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Opinion

Welsh devolution is now facing death by a thousand cuts

30 Jun 2022 5 minute read
First Minister Mark Drakeford (Credit: Welsh Government)

Ifan Morgan Jones

There was an interesting article on the website Conservative Home back in February of this year which articulated quite clearly a strategy for doing away with Welsh devolution.

What the UK Government should do, the site’s deputy editor Henry Hill said, was simply roll back devolution little by little in a way the public wouldn’t notice.

If the public saw a “head on assault on devolution” that might “actually spur a wave of sympathy for”, he said.

The trick, Henry Hill said, was to roll back devolution very gradually “without the public perceiving” what the UK Government was doing.

While I don’t share any of Henry Hill’s self-professed ‘muscular unionism’ he was entirely correct – if you wanted to get rid of devolution, this would be the exact way to go about it.

The Welsh public clearly favours devolution. We’ve had two referenda and every poll shows that voters actually favour more powers for Wales, rather than fewer.

The Covid pandemic also showed, in poll after poll, that they preferred the way the Welsh Government was handling things to the way the UK Government did so.

However, the evidence also shows us that the Welsh public aren’t particularly informed about the day-to-day workings of Welsh politics.

They may know who Mark Drakeford is, thanks to the Covid pandemic, but for 75% (or more) of the population, many of the details beyond that are quite sketchy.

It hasn’t helped that the Welsh Government and Senedd have been particularly slow to get to grips with the problem that the Welsh public don’t really understand what they do.

This could now potentially change somewhat thanks to the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru co-operation agreement which had promised to tackle the “current fragility in the media and attacks on its independence”.

But in the meantime, after almost a quarter of a century of devolution, the Welsh Government and Senedd still struggle to effectively communicate what they’re doing to the public.

Surprise

This puts them in an extraordinarily perilous position because if the UK Government’s intention is to get rid of devolution “without the public perceiving” then that will be extremely easy.

In fact, the UK Government has made two forays in this direction just this week.

First, they said that they would scrap a law passed by the Senedd so that striking trade unionists can be replaced by agency workers.

Mark Drakeford said that this had caught him completely by surprise, which I in turn found quite surprising as Nation.Cymru had reported it a week before.

And then, yesterday, the UK Government announced that they would be taking funds from the Welsh Government to pay for £1bn in aid to Ukraine.

They only took £30m from the Welsh Government, which is change down the back of the sofa for the UK Government. They didn’t need to take it at all.

But that was exactly the point – they didn’t need to take it but they did, and made a point of taking it.

I don’t think the Welsh Government would begrudge spending money on helping Ukraine. But this wasn’t money from the Welsh Government’s defence budget, because it doesn’t have one.

Wales’ defence budget is the UK’s defence budget, because defence isn’t a devolved matter.

This money was taken from the Welsh Government’s budget for things that are devolved, from which its share is decided by how much has been spent in England.

So this £30m was taken out of a pot to be spent on Wales’ health, education and other devolved subjects.

No rush

The UK Government didn’t need to take this money, and chose to take the money on Ukraine because they knew that if the Welsh Government complained, they would look bad.

And of course, the Welsh Government simply doesn’t have the platform to win a war of words with the UK Government, such is the state the Welsh media is in after 25 years of devolution.

So what can the Welsh Government do about this, exactly?

I wrote Monday that the First Minister needed a more robust response to the scrapping of the Trade Union law than simply to rail against the UK Government and call them disrespectful.

The response was to, well, rail against the “disrespectful agenda” of the UK Government.

But the UK Government don’t care what he has to say. If they did, they wouldn’t be steamrolling devolution in the first place.

The UK Government are in a position where they can now overturn devolution at will, and do so without anyone beyond Welsh political Twitter really noticing that they’re doing it.

They don’t need to rush. They don’t need to, as Henry Hill said, launch a “head on assault” on devolution. They just need to keep chipping away, in a way that is imperceptible to the vast majority of voters.

The Welsh Government needs to find some way of alerting and mobilising the pro-devolution Welsh public into, firstly, being aware of what is going on.

And, then, energising them to act on it at the ballot box, in protest, or in whatever way can be found to make it more trouble for the UK Government to scrap devolution than it is politically worth to them.

Otherwise, devolution simply faces a slow death by a thousand cuts.


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32 Comments
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Mr Williams
Mr Williams
5 months ago

So frustrating as there seems to be so little we can do about it.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Thankfully there is Mr Williams – its called ‘independence’.

Crwtyddol
Crwtyddol
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Actually attitudes like this that are publicised will do more for a pro indy outlook than years of speechifying. They’re sinking their own ship.

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
5 months ago

It is up to us to help spread the word: Cymru is under attack from Westminster and The English Establishment.

Colin Williams
Colin Williams
5 months ago

It’s clear that it is the intention of the UK government to wind down devolution in Wales. They know that Scotland has gone and they don’t really care. The Welsh public and, more importantly the labour government, need to understand that the options available to us aren’t, no devolution, devolution and independence. It’s Waleshire, West England or an independent nation with a seat at the UN.

Arwyn
Arwyn
5 months ago

Right, when’s the protest then? And will each and every member of the Senedd be in attendance?

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Make your voice heard on Saturday in Wrecsam……

Arwyn
Arwyn
5 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Confined with Covid sadly. But what I had in mind was a protest that non-indy minded folk could attend. Perhaps start with a rally outside Cardiff Castle and march down to the Senedd for part 2.

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Why would you march to the Senedd? The problem is in Westminster.

Arwyn
Arwyn
5 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Because Welsh people need to see it.

Hell Glibson
Hell Glibson
5 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Organise it, why wait for others?

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
5 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

?

Gareth
Gareth
5 months ago

This is what happens when we have a gov in Cymru who support the union. If Mark Drakeford protests, the Tory’s will say he is a nationalist, separatist, or whatever word they are using this week, so he just sits in Cardiff and tells us how we are better off in the union, while our voice is slowly strangled by a right wing regime, we did not vote for and have no love for. The only way forward is for Labour to either go full hog Indy, or sit back and watch our Senedd fall apart slowly like a sand… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
5 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Oh, and I bet no Labour member for Cymru will protest, as they side with the Tory’s on the union, as Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire calls a proposed second Indy ref for Scotland “illegal”.

Rob
Rob
5 months ago

Any threat to devolution would mean that Wales and Scotland could go down the path the people of Northern Ireland are trying to get away from.

Rick N
Rick N
5 months ago
Reply to  Rob

As usual. Wales has to stand firm or the senydd will be the next block of flats. It is about time the populace of wales understands we are considered to be a vassal state by the conservatives.. knowing the welsh will lie down and accept whatevef crap is sent wales’ way by westminster. Gone are the days of miners strikes etc. But these moddas in govet would probably order in the army if civil unrest were to be instigated. Remember Churchill and the troops being allowed to fire on striking miners and metal workers in the 20s.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
5 months ago
Reply to  Rob

No comparison. Northern Ireland became a country due to Westminster partitioning six of the eight counties of the province of Ulster when the Republic gained it’s independence and an element of its population wanting to stay under British rule. And the British army was sent into Ulster to protect the Catholics from Unionist attacks with disastrous consequences. And where we find us today. Total pandemonium thanks to far-right extremists in the English Conservative government who not only cynically use Ukraine to deflect their misrule but want also want to reopening once festering wounds for their political ends in Northern Ireland… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
5 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

The irony is that the UK regime is doing the same to us in Wales as the Russian regime is doing in the Ukraine.
Suppression of the people of a would be independent nation.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
5 months ago

Well we cant say we havent been warned! The choice we in Wales face is a simple one – independence or death for the Welsh nation by a thousand cuts!

Last edited 5 months ago by Leigh Richards
SundanceKid
SundanceKid
5 months ago

Devolution in Wales simply will not survive long-term. It’s independence or bust folks.

David Harking
David Harking
5 months ago

If prominent Labour members at the Senedd stated that they are pro Indy this could be a turning point. Drakeford is unshakeable on this but after he’s gone it may still not be too late. I guess being pro Indy goes against the fundamental beliefs of Llafur Cymru – I can’t help but feel disheartened because they are oh so very wrong.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
5 months ago

The Conservatives are simply English fascists on a power trip. And Mark Drakeford can show his frustration all he likes but what needs to be done is for our First Minister to act fast, get Senedd lawyers working on a case to prepare evidence so Welsh Government can challenge these undemocratic acts of political thuggery in the Supreme Court.

George
George
5 months ago

“The Welsh Government needs to find some way of alerting and mobilising the pro-devolution Welsh public into, firstly, being aware of what is going on.” But what would that do? Voters in Northern Ireland can shout all they want that UK government is trampling over their wishes with regards to NI protocol but these ugly-English-nationalism-Tories don’t need Northern Irish votes so as long as voters in England don’t care (or even approve) then they’ll carry on to keep tight with Telegraph mates. The boundary changes which will happen in Wales means Wales is going to become more like Northern Ireland.… Read more »

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
5 months ago
Reply to  George

I don’t think we can wait for improved transport links across the country. The rail links are owned by Network Rail. Do you really think the UK Government would allow us to spend millions improving our rail infrastructure? I think not.

I don’t think most people are aware that there is likely a time limit on devolution now. Westminster will continue to chip away at it. Do you really think we have the luxury of waiting for improved rail links before taking action to protect our democracy?

Last edited 5 months ago by SundanceKid
Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
5 months ago

Education. The Senedd must educate the Welsh public about what it does and what Westminster is doing to stop it. Leaflets, public broadcasts, newspaper articles, books and political speaches. Above all the Senedd and particulary Welsh Labour, needs to prepare for independence or find themselves out of a job in the very near future. Independence is our ‘only’ way forward.

Llefain
Llefain
5 months ago

Labour’s unionist position is the huge weakness here. They will never change that. They can’t. Whether you want independence (or even the rest of their policies), or not, people need to vote Plaid. The next election result potential terrifies me. And while, “vote Labour to stop the Cons” will be the rallying cry, yet again, it will not work, yet again, and this time it could see the end of us. We need to stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. It’s time. We need a voice like Scotland has. One that can at least SAY what needs… Read more »

Philip Jones
Philip Jones
5 months ago

I would like to see the WG stop brown nosing the English establishment. Rename our hospitals and that bridge for a start.

Dail y Goeden
Dail y Goeden
5 months ago

A quick exercise for each of us. Walk into your local newsagent – or even petrol station newspaper counter. Look at the relative sizes of the piles of the different titles; realise that for so many of our neighbours – and fellow-voters – public affairs input comes from London papers, which will carry none of this. “An issue about how we’re governed? What issue? I’ve not seen anything…”

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
5 months ago
Reply to  Dail y Goeden

UK Conservative regime = Russia’s Putin regime.

Complete news blackout ordered by those governments.
Dictatorships always remove the truth.

Ukraine today, Wales & Scotland tomorrow.

Unless we call out the UK Tories and Russian Putin-ism as the fascists they are
and remove those fascists from power.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
5 months ago

Yes, Doormat has done his best to see the death of Cymru. We should be more than happy to see the death of “Welsh”(lol) Labour instead. They are Globalists.

Last edited 5 months ago by I.Humphrys
Not My Real Name
Not My Real Name
5 months ago

“Death by a thousand cuts”. Is there a letter missing from that last word?

David Smith
David Smith
2 months ago

Henry Hill is a fat headed gimp who vocalises through his sphincter.

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