Friday, 28 July 2017

Where does Wales go from here?

In the weeks leading up to the General Election in June 2017, there continued to be endless opinion polls indicating that Theresa May was going to have a landslide majority and, even in Wales, projecting the Conservatives to gain up to ten seats from Labour.
At that time, in early-May 2017, another opinion poll was conducted by YouGov for Yes Cymru on the question of independence for Wales. It came out with a staggering result and one that was totally unexpected, and most likely unwelcome in some political circles.
The findings received little publicity at the time and were buried in the ‘hurly burly’ of the General Election campaign.
It gave a result that went against all opinion polls and public attitude surveys in Wales since establishment of the Senedd in 1999. Over the last twenty years, support for independence has registered between 3% and 6% on average, but this poll was very different.
In fact, the annual BBC Wales poll conducted in March 2017 by ICM revealed the following levels of support for various scenarios of Welsh governance— independence 6%; increased Senedd powers 44%; same powers 29%; fewer powers 3%; and abolishing the Senedd 13%.
Then, from that period to May, it was expected that the Tories would have a 100-seat plus majority in Westminster after the election, with the Labour party annihilated. Also, around this time, a Welsh Barometer Poll indicated the Tories winning 20 seats in Wales, Labour 16, Plaid Cymru 3 and Liberal Democrats 1. After a century of Labour hegemony in Wales we were heading towards a political earthquake of serious magnitude and a massive culture shock to the body politic.
The survey of 1000 respondents (the usual sample size for opinion polling) conducted by YouGov on behalf of Yes Cymru revealed that 26% of the Welsh public favoured independence, increasing to 33% if the predicted Conservative majority materialised!
In fact, Labour voters turned out to be relatively supportive of independence. Plaid Cymru voters, as expected, were too. But importantly, the 18 - 49 age group were also sympathetic which raised real questions for the future.
After taking the people who registered as being undecided out of the equation, the poll stated 47% of Labour voters favouring independence (of which 23% were strongly in favour); 64% Plaid Cymru; 33% Lib Dems;  15% Conservatives; and 18% UKIP.
There were two other interesting findings. The first was that 28% of Plaid Cymru voters were against independence. Then there was that middle band of voters for all parties that probably would be ‘up for grabs’ in any referendum campaign. They ranged from 8% of Labour and Plaid Cymru voters to 18% Lib Dem. 
However, the election campaign turned out quite differently to the expectations. 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 different to the inept and ineffective performer he had been at Prime Minister’s questions time. He was in his element as a superb campaigner, attracting unprecedented crowds across the country. Events such as the Tory manifesto debacle and the terrorist attacks also played their part.
The outcome was effectively a hung Parliament until Theresa May was saved by the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party. The political earthquake never happened in Wales, so Labour breathed safely again.
So, as I asked in the previous post, what happens next over ‘the matter of Wales’ and the future of the UK?  Is it going to be a case of back to the ‘same old same old?’ Or will the progressive forces campaign and unite to move the agenda forward? 
Iestyn ap Rhobert of YesCymru, which commissioned the poll from YouGov, has said: 
‘We will make the case that Wales, like other small nations, are better off running their own affairs as part of a wider European and international family – without the backing of the political establishment. After all, it is only sensible that decisions about Wales should be made in Wales. We have the right to be an independent country and Westminster has no divine right to reign over us.’
On the question of size, eleven of the countries of the twenty seven in the European Union have a population of around 5 million or less. Seven of the eleven have a population less 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.
But at the heart of this debate is what will Labour do? Any major constitutional reform cannot happen without its serious involvement and active participation in the discussions. This is a subject I will return to soon in other posts…Already I have highlighted the importance of the forthcoming party conference season in relation to advancing the debate on the future of the UK Union.
Furthermore Brexit and the consequent Repeal Bill (i.e. withdrawal from the European Union), unless radically amended, could have significant implications for the devolution settlement that currently exists. The Bill does three main things:

  • Repeals the European Communities Act 1972. This legislation provides legal authority for EU law to have effect as national law in the UK. This will no longer be the case after Brexit.
  • Brings all EU laws onto the UK books. This means that the laws and regulations made over the past forty years whilst the UK was a member of the EU will continue to apply after Brexit.
  • Gives ministers power to make secondary legislation. Technical problems will arise as EU laws are put on the statute book. For instance, many EU laws reference EU institutions in which the UK will no longer participate after Brexit, or mention ‘EU law’ itself, which will not be part of the UK legal system after Brexit. There will not be time for Parliament to scrutinise every change, so the Bill will give ministers some powers to make these changes through secondary legislation, which is subject to less scrutiny by MPs. There is a danger that those powers and responsibilities now delegated from Brussels, through Westminster, to the Senedd on matters such as agriculture and rural affairs would be taken back up the chain to London thus undermining devolution.

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 in the UK but especially here in our own back yard. I posted a blog on this in April 2016, the Institute of Welsh Affairs also posted an article on the policy challenges facing the media in Wales and held a seminar on the issues. A number of other commentators such as Dan Evans and Craig Johnson have written about the implications of the ‘information deficit’ that exists in relation to insufficient coverage of Welsh issues by our media and the challenges ahead. 

It is why the powers over broadcasting in Wales must be transferred to the Senedd because as Dan Evans says: ‘lack of information directly contributes to political disengagement and the uniquely low election turnout in Wales, as well as undermining the Assembly and devolution itself—devolution hasn’t really embedded in the public imagination because of a lack of awareness of the role it plays in everyday life.’

‘… the lack of media coverage means a lack of scrutiny which reinforces the awful state of Welsh politics. Welsh politics continues to be so partisan and the Welsh government continues to underperform and contradict itself because they simply get an easy ride, as their failures either go unreported or unseen.’

So I ask again, where does Wales go from here?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Has the unexpected snap General Election and the attention on Brexit dimmed the debate on the Future of the UK Union?

or will it be rekindled at the political parties’ annual conferences this autumn…

The question of the Future of the UK Union had been gathering a strong head of steam over the last three years especially.

It had 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 the leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrats parties to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. These, more or less, have now been enacted.

Then there was the Wales Bill which caused a significant amount of controversy, particularly in relation to the reserved powers aspect and the defeats in the Lords over the transference of more powers concerning transport, policing, broadcasting and water.

Intermixed had 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 a Prime Minister and the emergence of Theresa May.

The result of the EU Referendum further focussed the minds of devolutionists, federalists and others in favour of independence on the question of the UK’s future and its prospects for survival.

Over the last two years, many powerful voices have joined the constitutional debate, notably the First Minister Carwyn Jones, the former PM Gordon Brown, Lord David Owen and, a long time supporter of a powerful Welsh Parliament, Lord Elystan Morgan.

Indeed, Lord Owen, Lord Morgan, myself and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones explored the various constitutional challenges faced in this article titled A Constitutional Convention to discuss future arrangements for the UK’ which appeared on the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ website in March 2017.

The momentum was such that the Labour Party also came out strongly in favour of a Constitutional Convention, as witnessed by the event held at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff earlier this year which I was fortunate to attend. Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn spoke in favour of these developments at the Scottish Labour Party Conference.

Then in Wales, an emerging non-partisan and all party group called Yes Cymru has been building momentum in support of independence, producing a booklet on the issue. By the way, I was honoured to have been asked to speak at three of their rallies in Carmarthen, Cardiff and Swansea over the last year.

Simultaneously, since last autumn, several significantly thorny Brexit issues have appeared centre stage, including the High Court/Supreme Court hearings and the enactment of Article 50.

Therefore, in the past 9 months, the debate over the future of the UK Union has been intensifying upon Brexit.

However, the PM whilst breathing in the beautifully rarefied mountain air of Snowdonia one weekend, emerged in London on a Monday morning to announce a snap General Election – despite having promised publicly on at least five occasions not to do such a thing.

She saw the chance – 20 points ahead in the polls, a seemingly dysfunctional Jeremy Corbyn, and a considerably weakened Liberal Democratic party.  The temptation was too much…

But as Wilson always used to say, ‘a week is a long time in politics,’ and to also quote  Macmillan on the question of what shapes politics ‘events dear boy events’. 

Without recounting the full extent of events, 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 rallies since the 1950s with people like Aneurin Bevan speaking.

So we have a minority government.

Now the sub plots of that election result will test the commitment, mettle and determination of devolutionists, federalists and all others engaged in the constitutional debate.

Firstly, the UK has returned to two party politics with a vengeance. Over 80% of those who voted supported the two old ‘establishment’ parties.

The third force was weakened. Even in Scotland, mainly through the campaigning tactics other parties, the SNP lost 20 seats.

In Wales, the Labour Party’s fear of a disastrous collapse with accompanying Tory gains of about nine or so seats, as indicated in the early-May opinion polls, just evaporated. Welsh Labour rightly breathed a huge sigh of relief on election night.

Plaid Cymru advanced a little, but nowhere near expectations, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats are now struggling to remain on the Welsh political landscape.

So where are we today?

The stance of the SNP is broadly clear.

Will the Labour party regather its forces for change and pursue the matter of a Constitutional Convention and a Federal UK at their conference this autumn? Or has the satisfaction of winning thirty six extra seats, ensuring a stranglehold over Wales and achieving a limited but important comeback in Scotland dampened their demand for reform?

In Wales, what will be Plaid Cymru’s strategy in the lead-up to their conference?

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. The reality is that over the last decade the matter has been sidelined, except for occasional references in election-time manifestos!

It’s time to advance the national debate…

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Early period in Parliament 1970-72 with some recollections.

Continuing my life story Video 21 uncut
He outlines how winning the election resulted in an upheaval in the life of the young family. That during the first few weeks in Parliament along with his wife Laura and young son they stayed with his cousin Myrddin who was a policeman in the Metropolitan Police Force;
Three bus loads of party supporters came up to London on his first day at Westminster;
Describes his thoughts and impressions on entering Parliament as the youngest MP then.and the culture shock of the rules of the Westminster 'village/club';
After Parliament broke up for the summer recess they went on holiday to caravan parks in Pendine and Amroth! - had not given any thought to a holiday prior to winning the election;
Refers to the legislation of the first year or so such as the Industrial Relations Act 1970-71 and the Reform of Welsh Local Government 1971-72;
First impression of Parliament and realisation that political enemies do get on in the Westminster village;
References to a group of Welsh speaking MPs and their socialising with a couple of stories. 
The emerging divisions on the EEC, leftward move of the Labour party, devolution and Welsh issuesl 
Roy Jenkins became deputy leader 1971-72 and the first signs of a serious split in the party.
Reform of Local Government in Wales - and the Early Day Motion for an Elected Council for Wales. What happened when he leaked the story to the Western Mail.
Marked man after that!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Wales’s ‘Mystic Meg’ on the election result in Wales

Not much change in popular support but some musical chairs in 2 or more seats.

In a few hours the final YouGov poll forecasting the likely outcome of the General Election in Wales will be available for us all to consider and review. So in eager anticipation of the moment…

There have been three such polls to date and the last one showed a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of the Labour Party. The first two polls having indicated an unprecedented Conservative revival in Wales.

The last poll indicated Labour at 46%; Conservatives 35%; Plaid Cymru 8%; Liberal Democrats 5%; and UKIP 5%.

In terms of seats this translated into Labour with 26; Conservatives 10; Plaid Cymru 3; and Liberal Democrats 1.

My hunch is that very little will change in the next poll, in terms of percentage points, but there might well be changes at the margins with some musical chairs.

So my prediction is that Plaid Cymru could well have 4 seats with Ieuan Wyn Jones winning Anglesey, Labour regaining Gower,  and Ceredigion a very tight contest between the Liberal Democrats and Plaid.

The major feature of this election has been the return to two party politics as it pretty much was pre-SDP and Alliance days. There have been a number of reasons for that—including decline of the Liberal Democrats post-2010 and its voice in almost all debates in the Welsh Assembly effectively silenced, the collapse of UKIP and the Brexit effect  being the most prominent influences.

Finally two questions have to be thrown into the mix which could muddy the waters - which party or parties will benefit most from the collapse of  UKIP support in individual constituencies and what part tactical voting will play in certain seats. It is envisaged that tactical voting will be the highest it has ever been.  

An interesting aspect to watch out for will be how the 18-24 year old people vote. Across the UK there has been a massive surge in voting registration amongst that age group. UK opinion polls strongly indicate that over 60% of them will be voting Labour.

So what will happen in Wales? I have a feeling that Plaid Cymru will be vying with Labour for their support. …

There we go – I will have to wait couple of hours 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Brexit election that never was … but remaining in the Single Market is still the ‘Best Deal’

‘No deal better than a Bad Deal’ sloganises Theresa May irresponsibly—which is a dangerous proposition for the economy, trade and living standards.

Mrs May also says ‘We’ll make Britain Global’ … but I say we are already!

The second main reason why Mrs May did a U-turn and called a snap election ( despite some 7 times stating to the contrary ) was that she saw an opportunity to advance with her Brexit project without having to explain hardly anything to the public about what constitutes a ‘good deal’ or a ‘bad deal’ nor the consequences of a ‘no deal’. Keep everything nice and vague was and remains her tactic—win the election with a massive majority and end up with another five years unhindered…

But ‘events, dear boy events’ intervened and so the Brexit debate slipped down the campaign headlines as Mrs May’s series of U-turns, disastrous manifesto gaffes and her poor, if not disastrous, campaigning style took centre stage.

Then recalling Wilson’s warning that ‘a week is a long time in politics’ the Manchester and London terror attacks came from nowhere and now questions as to Mrs May stewardship over seven years of domestic security matters, terror surveillance and the severity of police cuts are dominating the headlines.

Oh dear me …

This was not the way it had been choreographed—being over 20% ahead in the opinion polls, her popularity soaring and with a struggling Labour Party leadership, the winning strategy was to be all about ‘My team’, ‘My manifesto’, ‘Strong and Stable’ leadership and ‘Give Me a strong hand to negotiate’ over Brexit.

Well before it’s almost too late for this campaign, best return to the topic of Brexit, the negotiations and where we are at currently.

Now I am passionately pro-Europe and will campaign to either stay in the EU or, if the UK does actually Brexit in 2019, campaign to re-join one day. As Nigel Farage and others said at the time of the referendum, if the result was 52/48 in favour of remaining then ‘the matter was not settled’.

My position on Brexit is possibly even more hardline than the Liberal Democrats stance (although it is close to my views). Whilst disappointed with the Labour Party’s stance I readily accept that it would be better to have a Labour team led by Sir Keith Starmer negotiating with the EU, than the Conservative team led by David Davis. Starmer is a better negotiator being less arrogant and confrontational.

The Prime Minister, as a Remainer, in truth has little credibility. It is just not honest to hold the views she had on the single market and security as during the referendum and now argue completely to the contrary. The burning ambition of being Prime Minister has caused her to quickly cast her principles aside, I am afraid. And all for the sake of trying to keeping her party together. But I reckon, should she win, the unity will unravel somewhere along the journey towards Brexit and beyond.

Mrs May was right during the referendum to describe the single market as the largest trading block in the world—even Mrs Thatcher agreed in the late 1980s when the single market then embraced only 300 million people whilst now its over 500 million! It can never be replaced by a good or better deal, either with the EU or the Rest of the World.

Mrs May and David Davis aim to replace the UK’s trading arrangements with 27 countries of the EU and a further 57 countries with which the EU, and thereby the UK, have agreements presently in place. It is far from clear what these new trade agreements might look like in the future and which countries would be involved.

With Brexit divorce talks starting in two weeks’ time, as I have said Theresa May fatuously insists that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. Continues to keep everything close to her chest despite the fact that opinion polls indicate the the public want much more transparency. After all the EU have done just that. All we know from David Davis is that some 30 plus sector impact studies have been undertaken but they are not going to be published. Also he has ready some 100 pages of negotiating detail. He will need much more than that as negotiations proceed.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world, Brexiters argue, if we failed to reach a free trade agreement  and had to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules. After all, the likes of the US and China have no preferential access to the EU and yet trade smoothly under WTO rules. But it is all very misleading and untrue.

Then Mrs May talks of having trade commissioners based "overseas in nine different regions, determined by markets rather than national borders, to ensure UK trade policy is guided by local experience and expertise". It is all fanciful and of little impact compared to out existing trading arrangements..

What are the alternatives that they considering? A US-UK trade deal? Or a more extreme worldwide trade deal? Based on the evidence of existing global trade agreements, it is clear that if the Brexiteers want to limit the negative effects of Brexit. The UK has no viable trade deal alternative to an agreement with the EU that essentially does not replicate, to some extent, the present ideal situation reading the single market.

Ah, but we can become ‘Global Britain’ so the story goes—there’s no need to worry! But we are already global and the yearning to reinvigorate, for example, Commonwealth trade is too simplistic. Not only does the Commonwealth make up a relatively small part of UK trade, receiving 8% of their imports, it is dwarfed when compared with our exporting 44% to the EU and receiving 53% of imports from the Union.

In this post I have only concentrated on what might happen to UK trade after Brexit. It is a serious question—and in this election no attempt has been made to begin to give some detail other than platitudes and vague references.

There are indeed some serious times ahead for all our industrial, financial, service, food, drinks, agricultural and fisheries sectors. If I have to choose one or the other … I would prefer to have Labour rather than the Tories negotiating Brexit for all sorts of reasons…but that will have to wait for another day. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

The snap election has turned out nothing like the way May and the Tories expected

‘Events dear boy events’

‘A week is a long time in politics’

The first was by Harold Macmillan in answer to a question as to what is most likely to blow governments of course. It is debated whether he just said it to a journalist or at the time of the Profumo Affair or indeed to President Kennedy.

The second was by Harold Wilson.

Both were wise and experienced politicians who were indeed masters of their craft.
How appropriate the quotations are in connection with what has happened the last six – eight weeks.

Theresa May was seemingly determined to stick to her oft quoted remark (repeated some 5 -7 times) that there would not be a snap election and that she would stay the course until 2020 and see Brexit to a conclusion. Yet there was a lingering suspicion that she could succumb to pressures from within the Tory hierarchy to take advantage of the parlous state of the Labour Party and the weak showing in Parliament of its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Also that UKIP was riven with internal difficulties, the Liberal Democrats was finding it difficult to cross the 10% barrier along with reports from Scotland that the SNP was on the slide with the Tories were making a comeback.

It must have been as it proved to be too much of a tempting scenario indeed.

But how to create a situation where Theresa could credibly change her mind? – Ah weekend walks in Snowdonia that should do it.

I recall reading a speech once by Lloyd George of when he was confronted with difficult decisions as he often was. He would walk in the mountains of Snowdonia and he said something along the lines that before climbing the weather was cloudy and misty but as he got higher the skies would brighten and he could see more clearly.
So it was a ‘snap election’ was announced.

Everything looked well with the world. According to opinion polls the Conservatives had a 20 points lead and more, there was talk of a landslide majority in Parliament of between 100 and 200 seats and Mrs May had the highest satisfaction ratio with the electorate since the mid years of Mrs Thatcher and the early years of Tony Blair. Conversely Corbyn and his party were floundering, stuck in the 20%s.

Indeed the Tory strategists decided let’s just campaign with Mrs May at the forefront – hence ‘my team’, ‘my candidates’, ‘my manifesto’ ‘give me a big majority’ ‘when I negotiate with Brussels’ and on and on.

It was going to be a ‘Brexit election’ and ‘give me my mandate’ campaign.

But ‘a week is a long time in politics’! and the campaign started going wrong with an uncosted manifesto, U-turn on social care and the dementia tax, lack of clarity on the ‘cap level’, uncertainty over the arrangements for the winter fuel allowance. Yet worse was to come because Mrs May did not want to participate in TV debates and was coming up with all sort of spurious reasons for not participating. There was a clear strategy to give as little detail as possible and most certainly avoid answering questions directly.

Off course after a while the reason came very apparent, she is poor at explaining and debating when outside her comfort zone and especially in an environment where she cannot control the questioning and the like.

In fact Mrs May has had the poorest campaign for a Tory leader since Sir Alec Douglas Home in 1964 and it must have come as a terrible shock to the Tory grandees, the barons of the right wing press and her cabinet colleagues. Because she is anything but a confident, ‘strong and stable‘ leader and is offering pretty much more of the same economically and also as we move towards Brexit. Although on Brexit all we had are platitudes, no detail just want ‘the best deal’ and ‘no deal is better than bad deal’

Conversly Jeremy Corbyn has clearly thrived on campaigning, enjoyed meeting people, addressing large rallies and appearing human. In fact he has been a revelation to us all and not least to his detractors in the party and the press. Also he has been helped by a costed manifesto that is very popular. His message is being one of hope, change and ending austerity. To be fair Labour has been somewhat clearer on Brexit but they are quite a way away from the position of the other ‘progressive’ parties and certainly the Lib Dems.

However, in the midst of it all came ‘events dear boy, events’ – the terror attacks in Manchester and London and the inevitable politicking about how secure are our streets after all, the extent of the police and security service cutbacks over the last seven years, the causes of this this extremism visited upon our country and the effectiveness of surveillance arrangements.

In this situation it was inevitable that attention was drawn to Jeremy Corbyn’s actions, speeches and who he met with the 1980s and for some 20 years after. He was open to many personal attacks by the media and the Tory party on that and his views on nuclear weapons. 

However whatever his shortcomings in all of that there has emerged a more serious question mark and that is over the seven years that Mrs May has been in charge of security matters as Home Secretary and Prime Minister. Awkward questions are being asked.

So with four days to go I am still of the view that it is all to play for – but more of this in the next post very soon. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The 1970 General Election campaign in Carmarthen

Including events a year earlier leading up to the June election

Describes how the local Labour Party had developed into an effective organisation over the 3 years previous;

How he had a pretty good idea some 6 months before the election that he was most probably going to win because of the organisation, the campaigning since 1967 and events that helped along the way;

Refers to two events that made Gwynfor Evans somewhat of a laughing stock and damaged his image. 

His actions during the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 and
how the so described by his supporters as the 'Member for Wales' tried to go to Vietnam on a Peace Mission.

Then moves on to the election night and the celebrations in Guildhall Square ( he got it wrong about his mother dancing it was with his then father in law )  - but he was not able to emerge via the front of the Civic Hall victorious.

Then the celebrations in the Dynevor Arms ( only some 150 yards from his place of birth where he had lived for 23 years ). Here he gets a bit emotional describing the scene - thinking of family, friends and neighbours he had been brought up with and also loyal Labour party workers ( all gone now!);

The cavalcade across the constituency. of well over a 100 cars.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Continuing Gwynoro's life story 1969 -70

Days as Research and PR Officer Wales 1969/70 and relationship with senior Labour party people;

Chair of Working Group to prepare party evidence to the Crowther/Kilbrandon Commission;

Struggles inside the party in Wales over devolution and more particularly the Welsh group of MPs;

Relationship with Harold Wilson and interaction with George Thomas;

Describes meetings with George Thomas at his home in Heath, Cardiff;

How he became to be thought of as the 'enemy within'.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Gwynoro at Welsh Labour’s Constitution Convention

A constitutional question to Gordon Brown…

On Wednesday 29th March 2017, the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones AM, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leader of Scottish Labour Kezia Dugdale MSP, and former Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott, came together to discuss the future of the United Kingdom in an event held by the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

It was an occasion which I was keen to attend for many reasons, both political and personal. In the first instance one of my first tasks when appointed Research and Public Relations Officer for the Labour Party in Wales in 1969 was to chair a working group charged to develop the party’s policy towards devolution. Then together with Emrys Jones and Gwyn Morgan prepare the party’s evidence to the Crowther/Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution. In fact our submission was essentially the forerunner of the Welsh Assembly established 30 years later!

Then it is my long held view that in order to advance the cause of further devolution in the coming years central to that is for the Labour Party to get its act together in relation to its future proposals for the future of the UK Union. Whatever one’s view is of the Wilson and Blair Governments it was those administrations that moved forward considerably the devolution process in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

However Brexit changes everything and unless the Labour and Lib Dems in particular are alert to the changing political climate they could easily be overtaken by events as can the Westminster establishment.l This is why I am happy to support the movement Yes Cymru

During the meeting, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to ask Gordon Brown about his thoughts on the UK’s constitutional future—inevitably sharing a few thoughts of my own in the process—a video excerpt of which I include here .

Video of the whole proceedings

The Western Mail also produced a useful write-up of the afternoon which is worth a read …

Lord David Owen, Gwynoro Jones, Lord Elystan Morgan and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones share thoughts on the UK Union and the need for a Constitutional Convention before the Carwyn Jones and Gordon Brown meeting.  

Friday, 31 March 2017

Western Mail article titled 'Call to create a federal council of all UK nations'

The following piece appeared in the Western Mail on Tuesday 28th March 2017.

The above is based on a more substantial piece accessible on the Institute of Welsh Affairs website titled
 ‘A Constitutional Convention to discuss future arrangements for the UK’

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A Gang of Four: Towards federalism and beyond…

Lord David Owen, Gwynoro Jones, Lord Elystan Morgan and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones share thoughts on the UK Union and the need for a Constitutional Convention before Carwyn Jones, Gordon Brown and Keiza Dugdale meet at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff on Wednesday 29thMarch 2017 to talk about these issues.

The extent of disunity within today’s United Kingdom is particularly highlighted by the differentiated politics across the four nations, vigorous debates regarding the EU leaving negotiations, recent calls for a second Scottish independence referendum and questions about the post-Brexit situation of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Glyndwr Cennydd Jones, opening,
suggests: ‘For Wales to continue on the present course is to accept constitutional uncertainty and political vulnerability as illustrated by the recent debates on the Wales Bill 2017 in Cardiff and London, as well as the process for triggering Article 50 in the UK Supreme Court. Devomax may rank as an attractive solution to some, but even this does not address the ambiguity and complexity introduced by the general primacy of Westminster and the inherent challenges presented by the unitary state model—accompanied by the now disconcerting shadow of a potentially hard ‘Brexit’ imposed on all four nations.’

Lord Elystan Morgan elaborates:Despite the Devolution of the last two decades the United Kingdom today remains one of the most concentrated systems of parliamentary government in the democratic world.’

‘Today’s Wales Act is deeply flawed and a blue print for failure particularly because of the fact that there are about two hundred reservations—the very nature of which makes the matter a nonsense. Also, a good proportion of the reserved powers in the new Wales Act have resided in Brussels, not Westminster, for many years. When these powers are repatriated as part of the Brexit negotiations, to where should they be returned?  A joint body between Westminster and the devolved governments should be established to explore exactly how one can bring about a settlement that is fair, just and lasting.’

‘For well over a century the debate as to whether a federal structure 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. Indeed, only recently I proposed an amendment to the Wales Bill obliging the Secretary of State for Wales to establish a working party on the issue of the possibilities of Dominion Status for Wales as a land and nation, and to report to Parliament within 3 years. The Statute of Westminster 1931 did not create a rigid model of Dominion Status but rather enunciated a principle of immense flexibility and subtleness.’

Gwynoro Jones asserts that 'The Welsh Assembly has been hamstrung from the beginning and has been devoid of the freedom to act with effective powers. I do not blame Nicola Sturgeon for re-opening the conversation on support for independence in Scotland, nor Gordon Brown for suggesting a federal solution for Scotland in the UK. With the Brexit result I believe that the future lies, at the very least, in a self-governing Wales within a federal UK. We should use the repatriation of powers from the EU to establish a new federal state of equals.’

‘However, I am becoming more convinced that an argument can be made for going further. Surely the last thing the people of Wales should settle for in years after Brexit, where maybe new constitutional arrangements are in place for Scotland, is for Wales to be just an annexe of England. Demographics and economic data should not any longer be the defining considerations. There are several nations in Europe with populations similar to Wales and many dozens more independent countries across the world.’

‘We face new challenges in the coming decade where the old arguments and political stances as to the role and place of Wales as a land and nation will need to be rethought.’

Lord David Owen expands: ‘Those of us who supported Brexit were doing so as part of a much wider agenda of restoring our very democracy which had been distorted by the false claim of post-modernism that the days of the nation-state were over. Far from being over, national identity, whether it be Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English deserves to be treasured as a binding force, not a divisive one. It all depends on whether we can find the correct balance. A Federal UK Council, modelled on the German Bundesrat, may achieve that balance.

‘I suggest a Federal UK Council of 68 members that should involve not only Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but also London and the new city regions with devolved powers. Provision would also be made separately for those who live in areas covered by county councils and unitary authorities. No doubt some of these may wish to develop a regional identity which could lead to separate representation.’

‘In light of the Brexit vote, Theresa May has convened talks involving the leaders of the devolved administrations. The Prime Minister could call together this same forum to start an initial dialogue on a Federal UK Council, involving defining terms of reference, participants, and the timing for reporting back from a convention. There are complex questions about what constitutes federal legislation and the nature of the mediation procedures between a Federal UK Council and the House of Commons, all much better agreed under a government-led convention.’

Lord Elystan Morgan explains: ‘A second chamber or a Senate can carry a federal structure amongst units of disparate strengths and size given certain imaginative checks and balances. To this end I would personally advocate a Senate of 70 members for the four nations of the United Kingdom. I do not think that this is in anyway an impediment to the natural patriotism of any one of the four countries of the UK.’

Glyndwr Cennydd Jones underlines the point: There is a clear distinction between the existentialist and utilitarian views of self-government. The former demands more autonomy simply because of a belief that it is the natural right for nations, and the latter considering it as a path to a better society—to achieve the most effective political unit to secure the economic growth and social justice that people deserve..’

'On balance, the progressively sustainable model rests somewhere between a Federation and a League or Union of the Isles. In the crudest of terms, the former option has aspects of a safety net deployed with shared mechanisms for core functions and policy portfolios to support the realisation of economies of scale in delivery, and greater projection of joint interests across constituent nations and the world. The latter option allows for consensus building and negotiation between fully empowered member nations, but with some risk of competitive considerations and disputes holding-up relationships. We should not underestimate our shared concerns, as an island community, in defence, social mobility and trade for which an incline towards Federation would provide constitutional clarity, comfort and confidence.'

‘If we are indeed approaching a crossroads of sorts in our island journey, a thorough discussion of the appropriate alternative models of governance is required through a Constitutional Convention.’

Lord David Owen, Gwynoro Jones, Lord Elystan Morgan and Glyndwr Cennydd Jones agree that in consideration of the fact that we are all 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.

This Gang of Four calls for a Constitutional Convention to discuss future arrangements for the UK, particularly in the current context of repatriating powers from the EU to the Isles.