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Opinion

Gordon Brown’s report on the future of the UK doesn’t have much to say about Wales

05 Dec 2022 5 minute read
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a Labour Party press conference. Picture by PA Wire / Danny Lawson.

Ifan Morgan Jones

Gordon Brown’s much-heralded Commission on the UK’s Future has been published this morning – so what’s in there about Wales?

The answer – having read through its almost 150 pages – is ‘not much’. As the choice of the former MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath as its author suggests, this report is mostly about Scotland.

For example, the dedicated section on Scotland runs to 11 pages, while the section on Wales is only two pages long.

There may be a good reason for this however as the report largely defers to the as yet incomplete Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales set up by the Welsh Government itself.

“In Wales, our proposals strengthen self-government for a new era, but we are mindful that the Welsh Government has set up an independent Commission to make recommendations on constitutional issues,” it says.

“We know that we can rely on the Welsh Labour Government to publish its Plan for Wales that employs to the full the powers of the Senedd and, at the same time, maximises the benefits from co-operation across the United Kingdom.”

This leaves Gordon Brown’s own report without much to do beyond hint rather vaguely towards a beefed-up role for the Welsh parliament and government.

The report promises “a new voice and new status, and new powers, for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as valued parts of the United Kingdom”.

“There is no constitutional reason why matters which are devolved in Scotland, including the new powers we propose above, could not also be devolved in Wales,” it says.

Justice

Even so, those keen on further Welsh devolution may be slightly disappointed by the lack of ambition for further devolved powers expressed here. There is no jackpot of new devolved powers waiting at the end of the Labour electoral rainbow.

It promises:

  • Welsh devolution should be constitutionally protected from meddling by the UK Government by giving a new Senate of the Nations and Regions – replacing the House of Lords – a role in protecting it.
  • New powers should be made available to the Senedd and Welsh Governments, including embarking upon new powers over youth justice and the probation service.
  • The Welsh Senedd’s members should, if desired, enjoy the same privileges and protections as Members of Parliament in relation to statements made in their proceedings.
  • Enhanced access to economic resources for Wales: the British Regional Investment Bank should maximise support for innovation and investment in Wales, in conjunction with the Welsh Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

It’s worth remembering that these are just promises that will go out to consultation before being included in a Labour manifesto, and may even then not be implemented.

Abolishment or significant reform of the House of Lords has itself been promised by Liberals and later Labour going back to the mid-19th century, and has not yet happened.

It’s also not entirely clear how the new Senate of the Nations and Regions would work. Presumably, the English regions would still outnumber the Celtic nations and therefore be able to overrule them on devolved matters just as the House of Commons can currently do.

The proposals to embark upon new powers over youth justice and the probation service also fall short of the wholesale devolution of the justice system that some in Wales had hoped for.

Even the Mayor of Manchester has devolved powers over policing, for example, but that’s not on offer to Wales here.

It’s hard to tell however whether this does represent a scaling back some of Welsh Labour’s ambitions for devolution or whether UK Labour are just committing to as little as possible to be on the safe side.

On the whole, despite having been ostensibly written by Gordon Brown the report as a whole is a bit of a vague mish-mash, giving the impression of having been written by a committee, perhaps lending credence to suggestions that there was a great deal of disagreement within UK Labour’s leadership about its contents.

Quite far-reaching and historically significant ideas like a Council of England are mentioned in passing, but there’s no real detail.

‘Abandoned’

Perhaps therefore in the case of Wales, the report should be interpreted as a snack to await the main course of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.

It is more of a nod towards a direction of travel which is very much at odds with the ‘muscular unionist’ approach of the current Conservative government.

The report says that “the UK is more centralised than any comparable country” and that those in the Celtic nations and English regions have been “morally and politically abandoned by the present UK government and the desperation for greater agency”.

“This over-centralisation of power poisons almost every aspect of our political system,” it says, adding: “Our recommendations aim to strengthen both the independence of Scotland and Wales within the UK, and their interdependence with the rest of the UK, balancing autonomy and solidarity in the best interests of their people.”

It is worth noting of course that even Boris Johnson admitted that the UK was “more unbalanced than any other major country” and promised to tackle it through his levelling up agenda.

For Labour, it may be easy to promise to give power away from the centre in opposition. It could be harder to do when they are sat at the levers of power themselves.


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Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 month ago

So uk labour’s much heralded report offers Wales practically nothing – there’s a surprise!

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

… because, as it says, Wales has its own Commission, which will produce its own recommendations. Surely allowing the Welsh to make their own proposals is a good thing.

And it also says “There is no constitutional reason why matters which are devolved in Scotland … could not also be devolved in Wales”. So muoh of the 11 pages on Scotland can also apply to Wales, if we want it.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Yes Paul but any proposals from Wales would have to be approved by the labour govt at westminster. Im afraid the uk labour party simply cant be trusted when it comes to giving meaningful powers to Wales

George Atkinson
George Atkinson
1 month ago

Because Brown and his party are English nationalists calling themselves British.

Riki
Riki
1 month ago

Yep, English Nationalism Cloaked in A Union flag of England and Scotland which is wrongly claimed to be British!

Donna OBrien
Donna OBrien
1 month ago

When will Wales wake up and realise if we want the best for our country and to be heard by Westminster we need to be voting for Plaid Cymru.

Richard
Richard
1 month ago
Reply to  Donna OBrien

We need to be voting 🗳️ for folk who will put their communities and ( our ) nation first for certain…….

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

Not even crumbs ! At least the Tory’s will be offering a St Davids Day buy off in their plans for ‘ West Anglia’ 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Arwyn
Arwyn
1 month ago

So, the Carling of Constitutional Reform then. Utter p…

I await Welsh Labour’s response with baited breath. In all seriousness though, the electoral calculus at the next election will have a far greater bearing on constitutional change than Brown’s disappointing damp squib of a proposal. Polls suggest no overall majority – SNP as kingmakers? Now that will be fun.

Last edited 1 month ago by Arwyn
Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 month ago

The last couple of sentences sums things up. While in opposition things are easy to say but once in power it’s another thing all together. Will the will be there once Labour gain the keys to Number 10? I have my doubts. The current system is very entrenched and it will take a lot to break it. We must continue on our path towards independence.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

Very disappointing lack of substance in the recommendations for Wales. I don’t have confidence that we will be placed on an equal footing with Scotland. Again, we are being expected to accept a lesser settlement.

…and apparently we are better off in the ‘union’.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
1 month ago

First smash Labour.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago

This is typical of UK Labour regarding Welsh devolution. Wales
yet again is not even an afterthought where Scotland & England are prioritised once again.

But where’s Mark Drakeford to query why his masters Keir Starmer & Gordon Brown in London have an 11 page dossier on Scotland and not even a post-it note concerning Wales setting out what additional devolution we will receive? More scraps from the Unionist table.

Riki
Riki
1 month ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Yep, but they get to keep their position in the Governance of the Welsh within a UK that wants us At best Absorbed into England, at worst, completely gone. And we all know, keeping one’s position, even as Puppets is the most important thing to a Politician. Not the freedom of your Nation and it’s People!

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

New voice as valued parts of the UK for Cymru, Scotland, and Northern Ireland but with less MP’s at Westminster. Cymru set to lose 8, you have to be a special kind of stupid to believe anything the Red Tories with Brown promise. Full independence will give all 3 Celtic countries 100% of a voice over their own affairs. Never trust a Tory no matter what colour they come in.

Riki
Riki
1 month ago

The saddest part about he situation Wales finds itself in is the belief that we have to dance to the same Tune as Scotland where independence is concerned. Scotland and England are legally Joined, which means Scotland need to seek the same legal way to leave said Union as England would. Wales on the other hand was illegally annexed which makes all Laws there after pertaining to it, Void. They were made under duress. All the Welsh Senedd need do is remove the consent that sees a foreign Monarch as head of State. No Referendums are Required. You only give… Read more »

Welsh_Siôn
Welsh_Siôn
1 month ago
Reply to  Riki

Don’t forget the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 (aka ‘the Acts of Annexation/Union’) between Cymru and England were abolished by Westminster in 1993 under the Welsh Language Act 1993, Schedule 2.

Riki
Riki
1 month ago
Reply to  Welsh_Siôn

Which effectively admitted what they did, and seeing Wales as a distinct People and Culture (Country). The Main Problem is the fact that very Few Welsh people either aren’t aware of the differences in the two cases, or Don’t care! The Politicians imo Don’t care! They have an Inferiority complex and want to be a part of something bigger, even if it makes their lives worse!

Quornby
Quornby
1 month ago

Brown doesn’t know where Wales is. Who remembers “the vow” to Sotland?

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Isn’t this the guy who sold off Britain’s gold reserves cheap and almost bankrupted the country? I wonder who bought the cheap gold, wink wink😉?

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Unless the UK government suddenly decides to run up a load of debt in foreign currency, it cannot be made bankrupt, we have a sovereign currency, the government literally creates its own money and was it our gold or was it part of the 31 tonnes of Venezuelan gold the Bank of England are illegally refusing to return to Venezuela?

George Thomas
George Thomas
1 month ago

I’m edging towards side which says Universal Basic Income is unaffordable, however I think that sort of pilot is exactly what Wales/Cymru needs.

The solutions largely aren’t going to come from Westminster. We can all spot what’s going wrong in that building – though sometimes it’s more complex than it first seems – but independence doesn’t stop us having a relationship with that parliament and, as with Brexit, independence without solid grounding leads to big trouble.

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 month ago

Are we now supposed to pat good old Gordon on the back, simply because he’s said Scotland should have more power? Like Carwyn Jones, the last first minister of Wales, the pair of them were very vociferous against Scottish independence and further devolvement of power to Wales. If it wasn’t for Jones, Wales would have its own legal system and Welsh police force. About time people woke up to the fact we’re being played, Why are the tories still in power in Westminster, because the electorate have no power.

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