Our Senedd is under attack – we must all do better to protect it

The Senedd. Picture by tthe National Assembly (CC BY 2.0).

Cerith Rhys Jones

Over the weekend, the leader of the Brexit ‘party’ group in the Senedd, Mark Reckless, gave an interview to BBC Wales, in which he floated the idea of making the position of First Minister directly elected.

This would be a significant departure from the current system, in which Assembly Members – or Members of the Senedd, as they’re soon to be known – are elected either in constituencies and regions, and it is they who select from among their number the Senedd’s nominee to be First Minister.

During the course of the interview, Mr Reckless expanded on his suggestion, explaining that people want fewer – not more – politicians, and that a directly elected First Minister would take care of Wales’ interests, while the 40 Welsh Members of Parliament would perform the usual functions of the Senedd on a one-day-a-week basis.

What he didn’t say so clearly, but which became clear during the interview, is that his suggestion includes the abolition of the Senedd. We no longer need AMs, he contends, because MPs will take their place.

He referred to the current position of Welsh MPs: unable to vote on Welsh laws in devolved areas, and unable to vote on England-only laws.

It is true, of course, that Welsh MPs have difficult jobs. They speak for their constituents, but not in devolved areas. They are full Members of Parliament, and yet their authority does have territorial limits. Not to mention that it is an often thankless job. It’s not a job I would care to do.

But Mr Reckless’ suggestion raises myriad other questions:

1.) To whom would a directly elected First Minister be accountable? Would they answer to the people of Wales? Would they answer to Welsh Members of Parliament? Might they even answer to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales, or the Sovereign?

2.) What powers would this new First Minister have? Taking care of Wales’ interests is one thing, but would they retain the executive competence of the Welsh Ministers at present? Or would they simply be the ‘voice’ of Wales? If so, to whom would they make that voice known and by which process?

3.) What would be the purpose of a First Minister without a cabinet and without the machinery of government? The mistake implicit in the suggestion is that this new First Minister would be a lone wolf, unshackled from the burden of bureaucracy.

Such a position would be pointless. Without a cabinet, civil servants, and the machinery of government on which to rely, this First Minister would find it nigh on impossible to achieve anything.

4.) In the same vein, it’s worth including this question, because no clarity was forthcoming here either: would we even have a government? (A proper one, that is.) Or would this First Minister be some kind of ambassador? If so, remember that ambassadors answer to someone. They fly someone’s flag. They advance someone’s interest. The question is: whose?

5.) How could 40 Welsh MPs do the job of the Senedd on a one-day-a-week basis? We already have a Senedd where Members find it challenging to properly scrutinise the executive because of their limited time and resources. It simply is not realistic to suggest that this could be further compressed to just one day per week.

Would that one day include committee meetings? Public engagements? Outreach activities? Engagement with civil society? Legislative scrutiny? Scrutiny of the executive?

6.) Similarly, are we really to contend that Wales’ MPs could even spare the time? These, too, are busy people. On which day of the week do we suggest they should perform the functions of the Senedd? Which of their normal items of parliament or constituency business do we suggest they should abandon because of their new dual mandates?

Which committees should they resign from? Which interests should they refrain from pursuing because they now have to do the job of two legislatures? Given their additional responsibilities, would it not also be prudent to afford them additional pay?

7.) Would Welsh MPs sit in Cardiff when performing the functions of the Senedd? That would naturally incur costs. It would also mean additional travel and time away from home – and from their constituencies. Or would they instead sit in Westminster? That would represent the removal of Welsh democracy and representation further away from our communities.

8.) How would they discharge their functions as a quasi-distinct legislature? They would not be the Senedd. They would not even be a parliament. Rather, members of another parliament, performing a discrete set of responsibilities. How would they be held properly accountable in respect of these functions? How would their work be funded?

Would they be granted additional staff support? Would they operate in any organised fashion at all? Would they be some kind of super-charged Welsh Grand? Would MPs be dissolvable, or for that matter proroguable, in respect of their Senedd functions?

9.) Where would executive power now reside? At present, it resides with the Welsh Ministers. Presumably, this suggestion would do away with the Government of Wales Act 2006, and no clarity was forthcoming as to where executive power would sit under these new arrangements.

Would it return to the Wales Office? Be vested in the Prime Minister? In Parliament? Or in this new-look First Minister, accountable to no one, and with no resources to perform their executive duties?

10.) If the suggestion is that the new-look First Minister (perhaps even with a cabinet and machinery of government around them) produces law for the approval of Welsh MPs, what steps would be taken to avoid the whole process becoming a mere rubber-stamping charade? What would happen in the event of deadlock?

What would happen if, for example, a First Minister were elected from one party, and another party had a majority of Welsh MPs, and they made it their work to derail that First Minister’s agenda?

While it may be possible to construct a response to some, or even all, of these questions, the net result will always be the diminishment of Welsh democracy. This is achieved by the total destruction of executive competence, and the erosion of legislative scrutiny.

It is achieved by demoting those areas currently devolved to a one-day-a-week add-on to the responsibilities of the members of another parliament. It is achieved by the limiting of engagement and outreach with the public, civil society, and business.

This continues until we reach the point where we have found ourselves back under the direct rule of Westminster, with no respect for the fact that Wales is a distinct – de facto if not de jure – political, economic, cultural, and legal entity. This can be nothing but a disservice to the people of Wales and their communities.

 

Disempowered

I would contend that people who use their positions of influence, patronage, or privilege to advance suggestions such as this know full well the answers to the questions listed above. They know that their suggestions are unworkable, illogical, or impossible. They know that what they’re suggesting would mean a rollback on the idea that Wales should make its own laws.

They press on regardless because they also know that they have no intention of seeing their suggestions through. They are nothing but a distraction technique. A con. A ruse. Designed purposefully and carefully to reach people who, for one reason or another, feel unhappy or disengaged and convince them that this will be the panacea to their problems.

Sound familiar?

Few would deny that devolution has achieved all that it was promised to. Regardless of their partisan opinions, I have never met anyone involved with public life who believes that the Senedd and Welsh Government are perfect and that nothing needs to change.

But the answer to our problems is not to do away with the whole thing and place ourselves under the control of Westminster.

The challenges we face are complex. Populism does our citizens a disservice by claiming that they can be solved with simple measures. It doesn’t do that because it naively wishes there were such a thing as simple solutions, but because that very idea advances its own political agenda.

And it works. People do feel disempowered. They do feel disengaged. If someone shows you an easy way to fix that, you’d take it, wouldn’t you?

That is why it is the job of all of us – regardless of our own partisan views – who believe in the Senedd and in the devolution project to up our game.

Whether our long game is independence, federalism, or simply a cementing of the settlement we now have within the United Kingdom, being pro-devolution is not exclusive to one party or even one school of thought. And we, all of us, must speak with one voice.

Those principles we hold dear – that laws are better when they’re made closer to citizens, and that Wales can and should be treated as a country not by gift of Westminster but by right of itself – are under attack.

“The Assembly […] and the Welsh Government […] are a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. […] It is declared that the Assembly and the Welsh Government are not to be abolished except on the basis of a decision of the people of Wales voting in a referendum.”

So says the very first clause of the Wales Act 2017.

In these times in which we live, we would be fools to allow ourselves to believe that that which we deem to be unimaginable is not possible. If the past four years have taught us anything, it is that we must consider the unfeasible to be feasible. The inconceivable to be conceivable. The absurd to be rational.

And in response, we must do better, aim higher, reach further, and seek to hold ourselves more robustly to account. We must call out those who seek to diminish our voices and those of our communities. And we must speak truth without compromise wherever we find misinformation.

Not as politicians, or civil society, or media, or business, or vested interests. But as citizens.

Do that, and we might – just – have a fighting chance.

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Johnny GambleFraserRhosdduCerith Rhys JonesJonathan Gammond Recent comment authors
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A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg
Guest
A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg

Mr. Jones’ words are part of what’s wrong: Long words, preaching, explaining. %50 of us are not physically as intelligent as that.

Yma o Hyd
Get Brexit done
Make X Great again
Yes Cymru

Stop explaining everything. That doesnt win.

Siôn
Guest
Siôn

It’s an article, in the press. It offers analysis, which is fundamental in any democratic system. Not everything has to be simplistic and brainless.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

‘Simplistic’ seems to work with rather a lot of voters, though, if we’re to believe the prevailing analysis of the last Westminster election outcome …

Jason Evans
Guest
Jason Evans

How patronizing, an article with a bit of depth and according to you most of us are to stupid to understand it.
The article has more sincerity and veracity than any of your ridiculous garbage.

False prophecy doesn’t win a thing but gives plenty of laughs

Cerith Rhys Jones
Guest
Cerith Rhys Jones

Hello. Sorry you feel I’m preaching. That wasn’t what I was trying to do. However, I do take issue with your suggestion that people are too stupid to understand. They’re not. I take the point about slogans, but this isn’t a slogan. Nor is it a campaign piece. It’s a collection of my thoughts, and nothing more. I will say this, though: I object to the debasement of public discourse and the supposed need to “stop explaining everything”. That’s the very point I made towards the end of the piece. Populists claim there are simple answers to our challenges, when… Read more »

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

There is very little point in debating those matters relating to the “Reckless” suggestion. To defend Wales, not just its Senedd/ Cynulliad, and advance to its independent status we should make sure that the likes of Reckless don’t get voted again. Start by making the habit of hopping about from party to party far more difficult, especially when done voluntarily by the individual. Then tackle the issue of why these “tramps” turn up in Welsh politics. Tackle the evident questions about the lack of positive contributions from such people, although other A.M’s from Plaid, Labour and Tory groups might also… Read more »

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

Members of the Nigel Farage fan club have now realised the man himself isn’t going to offer them a lifeline, so they are desperately seeking clickbait mischief to get themselves re-elected in 2021, knowing full well that whatever populist promises they make, they’re very unlikely to be in any position to have to deliver on any them. Cerith Rhys Jones has probably given this idea much more thought than Mr Reckless.

Ann Owen
Guest
Ann Owen

Mark Recless was flying a kite – his purpose being to begin to normalise the idea of Wales without a Senedd, to try and take hold of the discusson on our constitutional future. We should certainly be prepared for such attacks and untruthful “easy” answers coming up to 2021. But we shouldn’t give his ideas more oxygen in serious discussions and debate, not even to rebuff such phoney, superficial thinking – instead we should marshall and publicise simple facts and figures that let us all know that we would be much worse off without the Senedd; that government from Westminster… Read more »

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Do you think he could assemble a kite?

Plain citizen
Guest
Plain citizen

The whole issue with Welsh politics is what does an executive and a Senedd as currently constituted actually achieve for the people of Wales? Is it first class healthcare? Economic outcomes? Education? Apparently not. The institutions of government are run by the same tired old slogan spouters that failed (or couldn’t get into) in Westminster politics with the same tired old slogans. Welsh Labour, in power for God knows how long, sees itself as the lap dog of Westminster (or more likely Islington ) Labour and is happy to preside over a gentle decline of the Welsh economy and its… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Guest
Ernie The Smallholder

You have made the argument for a new government at Cardiff Bay. A fair election system can do that ad proposed by Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. The Welsh Parliament/Senedd needs to take on more powers including a creation of a central bank, take control of the justice and immigration systems. Also, to have its own foreign policies. If we lose our Welsh Parliament we will become in effect an occupied nation much as we were before the 21st century. Nothing can be solved by UK imperialism – and in defacto USA imperialism. This shows that the… Read more »

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

I too watched James Williams interviewing Mark Reckless on ‘Politics Wales’, and I thought Reckless was proposing that devolution in Wales should morph into something like devolution in London, with the First Minister functioning like a Mayor but with Wales’s Westminster MPs fulfilling the role of AMs. There was inevitably little detail in a short interview, but I don’t think the detail much matters given that Reckless is out on the far fringes of our politics. He’ll never now be in a position to be a real mover and shaker anywhere. The best he can do is (a) to try… Read more »

Geoff Evans
Guest
Geoff Evans

What they really want is a Colonial Governor for Wales!

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

……………. just ordered me pith helmet from Lillywhites.

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest
Arwyn Lloyd

The idea of only Welsh MP’s voting on Welsh matters has been mooted before. Those of us old enough will remember the Welsh affairs committee during the 80’s and 90’s when the Tories would stuff it full of their own MP’s (not representing Welsh seats) in order to overcome the Labour majority in Wales. Between that and the likes of John Redwood “governor general” approach to the Welsh Office it was enough to convince a majority to vote Yes in the ’97 Assembly referendum. Reckless is clearly aligned with the aims of the right of the UK political establishment in… Read more »

Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

I wish you were policy officer for Plaid Cymru – they might win my support back then along with many others and garner new ground

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest
Arwyn Lloyd

Sadly Adam did for me with his “reparations” comment. Really good members in the constituency party. Just feel that the leadership is getting details and strategy very wrong.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

I go with the general thrust of your argument. I’d only add that while I agree that the faction of the Conservative party now comprehensively ascendant at Westminster always opposed devolution and, as you say, long sought to prioritize ‘a singular British national identity’, a couple of things have changed since the Thatcher era. One is that ‘middle England’, not least the part of it that habitually votes Conservative, seems to me, increasingly if only gradually, to be adopting an English, rather than the old unalytical British, identarianism. Having lived through the period, I put that down to (a) the… Read more »

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest
Arwyn Lloyd

Good points John. I certainly agree that the resurgence of the English identity has been Labour and even the Tories blindspot in all of this. I wonder if it will be what finally undoes the UK?

Plain citizen
Guest
Plain citizen

Excellent points very well made especially your penultimate paragraph. The quest for Welsh self determination is a worthy goal in itself. Not to be manipulated so idealogues can use it as a stepping stone to their fantasy socialist nirvana. Real democracy means accepting the democratically expressed will of the people. Not seeking to decry it if you don’t agree with the result by sneering at ‘populism’. If you don’t like the result, peacefully campaign to democratically overturn it. We must have no truck with the hard left obsession with driving out any criticism of their brand of politics by labelling… Read more »

Fraser
Guest
Fraser

Actually to point out in 1999 Plaid come very very close to winning the assembly elections and would have been running wales

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

Don’t forget what George Carlin said – ‘Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.’

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

And the Conservative hero Winston Churchill, who’s said to have once wryly observed: ‘The best arguments against democracy come to my mind following a five-minute conversation with an average voter’.

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Well, I think the average person is smart enough, but they go to work, have kids, dog tired sometimes, and don’t think politically every day, as many of us have decided to do, and the Tories are just fine with that situation, thanks very much. The national movement’s job is to shake ’em up.

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

I take your point to some extent, but experience even within my own extended family suggests to me that ‘smart enough’ doesn’t say it how it really is. Though you’re quite right in yout imputation that ‘the Tories are just fine with that situation, thanks very much.’

Redmond Mocke
Guest
Redmond Mocke

Mark who? Just tell him to p.. Off. We want more power to Senedd and for Wales to embrace Brexit and move on to greater stronger Wales. We need and should be pushing for a four state Great Britain with complete devolution of all excepting inter national relations which should come under the auspices of a reconstituted House of Lords with equal representation from all four states.

Anthony Mitchell
Guest
Anthony Mitchell

I’m not for Brexit but I’m down with devolution/federalism, even independence if it means better governing ourselves. Devolution for England even sounds fair, why not?

Habib Steele
Guest
Habib Steele

Parties based outside of Wales ought not to be allowed to field candidates for the Senedd. They have no understanding of Wales and its people.

Stephen Amos
Guest
Stephen Amos

I’m going to play devil’s advocate now: The problem is the political right have an advantage at the moment. They don’t have to rely on truth. They don’t have to rely on workable measures. They only have to shout a few soundbites – Too Many Politicians, Money on NHS and not on AMs etc – and people will start to believe them. The reason is, they speak to people’s passions and anger. I hate to say it, but there needs to be someone in the independence movement that does the same. Enough of this ‘colonialism’ talk – most people on… Read more »

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest
Arwyn Lloyd

Can I suggest getting familiar with GERW and using it to produce an excoriating critique of UK governance in Wales?

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Cue Neil!

Johnny Gamble
Guest
Johnny Gamble

Spot on Stephen I agree with every word you say except for the last sentence. EnglishNats not BritNats.

Elin Owen
Guest

We might a well have a couple of glorified mayors for two or three transborder City Regions… hang on, l’m sure that this is what these people want. The sooner we reintroduce tolls on the Severn Bridge and use the money to improve road and rail links within Wales, the better!

Citizen
Guest
Citizen

“Populism does our citizens a disservice by claiming that they can be solved with simple measures.”

The contempt held by members of the Brexit party in the Senedd towards Welsh democracy and self government is equalled by the writer’s apparent contempt and condescending disdain for the opinions of the people of Wales he dislikes or doesn’t deem to be ‘correct’

Cerith Rhys Jones
Guest
Cerith Rhys Jones

For the record, I don’t hold the people of Wales in contempt or disdain. I do maintain, however, that complex challenges are rarely solved with simple answers. For example, someone might complain that they can’t get a doctor’s appointment. The simple answer to that is “Get the immigrants out!” That might strike a chord. But it won’t solve the original problem. An anti-immigration populist would still advance that ‘solution’, though, because it supports their own agenda. That, in my view, is a disservice to our citizens.

Kerry Davies
Guest
Kerry Davies

The recent reshuffle and appearance of a eugenicist fascist inside Number 10 should set off warning alarms whenever any person anywhere even suggests more centralisation of power in the UK. The UK was the most centralised state in Europe even when the USSR was up and running. Any attack on self determination and devolution is a regressive step toward colonialism and servitude.
What we have is far from perfect and that is the best reason not to move toward elective dictatorship.

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

This made me sit up. Best post!

Rob
Guest
Rob

A few other points I would like to add which proves that Mark Reckless’ proposal is flawed… 1) The Tories want to cut the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 29, as far as I know this is more likely to happen now that the Tories have a larger majority in Westminster, regardless of our constituonal preference. 2) Welsh MPs make up the Welsh Grand Committee, now that we have English votes for English Laws there is also an English Grand Committee. But they are not legislative bodies, they are just committees part of the Westminster legislature. What happens… Read more »

Anthony Mitchell
Guest
Anthony Mitchell

Broadcasting has a big play on this, we know more about what’s going on in Westminster than in the Senedd, you can hardly argue that devolution in Wales has failed when we’re not even given the same powers in Scotland. Our Senedd was set upto fail, not to mention the stagnant politics we’ve had with Labour for 20yrs. Give us same powers as Scotland, another 20-30yrs of different parties and political views in power not just Labour and then we can humour the conversation of abolishing the Senedd, which in my opinion shouldn’t even be humoured then as it shouldn’t… Read more »

Jill o the South
Guest
Jill o the South

Never did I think standing outside the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1997 when Dafydd Wigley, Ron Davies, Richard Livesey came out to announce a very good morning in Wales that twenty three years on I would countenance the end of the Senedd but apart from Free Prescriptions & Bus Passes and a lot of hot air I can’t think of much that the Welsh Assembly has achieved in that time. You can’t justify keeping something just because of its symbolism. If there really was a unified and strong independence movement in Wales it would have moved the… Read more »

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest
Arwyn Lloyd

The disappointment of Labour’s haplessness in government is matched only by that of Plaid’s failure to be a credible alternative in the electorate’s eyes. It pains me to say that.

Jonathan Gammond
Guest
Jonathan Gammond

It’s just an appalling idea. These directly elected megalomaniacs cannot possibly represent the variety of opinion that exists across any electorate including Wales nor in any way bring a population together. All too often they attract the very people you wish to keep as far away from the levers of power as possible and they are obsessed with self-promotion viz. the first three mayors of London, especially Johnson and Khan, along with a good dollop of cronyism and no real on-going accountability. The right has always had an obsession with ‘action man’ politics, but it always ends in tears, and… Read more »

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

I am frankly astonished at the bare-faced cheek of the man Reckless in presuming to pass judgment on the Senedd and to propose his absurd alternative. Anyone with an iota of humility would acknowledge to himself that a mercenary like him, who has about as much knowledge of, and interest in, Wales as he has of/in Tadjikistan or Senegal, is not best-placed to make proposals of this nature. The Senedd is a national disgrace in terms of its effectiveness, but it’s OUR national disgrace, and we need to solve the dilemna of what to do with it and where to… Read more »