The change from Welsh Assembly to Parliament is overdue

The Senedd. Picture: Smoobs (CC BY 2.0)

 

Ifan Morgan Jones

There has been some predictable blowback to the Welsh Assembly Commission’s decision that the Welsh Assembly should change its name to Welsh Parliament next year.

A lot of this has come from those who just don’t want to see the institution flourish. Their objections alone might suggest that it’s a good idea.

But some has also come from those who are supportive of Welsh devolution, who either:

  • Think it’s pointless
  • Think it’s a waste of money
  • Believe it doesn’t have the public’s backing
  • Bristle at the idea that the word ‘Parliament’ has more authority than ‘Assembly’
  • Would rather the Welsh-language name Senedd was used all the time
  • Believe it will lead to confusion between the Welsh and Westminster Parliaments

Although I understand these concerns, I’m fully behind the change as I think it will help solve the problem of a lack of understanding of devolution we have here in Wales.

The public consultation carried out by the Assembly found that the public felt that parliament was the best name for the institution.

But the name change is really a belated response to a far bigger poll: The 2011 Referendum in which 63% backed giving the Welsh Assembly law-making powers.

People understand that this is what a Parliament does. It passes laws and makes decisions that govern our lives. Unless they’re au fait with French (or Bulgarian) politics, the function of an Assembly needs far more explanation.

The Assembly has struggled to get the attention it deserves in the British (or even at times Welsh) press, and so anything that makes it easier to explain what it does is worth doing.

No confusion

I’m sympathetic to the argument that Senedd should be used in all contexts in order to normalise the use of the Welsh language, in the same way as Oireachtas is in the Republic of Ireland.

Using the name ‘Senedd’ all the time might represent a small victory for the Welsh language.

Giving their political institutions Irish-only names doesn’t seem to have done the Irish language much good, however.

And there is a danger that it could further confuse or alienate non-Welsh speakers who don’t understand what the legislature does.

I’m not convinced either by the argument that people would confuse the Welsh and Westminster Parliaments.

The Scottish Parliament has never suffered as a result of such confusion. There are also over 50 other parliaments around the world that are easily distinguished from Westminster.

Some countries, such as Australia, have a number of devolved parliaments and the public understand their function perfectly well.

The name of the country denotes the unique brand, while the ‘Parliament’ simply makes it clear what the body’s function is.

No-one confuses the Welsh Rugby Union with the RFU, or the Welsh FA with the FA, so there’s no reason to believe that the Welsh Parliament would confuse anyone either.

One step

Changing the Assembly’s name to Parliament isn’t a silver bullet that will dispel people’s ignorance of what the institution does.

It’s one of a range of measures the Assembly must employ in order to ensure that the public understands its function.

The report of the Assembly Commission’s News and Digital Information Taskforce, published next week, will hopefully suggests further measures for tackling this problem.

The Assembly’s Culture, Welsh-language and Media committee are also looking at ways in which the media in Wales could be further strengthened.

Solving the problem of ignorance of Welsh devolution will be a long and difficult journey – changing the name is just one step. But it’s a step in the right direction.

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