What’s in Drakeford’s 20-point plan to save the union?
Its becoming “harder to make the case for the union”, Mark Drakeford has said.
The First Minister made the stark admission in a forward to his plan to save UK from breaking up – Reforming Our Union – which we have summarised in this article.
He also attacked the UK Government for acting in an “aggressively unilateral way” which “inevitably creates anger and alienation”.
The 20-point blueprint, pointed to the Internal Market Act which took powers over funding away from the Senedd and centralised them in Westminster as an example of this.
The document has been updated following the Senedd and Scottish Parliament elections in May and the trade agreement signed by the UK and the European Union.
In the foreword the First Minister said: “However, it has become harder and harder to make the case for the Union, and the threat to it has never been greater during my lifetime.”
Here are the points that are covered in the document:
The document states what whatever its “historical origins” the UK is “best seen” as a “voluntary association of nations taking the form of a multi-national state”
It adds that this “must be based on the recognition of popular sovereignty in each part of the UK”.
It also stated that it “must be open to any of its parts democratically to choose to withdraw from the Union”, because if this weren’t the case a nation could be “bound into the UK against its will” which it describes as a “undemocratic”.
It is argued that the devolved institutions such as the Senedd should be regarded as “permanent” features of the UK constitution.
But it is admitted in the document that under the law as it stands “absolute protection for devolution” isn’t guaranteed because the Westminster Parliament could vote to scrap the Senedd without a referendum.
In the document it says that the UK should be based on the “subsidiarity principle” where some powers are “reserved” by Westminster, and others are held by the devolved parliaments.
It argues that under the current system there is an “asymmetric patchwork of settlements”, and that in the case of Wales this has led to an “inappropriately lengthy” set of powers reserved to Westminster, as well as an an “incoherent set of functions lying with the Welsh Ministers”.
It also suggests that Westminster is even overruling the Welsh Government on matters that are “understood” to be devolved.
This is described as a “restriction unique to the Welsh settlement” and as “an opaque and undemocratic clog on the Senedd’s powers” because UK ministers are not “democratically accountable” in Wales for the decisions they make.
It is also argued in the document that it should be up to each parliament to “determine its own size, electoral arrangements and internal organisation”.
The document points out that Westminster is able to legislate in devolved matters without “consent” and argued that the constitution should ban it from doing so. It points to the Internal Market Act, which took away powers over funding from the Senedd, as an example of Westminster interference in Welsh affairs.
It is suggested that the running costs of each of the 4 legislatures should be on the “same basis” as the UK Parliament currently. It argues that under the current system, the Senedd has to use funds that would be otherwise allocated for public services.
It argues that each of the UK nations should continue to be “represented” in the House of Commons. A “reformed” and “elected” Upper House of Parliament should be created it says, which would “proper account of the multi-national character of the Union”, instead of being largely based on population size like the House of Commons.
The current House of Lords is a mishmash of hereditary Peers, political appointees and bishops.
The UK should be governed by 4 administrations, with “separate” responsibilities it says, “which should be recognised by all of the other partners”.
The document argues that aside from “other arrangements have been agreed” that ministers in each administration should have “exclusive authority” to use its powers “without challenge, review or oversight by ministers of another administration”.
The document calls for “well-founded arrangements” to “enable the various administrations to work effectively together”. It adds that these “may be of a bilateral or multilateral nature” but should be “developed on a collaborative and consensual basis” and “must make provision for the speedy and efficient resolution of disagreements”.
It demands a seat at the table when it comes to the UK’s international relations and its trade deals where they have “implications for matters within devolved competence”.
Whenever a public body or agency with executive responsibilities for more than one part of the UK is created or repurposed, the “views” of the devolved administrations should be given “consideration” when it comes to their design, according to the plan.
This could include the appointment of devolved ministers to the boards of these bodies and agencies. It also raises “accountability” to devolves legislatures as an “issue”.
It argues that civil servants should be “subject to common rules and codes” and that “arrangements should be in place to facilitate exchanges and transfers of staff from one administration to another”.
When it comes to finance, it is argued that spending levels for devolved areas should take into account what it being spent in England to make sure they are “fair” across different administrations.
In the plan it says that the devolved administrations should be funded by a combination of “needs-based” grant from the UK government, and money raised through devolved and local taxation, and capital borrowing. There should be a single UK fiscal framework agreed by all governments it says. But there should also be the “scope” for the devolved administrations to introduce new taxes.
It says a public body should be created with responsibility for operating these “resourcing arrangements”, including the “spending power and borrowing limits” of the devolved administrations. These should be “accountable” to all 4 administrations “jointly”.
Though it is up to the devolved administrations to “determine, within the powers and resources available to them, their own priorities for taxation and public expenditure”, there is the potential for “spill-over” effects with could impact the other nations. The document suggests that disagreements between governments in these cases should be “subject to independent assessment”.
The devolution of criminal justice to the Senedd is argued for in the plan. This is because devolved institutions should be “founded on a coherent set of responsibilities”. It says that an in Wales an “arbitrary division has been drawn between what can be legislated for and what cannot”. It points out that criminal justice has already been devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It says “So, Senedd Cymru can legislate, but the enforcement of that legislation is through the courts system, for which the UK Government has responsibility in Wales.”
The Supreme Court should be the “ultimate court of appeal” when it comes to most matters in the UK, it states. It should also have “least one suitably-qualified person identified with Wales is a member”.
When it comes to determining future constitutional arrangement for the UK, it should be done in a “holistic” instead of an “ad hoc” fashion, it is argued. It also says that the Welsh Government and the other devolved administrations should have “seats at the table” when this is done.
The First Minister added: “In some important ways the Union has failed to keep pace with the full and real implications of the creation of legislatures in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, in part because insufficient overall attention has been given to how the nations should talk and act together on matters which affect all parts of the UK.
“Moreover, where the UK government acts in an aggressively unilateral way on behalf of the whole UK, without regard for the status of the nations and the democratic mandates of their government, this inevitably creates anger and alienation.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. A United Kingdom which stands still will be overtaken by competing loyalties and the lure of separatism.”
“Beyond slogans, buildings and flag flying, the current UK government has contributed little to thinking about an energised and viable future for the Union.”
Plaid Cymru has responded to the plan by saying Labour is “defending the indefensible” by backing the union and added that “will never put Wales first”.
Tory Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, has called the plan an “unwelcome and unnecessary sideshow”, and believes that Drakeford shouldn’t be debating Wales having “more powers”.