Today’s Western Mail reports on an interview with Dame Gill Morgan, permanent secretary of the Welsh Assembly Government, published in the winter 2009 issue of the Institute of Welsh Affairs‘ magazine Agenda. She criticises arrogant and patronising attitudes in Whitehall, toward the Assembly Government and indeed toward Welsh devolution more generally. Dame Gill explains that the recently-completed reorganisation of the Assembly Government was designed to counter this, by making it clearer who in Wales was the opposite number of whom in Whitehall.
This isn’t new in itself; these attitudes have been common in Whitehall since 1999, if not earlier. (The Welsh Office didn’t stand highly in Whitehall esteem.) Nor is Wales an exception here – the Scottish Government/Executive has long suffered from similar behaviour, though to a lesser extent. Speaking out in this way will come as quite a shock to many UK Government officials, though. It may be just the sort of shock needed to drive home the fact that Wales and Scotland are different, and that the informality of the present arrangements has relied too heavily on shared attitudes and mutual goodwill which has been persistently undermined at the devolved end. Any decentralised system needs mutual respect from those involved in intergovernmental relations; the UK Government’s shortcomings in this area have ramifications for constitutional matters, not just day-to-day policy making.