The Labour Welsh Government sold out too short and too soon

Simon Thomas AM. Picture by National Assembly (CC 2.0).

Simon Thomas AM

The debate this week in the Senedd has shown without a doubt the new fault line in Welsh politics.

It is not about remain or leave, it is a line between those British unionist parties who believe in the indelible rightness of parliamentary sovereignty at a UK level, and those of us who have spent our political lives questioning the ability of the British constitution to deliver for the people of Wales.

The crucial question in Wales today is about whether you want decisions about Wales, to be made in Wales.

Plaid Cymru believes we should retain our parliamentary powers in Wales because we believe people here know what’s best for their own country.

The centralist enemy is now Westminster, Whitehall and May, not the European Commission.

Fundamental to our view of governance is that sovereignty rests with the people of Wales. People voted to take control – not hand the remote control to Westminster over agricultural, environmental and energy policies.

I was brought up in the Cynon Valley, in a Labour supporting family. Why did I not join the Labour party? Because I saw Labour sell out Wales for the hope of power in London.

One Valleys AM described herself as a “unionist” like a badge of honour during the debate. Think for a minute about this idea of Westminster parliamentary sovereignty trumping everything.

When I look at my own political history from 1979 on—from the miners’ strike, from the erosion of workers’ rights and trade union rights to the poll tax, to austerity as a result of the crash—I don’t see parliamentary sovereignty protecting the people of Wales.

I see parliamentary sovereignty as an entrenched narrative to justify inequality and privilege. I see that it needs to be challenged time and time again until we get a better narrative, where power comes from amongst our people.

Fallacy

The disruptive forces unleashed by the referendum on our European Union Membership are ones that will change politics.

The primary accusation in this context to level against the Labour Party in Wales is how they have failed to use this opportunity to press home better and stronger powers for Wales.

I trust the people of Wales to exercise all the powers that were exercised at the EU level responsibly and, for that matter, in solidarity with other nations in these islands.

People thought the Welsh Government also took that view.

We were told at the outset that they wanted to negotiate from the point of view of equality and parity between the nations.

We were told that they wanted to negotiate with a constitutional approach—a UK council of Ministers was suggested—with a legal framework.

We were told that this would include a disputes mechanism, for working out how things would be resolved.

We were told they wanted to negotiate on the basis that decisions could always be reviewed from the point of view of equal partners, coming together.

Take a look at the inter-governmental agreement and ask yourself: are those features there? They are not.

The Welsh Government itself said that it wanted a proper Council of Ministers, and proper approach post-Brexit to the fundamental relationships between the nations of this United Kingdom.

This inter-governmental agreement does not deliver that. It is certainly not a strong enough constitutional ground for us to give our consent to Westminster to legislate.

There is a fallacy that England is treated the same as Wales. It is not: Wales and Scotland are constitutionally frozen.

England has voluntarily put itself in the deep-freeze and can thaw itself out whenever it so chooses. Let’s see how long Michael Gove decides to stay in the deep-freeze when it comes to changing environmental policies.

The strongest weapon Wales had in this process was time. The Westminster Government is up against it. They can’t negotiate their way out of a paper bag at the moment.

The Welsh Government had time on their side to grind this out through the Supreme Court – to grind this out until the Westminster Government gave us a better deal.

Time is a wonderful wearer away of entrenched positions in politics. The Labour Welsh Government sold out too short and sold out too soon.


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