The Impact of Devolution in Wales aims to excite debate and a mature discussion of the challenges facing us
Aled Eirug, co-editor of The Impact of Devolution in Wales
The Impact of Devolution: Social Democracy with a Green Stripe is published this week by the University of Wales Press (£19.99), and is the companion volume to the engaging and captivating memoir written by the former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, published in 2017 shortly after his untimely death.
His memoir gave a wonderfully evocative account of his personal and political life, but it left the academic political analysis to others!
Prof. Mike Sullivan was an internationally renowned social scientist, the Professor of Social Policy at Swansea University, and a specialist policy adviser to Rhodri Morgan during his time as First Minister. After Rhodri’s retirement as a member of the Assembly in 2016, the former First Minister became Chancellor of Swansea University, and worked closely with Mike, who as the University’s Vice-President Strategic Partnerships, built the University’s reputation as a global institution.
Mike developed the Texas Strategic Partnership, involving collaboration with eight leading universities and medical institutions, and he was instrumental in establishing the University’s unique and ongoing relationship with Hillary Clinton, who accepted an honorary doctorate in 2017 and agreed to the renaming of the College of law as the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law.
Both were huge characters who left an indelible mark on Welsh political life.
In the period when Rhodri wrote his personal memoir, Mike agreed to write an accompanying analytical, academically grounded analysis of Welsh devolution. Rhodri sadly died in May 2017, but Mike continued with this project, and recorded twenty interviews with key participants in Wales’s story of devolution, and Rhodri’s contribution to it.
These dialogues, as opposed to interviews, include fascinating observations about the nature of emerging post-devolution policy after 1999, the tensions within the Labour party and between the parties and each other as the Assembly struggled with the tensions inherent in an institution in which no separation existed between Government and parliamentary body.
They also magnify the issue of how devolution progressed as a peculiarly Welsh brand of social democracy, and how Rhodri Morgan, more than anyone else built a Welsh Labour identity that has led to the continuance of its domination of the Welsh political landscape throughout the ‘devolution years’.
He created ‘clear red water’ between Blairism and Welsh Labour, and his politics was universalist and markedly ‘Welsh’ in its appeal to principles of equality and equity.
In Adam Price’s view, one of the reasons for Labour and Morgan’s success was that they stole Plaid Cymru’s clothes. ‘I think the reason for the success of the Labour Party is not to do with a re-invention of social democracy but because they completely stole Plaid’s intellectual territory,’ he says.
He views the 2007 ‘One Wales’ Plaid-Labour coalition, that Morgan fashioned, as harmful for Plaid: ‘Labour tradition in Wales is now in some sort of soft, nationalist mould… One Wales [the coalition agreement in 2007 … allowed them actually to continue down that road, ironically in many ways, and Plaid hasn’t been able to recover, to reposition itself since then.’
This is one of twenty interviews with key participants in the development of Welsh devolution that Mike Sullivan conducted, and others reveal the nature of the deep divide between Rhodri Morgan’s Welsh Labour and Blairite Labour in London.
It also reflects the grave crisis facing devolution in its first eighteen months, and how the flawed nature of the devolution legislation, which was more appropriate for a county council than a national legislature, inhibited its development.
The book also includes eight contributions by academic scholars on the impact of Welsh devolved government in different policy fields, and reflections on present and future challenges and opportunities. It is the product of continuing discourse, analysis and argument on matters about which both Mike and Rhodri were passionate, and which matter both to Wales and to our wider understanding of the world.
Each contribution questions the impact of devolution in specific policy fields, and include chapters that evaluate economic performance, education and health, sustainable development, children’s policy, the Welsh language, the field of equality, the impact on civic society, and Wales’s impact on the world.
Any questioning of the impact of public policy in the context of devolution is too often seen as an attack on devolution itself. But if one was to deprecate Boris Johnston, for instance, one would not be thought to be also deprecating the UK’s political institutions, such as the Houses of Parliament.
In the same vein, I hope that we are mature enough to believe that any criticism of policy under devolution does not mean that devolution itself should be questioned.
This volume may not be the academic analysis that Mike Sullivan might have written, but we hope that it will excite debate and a mature consideration of some of the key challenges facing us over the next twenty years.
The volume is edited by Aled Eirug, former Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Wales and constitutional adviser to the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, and Professor Jane Williams, a distinguished lawyer and children’s rights academic and activist, and who was married to the late Mike Sullivan and worked with him to produce the Wales Journal of Law and Public Policy (2001-2006) – and to advocate for the rights of the child in Wales.
She is a co-founder of the Observatory on Human Rights of children, based at Swansea and Bangor Universities. She has published in the field of devolution, child law and children’s rights.
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