UK Gov should overrule Welsh government in a crisis to build case for the Union says Conservative editor
UK Government Secretaries of State should take direct control of devolved matters controlled by the Welsh and Scottish Governments when there is a crisis in order to show that the Union can work in people’s interests, according to the editor of a Conservative news site.
Henry Hill, the news editor at ConservativeHome, said that opportunities for the UK state to show what it could do were becoming fewer and farther between because of the increasing autonomy of Wales and Scotland.
In order to save the Union, the UK Government should take control in circumstances such as the Covid pandemic rather than allowing the response to be run from Cardiff and Edinburgh.
“The problem is that as devolution gets more and more extensive, and the scope of the British state narrower and narrower, opportunities to act and be seen to do good will get fewer and farther between,” he wrote in the Spectator.
“A hollowed-out UK with full fiscal autonomy and no fiscal transfers, floated by some commentators as a way of finally buying off the separatists, would not have been able to rise to the occasion as today’s UK has done.”
He added: “Rebuilding the legitimacy of the British state will take time. But giving the Secretary of State for Health the authority to take control of the national response to an emergency situation such as a pandemic is an obvious place to start.”
Health care in Wales is a devolved matter, with the UK Government responsible for healthcare in England. A poll for ITV Wales in March suggested broad support for the Welsh Government’s handling of the pandemic.
According to the poll, 61% in Wales thought the Welsh Government had handled the pandemic well, while 53% thought the UK Government has handled it badly.
However, Henry Hill argued that the UK-wide furlough scheme was an example where a pan-UK approach had shown itself to be superior. Meanwhile, First Minister’s Mark Drakeford’s refusal to sign up to an NHS volunteering app showed that the devolved administrations sometimes did things differently “for its own sake”.
“It can’t be said often enough that the foundations of any defence of the Union have to be the British state being seen to work,” he said.
“That’s true even if you believe it’s essential to build up an emotional case for Britain because it is much easier to forge emotional attachments to something that is doing practical good.”