in the UK constitutional debate.
In the lead-up to that General Election,
during early-May 2017, an opinion poll was conducted by YouGov for Yes Cymru on
the question of independence for Wales. It articulated a staggering result
which was absolutely unexpected in substance, and quite probably unwelcome in
many political circles. The findings received little publicity at the time,
being lost and buried in the ‘hurly burly’ of the ongoing UK election campaign.
This poll painted a political picture that
went against all opinion and public attitude surveys in Wales since
establishment of the Welsh Assembly (Senedd) in 1999. As brief background, in
the last two decades, backing for independence has registered between 3% and 6%
on average. In fact, the annual BBC Wales poll conducted in March 2017 by ICM
revealed the following levels of forecasted support for various scenarios of
Welsh governance—independence at 6%; increased Senedd powers 44%; same powers
29%; fewer powers 3%; and abolishing the Senedd 13%.
However, this survey of 1000 respondents –
which incidentally is the usual sample size for opinion polling – conducted by
YouGov on behalf of Yes Cymru, and published in May 2017, showed that 26% of
the Welsh population favoured independence, with the percentage increasing to
33% if the then predicted Conservative majority actually materialised! Labour
voters turned out to be relatively supportive of independence. Plaid Cymru
voters, as expected, were too. But more importantly, the 18 to 49 age groups
were found sympathetic to the prospect, which raises real questions about the
future status of Wales within the UK. On removing, from the calculations, those
respondents who registered as being undecided, the poll identified 47% of
Labour voters backing independence (of which 23% were strongly in favour); 64%
Plaid Cymru; 33% Lib Dems; 15% Conservatives; and 18% UKIP.
Two other interesting observations were
highlighted. The first was that 28% of Plaid Cymru voters were against
independence. The second concerned that middle band of party supporters whose
vote might be ‘up for grabs’ during any referendum campaign on the issue, with
their extent ranging from 8% for both Labour and Plaid Cymru to 18% of Lib
So, post-General Election 2017, where are we
in relation to exploring the future of the UK Union? Will the
progressive forces now unite to move the agenda forward? At the heart of this
debate is the question of what will Labour do? Any major constitutional reform
cannot happen without its serious involvement and active participation in
discussions. Brexit and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, unless radically amended,
will have significant implications for the present devolution settlement. One
area of particular concern to Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh is what will
happen to those powers and responsibilities now delegated from Brussels,
through Westminster, to the devolved administrations on matters such as
agriculture and rural affairs. Will they be taken back up the chain to London
in time thus completely undermining the arrangements in place?
Here in Wales we have an added matter to contend
with, and that is the manner in which Wales is perceived and reported through
the media—not only across the UK but especially in our own backyard. Many
commentators have written extensively about the impact of the ‘information
deficit’ existing due to the inadequate news coverage of Welsh issues in our
media, and the ensuing challenges faced. For instance, the level of reported interest shown in Wales for the
2016 EU Referendum (82%) was considerably higher than that for the 2016 Senedd
election (59%), both of which were held only a month apart. Without
doubt, one of the major reasons for this difference was the nature and content
of news reporting in Wales, including which sectors of that medium predominate
in our country. When tuning into the latest UK political news, its substance is
often entirely focused on events surrounding the Westminster ‘village.’ This,
of course, is quite natural, but unfortunately during times of devolved
elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, such an intense
preponderance and saturation of Westminster information, clearly impacts on
people’s exposure to the key campaign issues and political choices presented
closer to home.
straightforwardly, the people of Wales are not regularly exposed to informed
news coverage centring on Senedd matters. One of the most striking findings of
survey data published by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) in 2015 was the significantly low number of Welsh people
identified as frequently reading a newspaper produced in Wales – 5% or fewer.
Today, the Western Mail disseminates the most comprehensive handling of Senedd
matters, but the ABC survey revealed that fewer than 4% regularly read the
paper. Further, when respondents were asked to name their main newspaper, only
1% selected The Western Mail. The Daily Mail, by contrast, is almost ten times
more likely to be acknowledged as the main daily read, being consumed
habitually by four times more people in Wales than The Western Mail.
in Wales, on the other hand, reach a far greater proportion of the population
than newspapers. BBC Wales Today is the most widely followed – 37% of people
frequently tune in – whilst 17% and 13% regularly follow ITV Wales Tonight and
BBC Radio Wales respectively. However, UK-wide programmes are still the main
source of reference for news consumption in Wales, with the ABC survey
identifying The BBC News at Six or Ten as viewed by nearly 37% of respondents,
whilst 30% follow the BBC News channel. ITV’s Evening News or News at Ten, and
Sky News are watched less often – 11% and 13% respectively – but still rank as
key sources of information relative to coverage produced in Wales. Other
regular daily or weekly productions such as Daily Politics, Newsnight,
Panorama, Question Time, and the like, compound the situation further in terms
of ‘swamping’ any reports delivered through indigenously created programmes.
have recently come across additional data from the ABC revealing an
ever-continuing reduction in the readership of local weekly newspapers and
regional dailies. Local weekly newspapers in the UKlost print circulation by an average of 11.2%, year
on year, during the second half of 2016.The figures suggest a
quickening in the pace of print decline, possibly fuelled by cover price rises,
editorial cutbacks and the readership moving to online sources. A redeeming
feature is that nearly every regional newspaper website audited by the ABCrecorded strong growth in the second half of 2016.
As already mentioned, in late-March 2017, the First
Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones AM,
the former Prime Minister Gordon
Brown, and ex-Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott came together to discuss the future of the UK Union
in an event held at the Wales Governance Centre in Cardiff. It was an occasion that I was keen to attend for
many reasons, including political and personal. One of my first tasks when
appointed Research and Public Relations Officer for the Labour Party in Wales
during 1969 was to Chair a working group charged to develop the party’s policy
towards devolution. Together with Emrys Jones and Gwyn Morgan I jointly
prepared the party’s evidence to the Crowther/ Kilbrandon Commission on the UK
Constitution. In fact, the content of our submission essentially described a
forerunner of the Welsh Assembly, which was established some 30 years or so
after the Carmarthen by-election of 1966, and
following 8 General Elections and 2 devolution referenda in the
one’s view is of the Blair Governments, it was his administrations that moved
forward considerably the devolution agenda for Wales, Scotland and Northern
Ireland. Nevertheless, since the creation of the Senedd it appears that the
Welsh Labour party has been contented to accept its ‘divine right’ as the
‘natural’ party of Government in Wales, albeit if they have had to rely on the
support of the Lib Dems for one period and Plaid Cymru for another. Plaid, on
its part, has seemingly settled for that limited degree of devolution.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives, who had previously only fared occasionally well
during Westminster elections in Wales, such as in 1983 and 1992, have found
themselves with a sizeable voice in administering the country. Politics is
unpredictable because it could be said that the party which has benefited most
from the establishment of the Senedd is the Conservatives – the very party
which opposed it!
So, does Wales still have a radical electorate today? To what extent does the
country actually mirror England and, if so, what has caused this to be the
case? Immigration, over decades, from other parts of the UK has no doubt
influenced movements in the political landscape, but its extent and impact is
deeper than realised. Labour and Plaid Cymru, in particular, have been found
‘sleeping on watch.’ Their inaction, or inertia, has resulted in a significant
‘hidden Tory’ component to Welsh politics by now. But the challenges do not end
there. Labour is viewed as having neglected its traditional working class areas, with its once,
rock solid, loyal support going ‘on the move’ during the 2016 Senedd election – not to Plaid or Lib Dems, but rather to UKIP!
The economic and industrial
structure of Wales has altered significantly in the last quarter of a century,
as has the country’s demography – with 30% of the people living in today’s
Wales born elsewhere. Indeed, in parts of north-east Wales, the proportion is
nearer 50%, and almost 40% in the ‘Welsh heartland.’ Further, 48% of people
living in today’s Wales reside within 25 miles of Offa’s Dyke, with 140,000
crossing that border each day for work purposes. The equivalent statistics for
Scotland is 4% dwelling within 25 miles of the English border with some 30,000
traversing it daily.
this changing demographic and economic picture, there has been a notable shift
in the political composition of the country’s electorate too – nearly 35% of
whom favoured centre-right parties in 2016. The growth of UKIP in Wales is
hard to accept – a party with its roots firmly grounded in England. However,
this development should not really be a surprise when considering the make-up
of our news consumption.
The final warning
signal for me was the actuality that Wales voted to leave the EU – the very
country that has benefited the most from being part of it. Our
agriculture, rural economies, tourism, education and business sectors have
received considerable investment from Europe, especially less prosperous geographic
areas. With England and Wales (albeit by a majority of no bigger than a crowd
that fills the Principality Stadium on international day) voting to leave the
EU, and Scotland along with Northern Ireland favouring remain, significant
constitutional questions for the UK are emerging. Wales has to be careful that
it does not simply become an annexe of England in time, possibly in a scenario
where Scotland has renegotiated its relationship with the Union, and a new
framework is settled and implemented for the island of Ireland.
So we live in
tumultuous times with substantial uncertainties, but also opportunities. Wales and its politicians must be vigilant.
It cannot be a case of ‘steady as she goes’ any longer. As a people we need to
think long and hard about the future direction of the Union, planning for all
eventualities. I have not always been a
fan of how successive Welsh governments have conducted themselves. Nor have I
ever been an admirer of the Senedd’s quality of debates both in standard and
substance. The truth is that the
Senedd has been hamstrung from the beginning, being devoid of the freedom to
act with the effective powers granted the Scottish Parliament. However, those
of us who believe in a stronger and more confident, self-governing Wales must
advocate that vision more vociferously now than ever.
With the Brexit result, I am convinced that
the future lies, at the very least, in a self-governing Wales within a Federal
UK, but I also increasingly accept that a strong argument can be made for going
even further. The reality of today is that 20 years of devolution has made
little difference to Wales’s economic standing within the UK. Our country is
near to bottom of the league on several socio-economic indicators.
Out of 235 countries in the world, some 130
of them have populations of around 7 million and under. Of these countries, 100
have fewer than 4 million people and the vast majority are smaller than
Wales. Further, 11 of the countries of the 27 in the EU have populations
of approximately 5 million or less. 7 of the 11 have fewer people than
Wales. In the modern financial, service
and technological age, as opposed to the era of heavy industries and large
scale manufacturing, the question of a country’s size is no longer a deciding
factor in terms of deliberating governance models.
For decades, too many politicians have argued that Wales is either too
small or cannot afford to go it alone, markedly because the country would run a
significant budget deficit. But so does the UK, with a deficit of some £100
billion a year, carrying a debt of £1.83 trillion. Indeed, a proportion of the
£14 billion claimed to be Wales’s presently projected deficit is our share of
the money spent on large UK projects such as HS2 and defence (e.g. Trident).
What more, revealingly, only about 50 of the world’s 235 nation-states actually
run a budget surplus!
Therefore, is there now the political will to advance the national
debate on the future of the UK Union?
Will the Labour
party re-gather its forces for change and pursue the matter of a Constitutional
Convention and a Federal UK? Or has the satisfaction of recently winning an
additional 36 seats at Westminster, securing continued control over Wales and
achieving a limited but important comeback in Scotland dampened their
enthusiasm for reform? The SNP stance for Scotland is broadly clear, but what
of Plaid Cymru’s vision for Wales in the next few years? The Brexit situation
has already brought into sharp focus the vexed question of the long-term
framework for the island of Ireland. Will the Conservatives ultimately accept
that they may need to make a strategic comprise on the constitutional question
to prevent more serious disunity? Then what of the Liberal Democrats, the party
of ‘Home Rule’ with its antecedents stretching back a hundred years? Will they
actually manage for once to discuss constitutional change at their conference?
In the days of the SDP/Liberal Alliance of the 1980s it was forever on the
agenda. I made certain of that.
It is time to move towards a real ‘Senedd’
All in all, both pieces
illustrate the widest possible breadth of constitutional parameters existing
beyond devolution itself, requiring discussion of alternative models of
governance for the UK—from federalism and beyond—through a much needed Constitutional debate...
Lord David Owen, Gwynoro Jones, Lord Elystan Morgan
& Glyndwr Cennydd Jones share thoughts on the UK Union and need for
a Constitutional Convention.
Prepared during summer 2017
in the wake of the EU Referendum and General Election of the past year, this
booklet shares the views of Lord David Owen, Gwynoro Jones, Lord Elystan Morgan
and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones on the future of the UK Union generally and Wales’s
status within it specifically, including a preface written by Martin Shipton.
Considering that the four
nations are intrinsically linked culturally and historically in modern times through
shared industrial, political and international experiences, the UK
constitutional question prompts a range of responses depending on where one
places an emphasis on the economic to social measuring scale.
An alternative way of posing
the problem might be to ask how we could better set about empowering the people
of these isles from Lands End to Cardiff to John o’ Groats, and Londonderry to
Caernarfon to Newcastle, in improving standards of living and personal
fulfilment through a political system and ensuing policies which promote
economic success regionally, nationally and globally whilst maintaining
internal and external security.
Drawing on the significant
experiences of the authors, these individual essays highlight the need for a Constitutional Convention to explore the various
alternative models to devolution, encompassing shifts towards federalism and beyond…
‘The suggestions to be found in this series of essays by
a new, self-styled ‘Gang of Four’ are motivated by the desire to see greater
fairness in the way we are governed.’
‘In this respect, they form part of a long and honourable
tradition, and deserve to be taken seriously.’
Martin Shipton: Political author and Chief reporter for
would have done anything to advance himself.
was a serious element of malice with George.
was a terrible gossip. He would wilfully damage any of us without compunction.
can be safe in the knowledge that he was a hypocrite and a rather hateful man,
using religion to cover up his flaws. If you crossed George you had an enemy
I first met George in the
autumn of 1967, a couple of months after I was selected Prospective
Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen for the Labour party. In the first years
or so I found him to be a friendly, humorous plain talking individual –
especially when it came to talking about ‘the Nationalists’ and Gwynfor Evans.
But even in those days he was full of gossip about fellow Labour MPs.
After that we would meet at
Labour rallies throughout Wales where he and I would be ‘warm up’ speakers for
the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was a good orator, full of humour and
knew how to play the audience. In 1968, both of us had one thing in common
which was taking the fight to Plaid Cymru and its leader, so I suppose he saw
me as an important ally in his early period as Secretary of State for Wales.
For instance, I recall writing a memorandum to him after the bombing at the
Welsh Office in Cathays Park May 25 1968, on how to associate Gwynfor’s emotive
anti-London government utterances with what had taken place in Cardiff.
On March 1 1969, at the
behest of Jim Callaghan, I was appointed Research and Public Relations Officer
for the Labour Party in Wales and this resulted in fortnightly meetings with
George on a Sunday at his home in the Heath, Cardiff. The purpose of the meetings was
for him to provide me with material I could use in letters and campaign
material for the party in Wales. It was then I began to notice the ‘real’
George, and that there really was a nasty side to his character which did not
correlate with his public persona.
George would have done
anything to advance himself. He was a man of little or no principle whatsoever.
The only consideration was what would work best for George himself. That was
his only guiding light in everything he did. His posturing as a good Christian
was a cover for his rampant underlying ambitions.
After I became an MP my
thoughts about him were crystallised further, not only because of how I saw him
operate, but of what he used to tell me and others at that Welsh table in
Westminster about various MPs.
George was a terrible
gossip. He would wilfully damage any of us without compunction, particularly if
it was about a Welsh-speaking pro-devolutionist MP - the ‘crypto nationalists’
as he described. If he found out something personal about you, he would enjoy
spreading the ‘tittle tattle’, but what was George up to?
Pointing the finger.
Diverting the attention. Those are the impressions I always had about him. He
disliked us all, but especially Cledwyn. He did not care much for Goronwy too
and never trusted my good friend Elystan.
Elystan – in his
autobiography – recounts an occasion during his time at the Home Office when
George asked him to write a considered piece on the potential transport policy
for Wales when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Elystan spent months
producing a detailed thirty-page policy document on the transport issues and
dutifully presented it to George. One day in the House of Commons, Elystan was
having a meal with a few people near to a freestanding barrier, on the other
side of which was George in conversation with some other MPs. Elystan overheard
George saying, “Let me tell you a story, boys. I gave to that nationalist
Elystan Morgan a task, and he wrote thirty-odd pages for me on a Welsh
transport policy. So do you know what I did? I put it straight in the bin. Ha
Mind the truth was that us
pro-devolutionists had little time or respect for George either and that was
widely known. In the book on Cledwyn Hughes there is a reference to an article
in the Manchester Evening News by the political columnist Andrew Roth of
Cledwyn’s opinions when he was replaced by George at the Welsh Office in 1968.
‘’Cledwyn Hughes could not help hating the idea of turning over Wales to George
Thomas, a chirpy South Wales sparrow in Mr Wilson’s palm’’
There was a serious element
of malice. And if you got on the wrong side of him, as I did following my time
in 1969 as Chair of the working party preparing Labour’s evidence in Wales to
the Crowther/Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution, you were in trouble.
During the period of the Heath government, as shadow spokesman, he was a deeply
divisive force, irretrievably damaging the party in the Welsh speaking areas,
particularly with his column in the North Wales Daily Post. He poisoned Harold Wilson against people all
the time. He was known as ‘Harold’s E.N.T.’ That is Ears, Nose and Throat!
I had a very good rapport
with Harold throughout the years. I had organised seven or eight of his
meetings in Wales during his time as Prime Minister, speaking at each one.
However, I knew there was something preventing him from giving me some sort of
recognition – a shadow junior role, or something similar. I had no doubt it was
George weaving his web of distrust behind the scenes. In fact Fred Peart, the
Minister of Agriculture after February 1974, confirmed to me that George had
poisoned him against me: ‘He’s a nationalist. He’s pro-Welsh language. He’s
pro-devolution. He would divide the party’. One can hear George saying these
things. And yet, he was apparently a great Christian.
Although I never witnessed
it, there were references from time to time that George liked his drink, and
yet he used to assert openly that he was teetotal, priding himself on it
publicly. Indeed, I heard him say so from the pulpit when he was preaching in
Tenby one summer.
You can be safe in the
knowledge that he was a hypocrite and a rather hateful man, using religion to
cover up his flaws. If you crossed George you had an enemy for life. Nobody
could claim that the following characteristics were not true: that George was
anti-Welsh, anti-devolution and loathed the patriotic Welsh element within the
However, the bizarre thing
is that he would probably have been more patriotic himself if he had been a
Welsh speaker. It’s his background, isn’t it? George could say many, many
phrases in Welsh. He could speak a bit of the language, and if he had stuck
with it … well, you never know …
He always resented Jim
Callaghan. I can almost see his thought process. In the 1950s Jim, through the
unions, gained power and got onto Labour’s National Executive Council. George
was envious. Jim subsequently rose to a position of Shadow Minister and then
Harold became Prime Minister, making Jim Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign
Secretary in succession. It must have driven George mad. He was full of enmity.
In fact, he was bit of a Trump-like character. It was all about him, and only
him, all the time. There was nothing George would not do to aggrandise himself.
When anyone tells me stories
about George, nothing surprises me whatsoever. He was a bad egg who managed to
fool us all. He fooled elderly ladies
like my grandmother. We had a house, where I was brought up in Foelgastell,
with quite small rooms. In front of the fire, on few occasions, he would sit
with my mother and grandmother on one side of the fire and him on the other,
pulling all the strings – tugging the heartstrings.
I do not know how many
friends he had in the Welsh Labour Party. Not too many I would guess. Even
people within the party who might have agreed with George on many issues,
particularly with his general anti-Welsh stance, I never saw them consorting
much with him. People such as Kinnock, Abse and Alan Williams from Swansea
West: they had little time for him either. The one stand out person was Barry
Jones, the North Wales MP. It was apparent they were very close indeed – we
used to refer to Barry as George’s ‘Parliamentary son!’
So I reckon he was a pretty
lonely figure inside the Welsh Labour Party. Once he was not made Secretary of
State in February 1974 his influence within the party in Wales was over. Even
Harold Wilson eventually realised, following losses in the Welsh speaking
heartland, that it was George who had been the divisive, negative force for six
But the grand survivor
turned his attention elsewhere – because he had hoodwinked and fooled the
Tories for many years too. Many of them,
including Mrs Thatcher, were I suspect all starry eyed. He had a prodigious
‘gift of the gab.’ But then he was such
a big ‘establishment’ man and a Royalist to the core. In his lounge of the
bungalow in the Heath would be a large picture of the Queen on one side of the
fireplace and the Prince of Wales on the other…