The Welsh Government are powerless to resist being steamrolled on the lockdown
Ifan Morgan Jones
I think I’ve mentioned before that my favourite quote about politics comes from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series: ‘Power resides where men believe it resides.’
The UK isn’t quite Westeros but the principle remains the same. And this quote is particularly relevant when discussing devolution in Wales. You can devolve as much power to the Welsh Government as you like, but unless people realise and recognise that the power is devolved, is it devolved at all?
The coronavirus crisis has been a good test case for this. Legally, the Welsh Government have the power to control the lockdown in Wales. In practice, however, unless people know they have that power they are going to listen to the UK Government.
This may well be why the UK Government may have felt free to complete steamroll the devolved administrations tonight on the matter of ending the lockdown.
According to the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror’s front pages tomorrow morning, the lockdown rules will begin to be eased from Monday, with the ‘stay at home’ order scrapped and the public free to go where they choose.
The kicker from Wales and Scotland’s perspective is in the small print of the article: The UK Government *will* contact the devolved administrations about this, to agree a UK-wide approach.
In other words, the UK Government is telling the public that the lockdown is going to come to an end, via the front pages of tomorrow’s newspapers, before even agreeing to it with the Welsh Government.
One Welsh Government Deputy Minister responded to the front page on Twitter by grumbling about a “respect agenda”.
But the reality is that respect comes from having power, and after 20 years of not taking fundamental steps to ensure that the public is informed about the basics of what they can and can’t do, Wales’ devolved institutions find themselves in a powerless position.
Yesterday Professor Judith Hall, a Cardiff-based consultant anaesthetist, said that the circumstances in Wales were sufficiently unique to need to require a different lockdown timetable to England.
“We’ve a different population, we’re older and more rural in general, so I think we should make our own decisions,” she said.
But while Mark Drakeford has wavered on whether Wales will lift the lockdown at a different time to England, he probably realises full well that the main block to doing so is that it would in practice be almost impossible for the government to get that message across.
This crisis has shown that a national media isn’t some nice to have nation-building project – it’s a public health imperative. If devolution is to function, if power is to reside where our plebiscite has deemed it should, then the ability to communicate effectively with the public is one the government must have.
So in practice, what we’re likely to have over the next few weeks is something of a mess as the Welsh Government keeps control over that which it can – such as education and workplaces – while being completely at the whim of the UK Government about others such as freedom to travel.
We could, for instance, soon be in a situation where Wales’ towns are packed with tourists from urban areas while children in those same communities aren’t allowed to return to school. A shambles.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.
It’s hard to disagree with a single line of this.
Drakeford must take the decision that the Lockdown WON’T BE LIFTED IN WALES, and he must do it now – so that there’s no ambiguity and the message is simple. We can’t have holidaymakers and ramblers coming in whilst our infection rate in north-west Wales is now going up, and there’s no test, trace and isolate regime in place. The Daily Mail’s front page is a disgrace, an incitement to travel and visit the countryside – to smash the lockdown before even one restriction is lifted. Drakeford must act now and insist, or even buy if needs be, time or… Read more »
I am an English woman living in Torfaen. I do not consider Mark Drakeford has any right to tell me what I can and can’t do. He is an absolute no-body! Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom! What he says goes.
This is a wind -up, because I assume you’re aware of which country you are currently living in.
I’m a Welshman living in Wales. I do not consider Boris Johnson has any right to tell me what to do. He is an absolute nobody, a toff and arrogant to the core. Mark Drakeford is the prime minister of Cymru, and whilst he leaves a tremendous amount to be desired, I’m more inclined to listen to him than someone who has no regard for my country whatsoever
The message must come from Cardiff that we can’t lift the lockdown yet. It can’t be the usual willy-nilly quiet announcement that no one will listen to. It has to be loud. It has to resound throughout Wales and the UK. It needs to tell the people of Wales to continue staying in, and it needs to tell the people of England, that we’re still closed and for them not to come. In the short term, the Welsh Government needs a PR officer who knows how to work with the UK press to get the message across. In the long… Read more »
Agree totally with this , like I’ve said in an earlier comment on another article , who do I listen to? , Am a governed by Welsh gov or UK gov? Are we British or Welsh or both or just Welsh or just British ??? This situation has opened that argument and needs to be sorted once and for all . For me having most laws and regulations and aspects of daily life devolved to Wales then I must listen to Welsh gov. So you are right he needs to be shouting from the roof top and get that message… Read more »
‘This crisis has shown that a national media isn’t some nice to have nation-building project – it’s a public health imperative.’ I rather think it really doesn’t show that. What it does show is that in this degree of crisis a combination of a UK government which doesn’t really believe in devolution and a population considerably ignorant of, and even to all intents and purposes unaware of, devolution can make the Welsh devolved institutions largely irrelevant and open to being effectively sidelined. And I suspect that over time this may well emerge as a real issue. Daniel Kawczynski, the hard… Read more »
Does this MP think the same rules apply to Scotland,
I suspect that he and his ilk would ideally like to unpick devolution entirely, except perhaps in Northern Ireland where the peculiar history of the place would make doing so more difficult; after all, NI has had devolved government for a century, ever since partition. But that they’d favour starting the unpicking with Wales because public support for devolution is more muted here and – outside y Fro Cymraeg – Welsh voters still tend to vote for unionist parties in pretty much the same patterns as English voters. Popular support for the SNP in Scotland is now such that attempting… Read more »
Right about Scotland, J. Since Cov. 19, The National has added 2000 to it’s suscriber list, now at 9.2 K.
And therein is the crucial difference between Scotland and Wales. The SNP has succeeded in appealing to Scots voters across the board, widely and lastingly. Na h-Eileanan an Iar in the Gaelic-speaking Hebrides returns SNP candidates and so do large parts of urban Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a range of points between. Rural seats and urban ones, prosperous areas and ex-industrial decayed ones, all may well elect a Scot Nat. Whereas in Wales Plaid Cymru has never made any lasting incursion beyond y Fro Cymraeg, and most Welsh voters continue to back unionist parties whose main focus of interest and… Read more »
Wrecsam Plaid seem to be chalking up little victories, due to hard work. Women power?
True, Neil McEvoy could drag us flotsam together, plus the 50%, which would really take us into new territory, and as you say, he has what it takes to do just that!
Glad to hear that. I live not too far from Wrexham, but in Denbighshire and therefore outside the county borough, so I’m not that clued up on what goes on there.
I’m by no means opposed to Plaid; I voted for them here (Clwyd West) in December and am likely to do so again. But because Neil McEvoy’s WNP has a proven ability to win votes in areas where Plaid’s struggled, I’m happy to back their attempts to win voters’ hearts and minds in places where Plaid struggles to strike oil.
Each vote for a party that backs indy is a vote for indy. Both Plaid commenters and WNP commenters have not bathed themselves in glory during the recent unpleasantness, but maybe that’s all part and parcel of a new political party being born. It’d be nice to wander the high ground for once, though; put petty bickering aside and focus on the goal of separation from our different points on the political compass. But if we have to keep trudging over the low ground… As long as separation remains the goal, so be it.
Labour don’t understand that power and respect have to be won, not given. The complain that Westminster doens’t listen to Wales – but Labour has never stood it’s ground. When push comes to shove, the unity of the British state and being seen as “sensible” by the Westminster establishment in Wales and London, is more important to Welsh Labour than Welsh lives. There’s no point to devolution under Labour – may as well have no Assembly and Alun Cairns as Secretary of State. Useless Labour.
The hard truth is that things are sure to change only when enough people are ready to vote differently from the usual patterns. And as yet not enough of them are doing so.
Plaid Cymru must begin to look at various strategies as ’21 gets within view, but I no longer believe that mere
votes will get Indy. Blank refusal from Bunter to Scotland on another Indy ref says it all.
Indeed. No way forward constitutionally in that respect under the current Westminster government, which is completely dominated by hard right Tory nationalist Brexiteers.
Good article. However, I don’t understand. Are some commentators suggesting that we in Wales should remain ‘locked down’ whilst the Saes are allowed unfettered access (by the UK government)? Or is it being suggested that people from outside of Wales be prevented (by the Welsh government) from coming here because we should still be locked down due to different demographics and circumstances?
Because Cymru is in a different set of circumstances to England re. the potential impact of the virus, a one-size-fits-all easing of the lockdown will be harmful in this country while being (it seems) less so in England. Public health professionals in Cardiff are better-placed than those in London to judge when best to lift the Welsh lockdown. An extra risk is that, because Wales currently has no constitutional control of its border, we will almost certainly see a repetition of the influx of holiday-makers and second-home owners from cities east of the Dyke, causing an increased risk of the… Read more »
Are the Welsh councils going to refund council tax to home owners who can’t go to their houses.
Some of them have gone “Business Rate” to avoid paying tax, yet may even have a payout. Ludicrous.
No. That would be ridiculous, as well as adding insult to injury.
Today’s First Minister questions will be very interesting. Mark Drakeford has consistently said that the Welsh Government will work with the Westminster Government but will take it’s own course when it believes that that is best for Wales. He has also said that Wales is at a different point in the trajectory of the virus, that we are a few weeks behind. So, that means that if Westminster decides to relax lockdown in England our Government simply has to say that it won’t be relaxed yet in Wales. A simple statement of logic if he is to stand by what… Read more »
It was only a week or so ago that Mark Drakeford was saying HE’LL decide when Wales comes out of lockdown, not Westminster. So why doesn’t He back His words up with action? Answer: Because He’s a wet blanket.
TV was made widely available so that Governments could spread Their propaganda and control the masses, so all it takes is for Drakeford to go on Welsh tv and make His own announcement about the lockdown easing, or not. Not rocket science, is it?…
That takes a certain daring, and I’m not sure that he has that in him.
Boris undoubtedly has a better grasp of the situation than Trump, but unfortunately would rather use his “gift of the gab” to deal with things by bluff and bluster rather than base his approach on a careful analysis of the situation. In Wales, and no doubt Scotland we await his next “speil” this coming Sunday, as he is unlikely to remember that in the context of the Coronovirus Pandemic, he will be speaking as the Prime Minister of England. Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon have said they hope that a 4 Nations approach can be agreed, as it would be… Read more »
Completely agree with this. Wales needs to speak out now much as Nicola Sturgeon has in Scotland. Make it clear that Wales is not yet open or we will be inundated again. Push for devolved power ! Speak up and fight for Wales to govern itself ! Do this or we are going to have a calamity!
What a difference a day makes seems to be more than a Dinah Washington hit. This made so much sense yesterday and right up until Dominic Raab got out his roadmap looking for Dover and rolled back “Freedom” again. Kirsty telling them to get stuffed if they think schools would open might have had something to do with his stuttering.
Such a shame that events dear boy events made the article a waste. Try again Monday?
Drakeford needs to be clear that the lockdown is not over. He needs to ensure the Police enforce it and that the army are deployed to protect the border. That will show Westminster where the power lies – in the democratically elected Senedd.