Wales faces a choice between Devolution In Name Only and independence
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
Devolution is dying.
But Welsh democracy is not dying of natural causes. It is being killed off by Boris Johnson’s Tory government in Westminster.
It means that it is becoming ever clearer that Wales faces a choice between Devolution In Name Only (DINO) and independence
The power that the people of Wales have painstakingly accumulated over the last 20 years is being sliced away piece by piece. It is death to Welsh democracy by a thousand cuts.
These are powers that have been endorsed by the Welsh people in several elections and two referendums, but Boris Johnson’s Tories don’t have any respect for that. They don’t have any respect for that because they don’t have any respect for us. They don’t have any respect for Wales.
They are irked by the fact that we in Wales are able to make some of our own decisions and pass our own laws. It is an inconvenience to them. They believe that we should know our place. They believe we should shut up and do as we’re told by our betters. Their sense of incredulity when we do not is palpable.
Boris Johnson hates the fact that Wales took a more cautious approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. His government was embarrassed by the fact that support for independence shot up during this period.
This increase in support for Welsh self-government was a reaction to Westminster’s incompetence and its callous disregard.
We noticed when they refused to extend the furlough scheme when Wales had to go into a firebreak lockdown – only to do so once England needed one too. It did not escape our attention when Wales was gazumped as it tried to acquire live-saving PPE.
During this period Wales acquired a new-found confidence in its ability to run its own affairs. Our vaccine rollout was world-leading.
The Welsh Government’s handling of the crisis has certainly not been without error. However, it does compare well with that of its next-door neighbour.
For this affront, Wales must be punished.
New version of devolution
We are being subjected to a new version of devolution. In this new version, the people of Wales will be permitted to make their own laws in increasingly limited areas with one rather important caveat. If Tory MPs in Westminster disagree with them, the Senedd will simply be overruled. The mandate given to the Welsh Government by the people of Wales will just be ignored.
Devolution will be effectively meaningless. It will be Devolution In Name Only or DINO.
The UK Government has already passed the Internal Market Act, which steals Welsh powers over funding infrastructure projects. The Act also undermined the Senedd powers by forcing Wales to accept whatever new standards on food, environment and animal welfare that are agreed by the UK Government in post-Brexit trade deals.
But if you thought the assault on Welsh democracy was going to end there then you were under somewhat of a misapprehension.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has threatened to overrule the Welsh Government by building the M4 relief road. The UK Government’s Department for Transport has also pointedly refused to rule out overruling the Welsh Government on this issue.
This comes amid the rather suspicious £7m move to rebrand Highways England as National Highways.
Boris Johnson has also said he’s putting constraints on how money raised from the increase in National Insurance can be spent by the Welsh Government.
Meanwhile, UK Government’s housing and communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, has hinted that Westminster plans to interfere in another devolved area.
He said that the housing department had “historically seen itself” as focused on England but “we now very much see ourselves as UK-wide.”
The Sewel convention that Westminster does not pass laws in devolved areas has effectively been scrapped.
The foundation on which devolution was built was always a flimsy one. The house we built is showing signs of subsidence and could well collapse.
This reality essentially means it doesn’t matter who the people of Wales vote for in devolved elections.
In this context, the Welsh Government’s plan for further devolution and a federal UK looks rather optimistic. At worst it looks hopelessly naïve. It smacks of fantasy politics.
Boris Johnson’s government is dumping sewage in the “clear red water” that Welsh Labour has attempted to put between Wales and Westminster. The river from which we are expected to drink is being polluted, and under the Westminster system there isn’t all that much Mark Drakeford can do about it.
Welsh Labour’s success at the Senedd election was due in no small part to the fact that it is seen by much of the electorate as the party that stands up for Wales.
But what happens when its limited powers to do so are taken away? Is it so emotionally invested in the union that it is prepared to accept the humiliation of Devolution in Name Only?
Each assault by the Westminster establishment on Wales’ powers makes the reality clearer.
Wales faces a choice between Devolution In Name Only and independence.