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Who benefits from devolution anyway?

January 31, 2017

 

At a time when momentous things are happening elsewhere in the political firmament, the passage of the Wales Bill has remained implacably within the confines of the Westminster and Cardiff Bay bubbles.

 

UKIP leader Neil Hamilton described the process of shifting the latest batch of powers to Wales as "unexciting". He’s right enough I suppose although for the wrong reasons.

 

Leaving aside how the UK Independence Party has become a bit quieter in its view that Welsh devolution is overrated ever since they gained half-a-dozen or so Senedd seats, the proceedings have admittedly been turgid to say the least.

 

More pertinent is the nagging question of whether the transfer of power is primarily intended to benefit the people of Wales or boost the status of its politicians.

 

It could end up doing both I guess, but whatever benchmarks you apply the overall impression is that Wales lags behind other UK regions in terms of prosperity and health provision.

 

Of course, it’s a perception readily reinforced by the London-based press. 

 

One publication thought it was appropriate to supplement a story of dreadful shortcomings in the English NHS with photos depicting a line of empty patient trollies at a Welsh A&E facility. (No, I didn’t get it either – but I digress).

 

Depending on who you listen to, the Wales Bill is either a significant step towards realising self-rule, an expensive sop to nationalist sentiment or a shabby compromise which trades modest gains for measures that sustain the last vestiges of English imperialism.

 

For the 99.99% of us who only sit and watch, the relevance of the Wales Bill is sketchy and needs explanation from earnest media commentators between headlines that imply a vague sense of crisis.

 

In terms of one-liners, the legislation provides the ability to raise £2bn share in Welsh income tax plus greater influence over energy, transport and elections.

 

This legal exercise in “taking back control” includes a notionally simpler arrangement that makes Cardiff Bay responsible for everything except those functions ‘reserved’ to Westminster’s own remit, defence, social welfare, etc.

 

Despite parochial claims that this represents a clawback of powers by the UK government, constitutional anoraks point out that it’s the post of Welsh Secretary that sees the biggest reduction in influence.

 

Tensions at Stormont notwithstanding, some suggest that now’s the time to combine Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish post-colonial functions into a single ‘Devolved Nations’ cabinet secretarial post.

 

We can only speculate if this diminished status played any part in the decision of Cardiff MP Jo Stevens to recently step down from the shadow Welsh Secretary role – although I suspect that this action by an immensely capable individual is more a symptom of frustration at Labour's inability to grasp the right end of the paddle on those rare occasions when they actually seem to have one.

 

Whatever the background, the net effect of devolution is that we get what we vote for. Whether we feel the benefit is something else.

 

 

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Making a practical protest

 

You may not be into such things, but a useful trivia quiz point is that the official name of the huge bronze monument that dominates the entrance to New York Harbour is “Liberty enlightening the world”.

 

A broken chain lies at the feet of the 300-foot statue which is internationally regarded as an icon of freedom and a hugely welcoming sight to immigrants arriving from abroad.

 

In his actions to close US borders to prescribed countries, Donald Trump has managed to fully meet the expectations of both those who opposed his election and those who put him in office.

 

We can draw all sorts of historical parallels, but in reality Trump has done no more than adopt political standard operating procedure by telling you what to fear and then identifying who you should blame for it.

 

Californian Democratic Senator Kamala Harris was not the only person on the planet to note that the order had been signed on Holocaust Memorial Day. "Make no mistake - this is a Muslim ban," she wrote.

 

She further reflected, “During the Holocaust, we failed to let refugees like Anne Frank into our country. It cannot happen again”.

 

Over the weekend I saw an advert from an airline asking me which US destination I would choose at discount rates. It occurred that the ad should now bear the note: “Not available to people born in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere for three months and possibly longer”.

 

Personally, I think we spend too much time being outraged by Donald Trump (and to very little effect). There are perhaps more tangible things we can do by way of protest.

 

I’ve no idea what contribution Brit tourism makes to the US economy but the consensus in the Bailey household, and among several friends, is that planned visits to New York and Las Vegas and now on hold indefinitely – or for at least four years anyway.

 

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

 

 

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