Westminster is scrapping Wales’ law – so what are Welsh Labour going to do about it?
Ifan Morgan Jones
There’s a scene in The Simpsons where Homer Simpson is being his usual boorish self, opening and throwing away every chocolate bar in Apu’s Kwik-e-Mart convenience store.
Apu confronts Homer thus: “Hey! Hey! I have asked you nicely not to mangle my merchandise.”
Then comes the punchline: “You leave me no choice… but to ask you nicely again.”
This scene often comes to my mind when the Welsh Government reacts to the latest intransigent move by the UK Government.
There are a lot of strong words by the First Minister about ‘shocking’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘reckless’ actions taken by Boris Johnson and others at No 10.
But the question always remains the same. Under devolution, a system Welsh Labour supports, what choice does the Welsh Government ultimately have but to ‘ask nicely once again’?
The announcement today that the UK Government plans to scrap a law passed by the Senedd so that striking trade unionists can be replaced by agency workers is another such moment.
Welsh Labour ministers had hailed the Trade Union Wales Act in 2017 as a way to protect the rights of unions in devolved public sectors, such as health, education and councils.
Well, some protection that turned out to be – the UK Government have simply brushed it aside when they needed to, because ultimately devolution does not provide any protection at all.
‘Power devolved is power retained’ said Enoch Powell (stopped clocks etc) and in practice Wales can do as it wants to – unless Westminster wants to do something different.
So far the UK Government has generally tried to avoid such confrontations with the devolved parliaments. But the present ‘muscular unionist’ UK Government clearly feels differently.
Steamrolling devolution isn’t even an accident, but rather a conscious policy to recentralise power after Brexit.
This brings us to the present moment. The UK Government have now crossed the Rubicon.
Either there’s some kind of a political backlash, something that makes the UK Government regret this course of action, or Welsh devolution becomes Westminster’s doormat.
This, now, is a moment of some importance, because it will set a precedent. If Welsh devolution doesn’t resist this incursion on its powers, it will simply become the norm.
Next time, Westminster doing away with a Welsh law will seem a little less newsworthy, a little less unusual.
The Senedd will slowly become enfeebled, and Welsh Labour’s promise to ‘stand Wales’ corner’ against Westminster will appear to be little more than a paper tiger.
If the UK Government really is ‘shocking’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘reckless’ as Mark Drakeford claims then the Welsh Government need to act as if they believe that.
At the very least, they need to back constitutional solutions that cement Wales’ rights to make its own laws that cannot simply be overruled at a whim.
Labour claim to believe in a Union that is a voluntary partnership of nations working together for the greater good.
A Wales where the views of the people of Wales as a political unit – in two referenda for devolution and law-making powers, and six Senedd elections – actually matter.
Scrapping Welsh law isn’t just a poke in the eye for Mark Drakeford but is a declaration that Wales as a political unit is subservient to the larger UK.
As Nicola Sturgeon said this morning, it’s taking ‘wrecking ball’ to idea UK as a partnership that chooses to stand together.
In its place, we have a model of the UK where the centre governs all else, and Wales is just a peripheral region, politically and economically, to be ignored and overruled.
Is that a model of the Union that Welsh Labour thinks is worth preserving? Does the chance to have a go at power at Westminster every 15-20 years ultimately justify its retention?
We’re about to find out. But depressingly, I think we may already know the answer.
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