Why we need devolution to the north of Wales to see off the threat to the Senedd

Llandudno. Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

The Westminster system was created to run an empire.

Consensus wasn’t really its modus operandi. Indeed, that would rather defeat the point, which was for those running the British Empire to tell the people in the colonies what to do, and nick their stuff.

Because of this, the British state is one of the most centralised in Europe; even with devolution. Power is hoarded in London. This has had a terrible impact; not only on Wales, but on Scotland, Northern Ireland, and on many of England’s regions.

It is not a coincidence that the UK has the worst inequality in Northern Europe. London is the richest part of Northern Europe. The other nine in the top 10 are on the continent. Nine of the poorest regions in Northern Europe are in the UK, and parts of Wales are sadly among them.

The difference on the continent is that there, power is far more equally distributed. On the continent, they have largely ditched the undemocratic First Past the Post voting system which enables politicians to effectively ignore over half the voters, and they have adopted a federal system that puts power much closer to the people. 

Therefore, it is essential that Wales acquires more power if it is to change the pernicious dynamic that keeps it disempowered and traps many of our people in poverty.

But doing this on its own is insufficient. Wales has adopted the highly centralised and incredibly flawed Westminster model. The power that has been devolved to Wales is largely centralised in Cardiff Bay. We do have a voting system that is a little more proportional and therefore more democratic than Westminster, but not by much. 

The use of the Westminster model in Cardiff Bay leads inexorably to more inequality between the regions of Wales. If we are to deal with this inequity between the regions of Wales, we must have devolution not only to the country, but within it.

 

Gravity

Institutional power has a gravitational pull. It sucks attention and resources to where it resides and away from where it does not. That is why much of the UK’s infrastructure spend is focused on London. That’s why London has a transport system that is far superior to any other part of the UK. That is why the other nations and regions of the UK are left far behind. 

We are repeating the same mistake when it comes to devolution. The institutional structure is the problem, so that is what needs to be changed. Sending a few quid up north every now and again just isn’t going to cut it.

It isn’t just about having politicians who care more about the north of Wales. We already have plenty of politicians who care about the region. That isn’t the issue.

Most punters aren’t going to notice if the Senedd has the occasional sitting up north, and the ones that do are probably going to be at best indifferent, and at worst hostile. It does nothing to change the institutional architecture that leaves the north out in the cold.

As long as institutional power is centralised in Cardiff Bay, the north, and other regions will always be overlooked, because the system incentivises that behaviour. You cannot defy institutional gravity. If you give regions such as the north of Wales real power, the political gravity will start to kick in. The north needs to be given its own gravitational pull. 

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

Mood

Not doing so is dangerous to democracy in Wales and could lead people to lose faith in the Senedd. This has been illustrated recently in a YouGov poll conducted by ITV Wales. It showed that 33 per cent would vote in a referendum to abolish the Senedd. Not only that, it suggests that support for abolishing the Senedd might be at its highest in the north of Wales. This illustrates a stark and worrying disconnect between the electorate and the institution.

The irony is here of course is that the problem is that power is too far away from the people. Therefore, the solution is to bring it closer, not to take it further away by handing it back to Westminster. It would be like trying to stave off dehydration by eating salty crackers.

We need to give people more control over their lives, not less. One of the reason Wales needs more power devolved to it is so that it can then give a large chunk of it to the different regions of the country.

The poll is a warning and one which should be paid heed. A country with a proud mining tradition should be able to recognise a canary in the coalmine when it sees it.

The anti-politics mood that was weaponised in the Brexit referendum could well be directed towards Welsh democracy. We must not let this happen. The way to stop it is to take power closer to the people. That is why it is essential that real power is devolved to the north. Where power lies, and who has it matters.

We can show the people of the north of Wales that they matter by handing them control over their own lives.

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Jenny Howell
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Jenny Howell

You are so right.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Ideally we should be able to devolve power and responsibility and with that accountability to a more local regional level. However that is a long way off. Maybe you will get it when the country is independent. However we could make a start by getting Ministers and A.M’s to focus far more on their constituencies, after all this is a representative democracy of sorts. Ditch the fashionable often distant causes that we can do little or nothing about and start getting to grips with poverty, homelessness, education, health, infrastructure, employment, crime etc . Now some of these like law and… Read more »

Glen
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Glen

‘Left behind’ Butetown is 400 yards away.
The location of the Senedd is not the problem, it’s the divs of all parties inside that need replacing.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

As I said earlier they need to up their game and you are quite right Butetown is so close an A.M could stagger there unaided despite shipping a load of freebie plonk at a Bay venue !. Ely/ Cardiff West not so far away either and some of the old S.E communities are struggling despite or because of creeping gentrification. The point is no-one is looking out for these communities except for one person and he’s getting slagged for being a touch nasty !

John Ellis
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John Ellis

The writer makes some valid points. And I’d suggest that they might be applied not only to the north but to the south-west too – places like Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

A very important criticism of our government system here. All of us who care about the way our country is governed will be aware that the last thing we should want is a pale reflection of Westminster, but this is what we seem to be getting – even Plaid Cymru has been seduced. I always felt that the preserved counties of Wales would have offered an opportunity for the further devolution of powers, and in some sense I think that was the intention, and it’s kind of ironic, (they were formed as a ‘temporary’ measure, pending devolution in 1979) that… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

There was indeed a ‘sense’ to the counties of rural Wales conjured up in 1974, in that for the most part they incorporated areas which shared some broad regional identity. I wasn’t in Wales at the time when – with the exception of Powys – they were dissolved in the ’90s, and never got a handle on exactly why it was thought desirable to do so.

And I agree entirely that ‘ Wales … has never been a nation in the modern sense’, a fact which I think underlies the fragility, thus far, of our still pretty new national institutions.

Arwyn Lloyd
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Arwyn Lloyd

It happened because Redwood wanted unitary authorities instead of the County + Borough system we had. The current 22 are a compromise. No one could get agreement to reduce this number. Too many incumbent interests in retaining political power. Labour sniffed around a few years ago with a view to restructuring local government but they ducked it. IIRC there was a study at the time that projected ~£200M pa savings.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Thanks for filling me in; my only memory of Redwood in his Wales role is of his hilarious bobbing attempt to mouth the anthem at the Welsh Tory conference … 😉

Ann Owen
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Ann Owen

Vlalid points – but “North Wales” isn’t a homogenous region – I don’t feel I blong to “North Wales” in any way. North West Wales and North East Wales are different in many ways, so 2 regions here would make sense or a Noth West and West Wales region, and a separate North East region. Attention does need to be given to all areas of Wales if we are to prosper – but a strong, ambitious and energetic national government in Cardiff is also essential. Very lacking at the moment! We need the leadership and vision of Adam Price in… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Agree. I live in Dyffryn Clwyd, and it doesn’t feel as if there’s not much commonality between us and, say, Arfon or Dwyfor.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

There’s still a broad Welsh nationality common to all these areas, unless where you live is full of settlers, so c’mon, John.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I don’t at all deny the broad identity, which clearly exists right across Wales. Last year we had a short spring break in y Fro Aeron and an autumn one in Llanidloes, and I certainly didn’t feel I was mewn gwlad dramor!

But each was still well out of my own locality here in Dyffryn Clwyd, and so are Arfon and Dwyfor.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Digon teg.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

…and more powers –REAL powers — devolved to Wales. What we have at the moment is hardly worth having, and doesn’t really serve the country’s interests; the current powers could certainly be devolved to the regions without any trouble. Real power over Cymru’s future, however, remains with Westminster, and I would hope to see the next Welsh Government pushing hard for the transfer of these powers to Cardiff Bay. Yes, we know what Westminster’s answer will be, but that would give the Welsh Government the moral justification to hold a referendum asking : do you want more devolution, less devolution,… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Agree completely.

Jonathon Gammond
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Jonathon Gammond

Many of the powers exercised from Cardiff Bay would be best exercised at a regional level where they could take into account the many differences across Wales. The powers that would be best exercised at a national level are generally, but not wholly, the ones still reserved to Westminster. North-east and North-west Wales are definitely different.

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

We need to make this clear between now and May 2021 when we can change the course away from centralism by election of a Plaid Cymru government.

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes writes: “We need to give people more control over their lives, not less.” Although I agree with that sentiment, I wonder who is the “we” privileged to dispense power? I don’t say this to be nit-picky but to raise the question of where power actually lies and how it is authorised and legitimated. The fundamental democratic Principle is that the highest authority is the majority will of the people. Our current form of Representative Democracy continually frustrates the will of the people. If you want people to be engaged in politics then you must engage us in… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Hop Suisse? Yes, I think you have the better idea.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

You better be careful with this! Westminster will see it as an opportunity to ditch the Senedd.
Wales is a little country. I could just as well shout “home rule for Coedpoeth!”.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Good point. Therefore, placing the ‘weaker’ devolved powers in the hands of the Welsh regions should go hand in hand with transfer of reserved powers, the big boys, from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. Result: a more independent AND less Cardiff-centric, more localised, Wales. Admittedly, Westminster is very unlikely to hand over more powers in the near future.

A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg
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A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg

Divide and conquer.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

It’s interesting how the article mentions Europe and how things on the continent are done. Germany is highly devolved, the reason being they have tried to avoid the mistakes that led to the 2nd World War. There was an article on their power structure way back in 2004 (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/nov/04/regionalgovernment.politics4). 16 years later and the UK has not followed suit and so is still riddled with inequality. In my view – if you have the Tories in power you will NEVER achieve that level of devolution, they want the power centralised in London and if they had their way would scrap… Read more »

Arwyn Lloyd
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Arwyn Lloyd

Personally I’d be happiest seeing local government reformed under a sovereign Welsh government. Probably along the lines of Gwynedd, Clwyd, Powys, Dyfed, Gwent, West Glamorgan & East Glamorgan. They would need the political clout to build up local economies.

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

The feelings of alienation are genuine, but is more politicians the answer? Are Wales’local councilors held in more esteem than member of the Senedd? Would a regional assembly attract high quality candidates? If the Barnet formula isn’t fair on Wales, how can a fair funding settlement for the regions be assured?

Better decision making and swifter delivery of projects might improve perceptions of Wales’political institutions.

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Good post, Walter. And Arwyn’s above.
Is part of the problem, at this moment in time, the financial hamstringing of Senators, and civil servants?

Gareth Westacott
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Gareth Westacott

Certainly not! No way! That would divide the country – like partition in Ireland after the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

Federalism has not divided Germany – It has actually united the east and west of nations separated since WW2.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Please remember, that Germany is actually a Federation of german speaking states.
For Italy, see Garibaldi.

Ernie The Smallholder
Guest
Ernie The Smallholder

You are spot on for the need for devolution within Wales. We perhaps need 2 chambers in the Welsh government – the other chamber with representatives from the regional assemblies. The federalisation of Europe into regions has been progressed through the years by groups in the EU parliament such as the EFA (which Plaid Cymru/SNP and Greens are part of) and the ALDE groupings. As a party fighting centralism – Plaid Cymru should campaign to reform the WG into a federal system and introduce / devolve income and business tax powers. There is a real danger that Wales could split… Read more »

Swansea01
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Swansea01

One thing that’s striking with regards North Wales and the Senedd is the apparent utter failure of the Betsi Cadwalladr Heath Board. This will clearly affect perceptions on the success of devolution for a significant proportion of the North Wales population. The Minister responsible, Vaughan Gething, surely should have resigned over this debacle? If he or Labour really cared they’d be going on days off to the hospitals covered by this failing health board and asking staff what’s going on and what can they do to turn it around? On Welsh NHS finance it’s also interesting to note that in… Read more »

Dai Kmorg
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Dai Kmorg

The reason why the North is apparently disproportionately in favour of abolition could be to do with the huge inward migration from England to the Northern coastal strip.

Swansea01
Guest
Swansea01

But where people come from shouldn’t matter. Devolution is a better form of government regardless of nationalism. The English regions like Yorkshire, the North East, Midlands, etc should all have devolved Parliaments. It works in Germany and brought success there and it’s worked well for Scotland here because they’re fairly funded, but worked not so well for Wales because we’re underfunded. For whatever reason the Scots seem to have more backbone/sharper elbows in getting money out of Westminster but Welsh politicians just seem to say ‘thank you for underfunding Wales’.

Andy Williams
Guest

If the Senedd, is dissolved, Wales as a political identity does not exist. From that moment on, we become a region of England, and will only exist on the sporting field. ALL AM’s need to wake up to this fact. At this moment in time, the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party maybe on the rise, they need to be watched, and taken seriously.

Dafydd Glyn Jones
Guest
Dafydd Glyn Jones

Adfer gwledydd neu daleithiau hanesyddol Cymru. Gweler yr ysgrif ‘Sir Gwymon a Sir Conbych’ yn fy llyfr ‘Wele Wlad’. Dyma’r ateb.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Efallai. Symud da, ond enwau ofnadwy, Dafydd!