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What’s the future for devolution?

September 26, 2017

 

As you walk through the main doors at Bay Studios, there’s a plaque on the wall marking how the site once boasted one the largest auto-manufacturing bases in the UK.

 

I’m told there were about thirty or so individuals who each laid claim to being key players in persuading car giant Ford to establish a major presence on Fabian Way.

 

In the same way, I guess its natural that whenever Welsh devolution is mentioned, there's a collective “I was there” to be heard.

 

Of course, both are valid. Such outcome are inevitably a group effort. That said, no-one thought it was necessary to have a referendum before bringing two thousand manufacturing jobs to south west Wales.

 

Twenty years on from the night Wales said, “Yes”, and as the glasses chink in select gatherings around Cardiff Bay eateries, there is little consensus on the success of settlements past and future.

 

Whatever the ambition its hard to dispute Wales has not been different place ever since 1997. What’s more, despite criticism of free bus passes, free hospital parking and charges for plastic bags, very few have argued for things to go back to how there were.

 

The mantra insists that devolution is a journey, even it sometimes feels the vehicle stalled a few years ago at Cardiff Bay. There is little sign that future settlements will deliver anything other than Devolution 4.0 – compounding the status quo.

 

One suggested alternative to this centralist trend comes from Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns who wants directly elected mayors to take on an undefined additional role. Unfortunately it was a contribution that came across as big on gimmickry but sparse on detail.

 

Anyway, notwithstanding a clash of mandates, Wales is simply not big enough to support the combined egos of a bunch of city supremos and a Welsh parliament.

 

Unlike mayors, one thing you can say about the Welsh Assembly as a collective body is that they don’t go out of their way to be loved. I’d hate to see that change.

 

 

 

New politics, same old problems

 

I suspect that for many outside the bubble, the ‘new’ politics of Wales bears some familiar overtones of what came before.

 

As with every other elected body on the planet, the Senedd tends to be more newsworthy for the acrimony rather than any accord between parties.

 

That applies to matters both within and outside the Siamber.

 

Indeed, for all their first name, family-friendly institutional arrangements, AMs display a willingness to grass each other up that would make a Westminster lobbyist blush.

 

The last twenty years have seen stories of conspiratorial goings-on in Cardiff curry houses, tired and emotional outbursts in five-star hotels, peculiar second home arrangements and the use of ‘strong tobacco’; all of which have somehow found their way into the media – who occupy the fourth floor of the Assembly offices.

 

As one journalist once observed, “they (the AMs) work in a goldfish bowl. For us, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel”.

 

 

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