Drakeford backs ‘Senedd’ name for Welsh parliament – and Devo-max

Picture by @mark4leader/Twitter.

Ben Gwalchmai

Welsh Labour leadership challenger Mark Drakeford would prefer the name ‘Senedd’ over the Welsh Parliament, and would back eventual Devo-max for Wales.

In an interview with Nation.Cymru he said that the name ‘Welsh Parliament’ implied that Wales was trying to recreate the Westminster Parliament.

“It does in a way, assume that the gold standard has been set somewhere else and what we have to do is recreate our own mini version and I’m not in favor of that,” he said.

“If I had to choose, I’d have to go with the Senedd because I am quite keen that we establish our still very new institution in ways that does not take a preexisting model elsewhere as the sort of template and that we’re always judged against what has gone on somewhere else.”

‘Welsh Parliament’ won a public vote last year as the new name of what is currently called the Welsh Assembly.

Assembly Members voted last month to allow the Assembly Commission to introduce a Bill making the change.

Mark Drakeford did, however, see some advantages to the name ‘Welsh Parliament’ in that voters would have a natural understanding of what the institution did.

“If I could get my own constituency – actually later this morning, I’ll be knocking doors in the western edge of Cardiff west – I think if I said to people, I was a minister of the Welsh Parliament, they would know completely what I meant,” he said.

“If I said I was in the Senedd, quite a lot of people will know but people will not, that will be a new term to them.”

Constitutional change

Mark Drakeford said that it was very difficult to tell where devolution would end up, but that he was strongly in favour of new powers for Wales.

“I’m definitely at the devo-max end and, probably, if you ask me where I go next beyond that, I’m with Carwyn [Jones] really,” he said. “Federal UK with proper intergovernmental institutions to government.”

However, he had mixed feelings about devolving some powers, and thought others should be devolved piecemeal over a longer period.

“The tax and the benefit system are an essential part of what makes the United Kingdom worth having, in that, that is the great engine of redistribution and I’m not in favour of breaking it up,” he said.

“We should have Air Passenger Duty – there’s no case against at all. We’re the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t have it, and I was busy arm-wrestling with UK ministers earlier this week on that very topic.

“Justice is where I see the next steps forward for devolution. I’m not a believer, as some people are that, the whole of justice system has to be devolved in one go in order to preserve its integrity.

“Myself, I think you can take justice in smaller chunks and the sensible thing is to start with those parts of the justice system, where it’s closest to what we have already.

“So Youth justice should definitely be devolved, Probation service should definitely be devolved and you’d pause and, you know, allow yourself to absorb those responsibilities and see how that went next. I think that’s a better approach than a big bang.”

Second chamber

He also backed the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected chamber, and said that one way of preserving the UK was to give the smaller nations more representation.

“You can build in regional membership that that gets away from the problem of the UK, that’s so dominated by one big, partner in it,” he said.

“I don’t think the [US] Senate is a perfect model by any manner of means but it, you know, California has two senators and Montana has two senators and that’s to make sure that California doesn’t rule the roost completely.

“So, you know there are models out there and we can use and I’m definitely in favour in significant and radical reform in that way.”

Brexit

It was “very difficult” that the Welsh Government were the only ones who seemed concerned at the moment with the relationship between the different parts of the UK after Brexit, he said.

“When I go the Joint Ministerial Committee on Brexit, Wales is practically the only voice in the room that consistently argues for some time and attention to be found for the way the UK itself will operate on the other side of the European Union,” he said.

“Scotland will enter into that discussion to a certain extent, but it always – in the end – knocks up against their declared ambition, which is to not be a member the United Kingdom.

“So, in a sense, they’re not going to put a huge effort into working out how the United Kingdom should operate because really, they’d rather be off!

“When we had Northern Ireland at the table, they were always hamstrung by the fact that the two component parts of their administration have such fundamentally different views on this and U.K ministers, in my experience, are simply overwhelmed by Brexit.

“They spend the whole time, hand to mouth, spinning plates, hearing them crash behind them and things like that.

“When you say to them, ‘We need to think about something that’s going to happen not today but in a few months’ time’. It’s a sort of ‘Oh, don’t. Don’t bother me with that. I can’t find the time’.

“So, in a way, it has been Wales around the table who has done the thinking, produced the papers, and tried to find some space to do it.”

He said that Wales could have parity of esteem and parity of participation, but not parity of power within the UK.

“We have 3 million people and England is, however, many times of it, there’s no point pretending that that doesn’t count, because it does,” he said.

“That does not mean you can’t have parity of participation. In which we all come to the table on and equal basis as participants and then the differential makeup of the United Kingdom will have play into how decisions are made.

“So, I think there’s lots of thinking that we have led and we will be very keen to find partners with the other parts of the United Kingdom that are willing to have those conservations while we still have a tiny bit of time.”

No Deal

He also said that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would be a “very bleak prospect for Wales”.

“I think we are affected almost more than any other part of the UK by a No Deal Brexit,” he said.

“61% of our exports go to the EU, whereas the UK average is 50%. A larger percent of our economy’s manufacturing compared to any of part of the UK.

“And we have the whole issue of the rural economy and the fact that 90% of our exports go to the Mediterranean.

“A No Deal Brexit with barriers in the path of trade, then the impact on the Welsh economy is going to be profound.

“It’s difficult to see how those difficulties will be mitigated. How would a continuing Tory government respond to a No Deal Brexit?

“If they had any sense, as they say, if they had any sense then we wouldn’t be in this position. If they had any sense then they would respond in a directly Keynesian fashion because at that point, the economy is sinking, fast.

“The government’s job in a Keynesian sense is to use its power over the state, counter-cyclically and to counteract that. Now, their record since 2010 wouldn’t give you a lot of optimism that that’s how they see the world.

“That is what we will be saying to them, I think a lot of mainstream economists, even the bank of England will likely be saying the same thing to them as well. In a No Deal Brexit, their job is to spend money, to keep the economy afloat.

“Our response in the sense of the Welsh Government and National Assembly response is just to mobilize whatever, efforts we are able to make, with the powers what we have on that side of the ledger. To just try and be part of that.”

‘Enormous harm’

A ‘no deal’ Brexit would “poison the well” of Wales’ relationships with other parts of the EU, he said.

“My experience of Brexit and going around to meet regional governments and other parts of Europe is to be humbled, I think, by the incredible generosity of people who we are doing harm to, in their willingness to keep doors open for us, to want us to continue – as Wales this is now, rather than the UK,” he said.

“But in a No Deal Brexit, it isn’t just the economic harm that comes to the UK and to Wales. It is the poisoning of the well of those relationships.

“I just don’t think we could rely on the idea that there will be an immediate receptivity at an international level to rescue us from the harm of our own making, particularly because this will be causing enormous harm to them as well.

“My own view of the negotiations is that the EU is constantly in the reasonable position, it is always trying to find ways of making this less awful then it otherwise needs to be. The unreasonable people are the people behind the prime minister, on her own backbenches, pushing her in the opposite direction.”

He said it was “difficult to be optimistic” see that the relationships Wales had built up with others parts of Europe would carry on in the same way if there was no deal.

“In a Crash-Out Brexit, all that effort that all those people have made is going to be cast aside and I don’t think we can assume that they will be able to shrug their shoulders and say ‘Well, never mind. We will carry on’,” he said.

“Inside the United Kingdom, what Wales can do by itself in terms of constitutional law is very limited.

“We are very dependent on having to do that with Westminster as well. I don’t easily see where there are laws that Wales itself could pass that would provide additional sources of mitigation to the impact of a No Deal Brexit.”

 Welsh Labour

Although he believed that Labour should remain one UK party, he was open to independence for Welsh Labour if that’s what the members wanted.

“Absolutely. I’d have to be in favour,” he said. “The Labour Party belongs to its members and we need to make sure people understand that meaning.

“That’s why I was so certain, back in November that when our Welsh assembly committee decided to run our leadership elections on the old Electoral College model, that that was the wrong decision and I felt I had to say that straight away.

“I had some difficult conversations with others who took a different view. I was so sure that that sent the wrong message out to those hundreds and thousands of people we have been so lucky to attract, to be members of the Labour party in Wales.

“That somehow, the party did not belong to them and that their voice was not going to be decisive. We are not out of that yet, we have phase two of the democracy review, there’s more ground to be gained there.”

He said that he was personally n favour of the Welsh Labour Party taking more control over its own affairs while remaining, part of a UK party.

“I am very committed to a distinctive Welsh Labour, brand and I think it’s very important that we continue to persuade people to be Welsh and to be Labour are things that can go hand in hand with one another,” he said.

“Having a party that respects that and enforces that identity, is very important too.

“Does that mean that you have separate parties that are linked in the way that’s suggested or is it that we are all under the one big umbrella of occupying distinctive, clearly distinctive spaces within it?

“I’m slightly agnostic for it and happy to, you know, just sort of stay in touch with things as they unfold.”

Blair

However, Welsh Labour had always had freedom from UK Labour to plough its own furrow in government, he said.

This was true even in the early days of devolution when Labour formed the Westminster Government.

“Sometimes the received wisdom about those early days has been that there was an overbearing interest in devolution from London and that they took a sort of supervisory role in which we were answerable to them for what we do,” he said.

“Blair, for all of the things I didn’t like, his policies and so on, I can genuinely say that – having sat in that room many times, many times afterwards as well with just Rhodri, him, and me and one person with Blair – the conversations would go, ‘This is something we’re thinking of doing, this is what we are doing’.

“And Blair would say ‘I wouldn’t do it like that, that isn’t how I would do it’ and the conversation would carry on but, at the end, Blair would say ‘But you are the First Minister for Wales, devolution means you do it your way’ and I actually think he was one of the relatively rare people at Westminster who genuinely understood that that’s what devolution meant.

“You could discuss it, of course, you could exchange views and look at alternatives but at the end, he was always absolutely clear that it was Rhodri’s decision and a devolved decision and he was not, he wasn’t involved.

“So, in my own direct experience, he was the opposite of how he was sometimes portrayed.”

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