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Blistering attack on Wales Bill

One of Wales’ foremost constitutional experts has given a devastating verdict on the Wales Bill, which is supposed to be the next step in devolution.

In his blistering essay for the Western Mail / Walesonline Prof Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University starts by taking a swipe at the self-styled Mother of all Parliaments on the banks of the Thames, and it’s claims that it is better placed to design Wales’ democratic future,

it takes a particular kind of chutzpah to argue the case that Westminster is somehow a more effective legislature than the National Assembly for Wales when we recall the complete pig’s ear that the former has made of the legislation that underpins the latter.

Noting that it has taken four attempts in the last eighteen years to reach the current messy settlement.

And on each occasion the flaws have not only been predictable; they have been predicted.

Prof Jones is extremely critical of the model of devolution that Westminster has devised saying that

there is no precedent for the particular model of reserved powers devolution they are meant to be implementing,

He’s even more scathing of Theresa May and her Government’s attempt to force the Bill through at such speed, but keeps the most withering criticism for the Labour Party,

Although the Bill was only published in early June, the intention is apparently to secure royal assent by Christmas, with only a very limited amount of parliamentary time set aside for debate. Which would be a pretty outrageous way of proceeding were it not for the fact that the official opposition has made such ineffectual use of the time that has been allotted.

He reserves his most savage condemnation for Welsh Labour MPs, branding their efforts ‘pathetic’, and suggesting that they only care for their own positions,

Predictably, they also availed themselves of the opportunity to return to the alleged constitutional outrage of the government’s plans to reduce the number of Welsh MPs; an issue that clearly exercises some far more than the prospects of yet another inadequate Welsh devolution dispensation.

The Commons discussion is ‘thin gruel’, says Prof Jones, and

the lack of interest, let alone serious engagement, from our elected representatives has given the green light to yet another ‘devolution settlement’ that will settle nothing, but will – if implemented – quickly unravel under the weight of its own inadequacies.

Prof Jones has lived and breathed devolution for the last twenty years. Anything that Prof Jones doesn’t know about the constitutional strengths and weaknesses of Wales and the UK isn’t worth knowing. So if Prof Jones warns that what is being offered is “cumbersome”, “restrictive”, “frustrating” and “unwieldy” then legislators should sit up and listen.

Referencing the Silk Commission (the independent commission on devolution to Wales, set up to look at the possible devolution of more powers, chaired by Paul Silk) and its recommendations, Prof Jones says that both the Conservatives and Labour worked together

to veto every single substantive recommendation made by Silk for further devolution in the field of justice,

What is more frightening is that Prof Jones’ interpretation of things suggests that we might see the small steps that we have gained being reversed.

Whitehall has even availed itself of the opportunity to reverse the losses that it suffered at the hands of Welsh Government in the Supreme Court… Its effect, though, is clear enough. It will require Welsh Ministers to go cap in hand to Whitehall in order to act even in areas that might otherwise be regarded as devolved.

People of Prof Jones’ standing are careful in their use of words, knowing the weight that they carry. They have also seen legislation and the constitution being developed across parties at close hand for the last two decades and more, and know the attitudes and perspectives of legislators and civil servants. Not only is it shocking but it is extremely concerning therefore to read Prof Jones’ analysis when he says that

Not only has the attitude been negative and grudging; it’s been patronising and vindictive too.

And goes on to quote Lord Elystan Morgan, saying that

the attitude that Whitehall has displayed in drafting the Wales Bill can only be described as colonial.

This is the state of politics in Wales today. There is a very real threat that devolution is reversed and that we slowly lose our political identity.

Let’s redouble our efforts and make sure that those who claim to represent us on the banks of the Thames know that not only is the Assembly here to stay but that we insist on seeing it strengthened.

You can read the full essay here.

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