Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Silk Commission: Wrecsam gets lively

Paul Silk looked secretly quite pleased when things got a bit heated at the end of a lively session in Wrecsam's Catrin Finch Centre. At last, some passion in politics!

 He also admitted that the turnout - more than 60 - was the best of all so far for his commission's roadshow on the future of devolution in Wales.

 Admittedly, it got off to a sluggish start as three grey-suited men struggled with a dry Powerpoint presentation. It had "tick box" and "dull" written all over it. The remit was limited to a vision that "devolution of power to Wales should benefit Wales and the whole of the United Kingdom".

 Thankfully the audience weren't in the mood for ticking any boxes and that brought an immediate challenge - what if a power was devolved that benefitted Wales but not the UK as a whole?

We probed and challenged and questioned the entire process.

 There was an interesting mix of people - many were pro-independence and wanted the people of Wales to run their own affairs. Energy and water were topics that came up time and again, and there was also clear reasoned arguments for devolving police and criminal justice matters. A former probation worker was desperate to see the probation service devolved to avoid the privatising that England is facing.

 Others were sceptics, including a motley couple of ageing BNPers, one of whom was more interested in slagging off the local hospital for failing to diagnose his rare disease (I know, its begging for a punchline).

 There was also a strong sense among some that devolution hadn't delivered for the North. This perception conflates the Assembly with the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government is failing the North on a daily basis, for example with a centralising health agenda. That's not the fault of the institution but the politicians in Government. The answer is not, as Cllr Arfon Jones put it, to throw out the Assembly baby with the Labour bathwater but to replace it with a better government. That better government would represent the whole of Wales rather than the current Cardiff-centric setup.

 One disappointing aspect was the attempt by Trevor Jones, one of the commission members, to steer the debate in a direction of "we've had a bit of devolution, learn how to use those powers properly". The implication was a "lack of capacity", which is bureaucratese for "Wales can't run its own affairs". I've always found that a fascinating concept... that Wales, uniquely among the 208 independent states already in the world, could not function like others.

 So what did we learn from the exercise? Well, that even the supposedly devolved subjects like health and education are not fully devolved. Teachers' pay, for example, is still controlled by Westminster.

Oh, and we also learned that there is a rump of reactionary devo-sceptics lurking. The most vociferous sceptic in the crowd was one council employee who derided "nationalist tub-thumpers" who referred to control over Welsh water as living in the 19th Century. Despite his background in history, this slightly chippy character obviously hadn't heard of Tryweryn in the mid-20th Century.

The "tub-thumper" in question wasn't best pleased to hear his reasoned arguments that Wales could afford independence if it had control over its own assets so crudely challenged. He demanded, and got, an apology.


Anonymous said...

Y nhw sy'n dolurio ar y funud....wel, ers sawl blwyddyn bellach. Gobeithio wneith hyn barhau.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Pam ddylsem ni aros ddaru Michael Collins ddim deud 'enough' felly pam ddylsem ni?

Anonymous said...

Keep thumping the tub!

Anonymous said...

Dyna yn union beth ddywedodd Michael Collins. 'Enough for now' o leia.