There’s a blog post by John Osmond on ClickonWales, the IWA’s blog, this morning announcing the chair and party-political members of the ‘Calman-like’ commission that is to look at financing and constitutional issues in Wales. Sorting out the arrangements for this has been a major issue behind the scenes in Welsh politics since the referendum in March, and Osmond’s announcement pre-empts anything from the Wales Office. How the Wales Office will respond to that move remains to be seen. Osmond’s post is here.
He names the chair as Paul Silk, formerly Clerk to the National Assembly, and the party-political members as Sue Essex (Labour), Rob Humphreys (Lib Dem), Eurfyl ap Gwilym (Plaid Cymru) and Nick Bourne (Conservative).
There are two interesting points in Osmond’s account. One is that the secretariat is to be provided not by the Wales Office but by HM Treasury, in the person of Mark (not Michael) Parkinson. Parkinson has been the key official in applying the Barnett formula in recent years, and was the star of the Treasury’s team when they appeared before the Lords Select committee on the Barnett formula in 2009. However, his knowledge of constitutional issues is limited, and the choice of him would suggest a heavy weighting in the financial rather than constitutional side of the commission’s remit.
The second issue is Plaid’s involvement. Osmond reports that this is under question because of amended wording of the commission’s remit to reject options for Wales outside the United Kingdom. While Plaid is a nationalist party, it is in the midst of an internal debate about ‘independence’. Its nationalism hasn’t historically meant separatism and it is currently thinking through its position. Plaid have also been key partners in all the steps of Wales’s constitutional development and debate since 1999, whether through the National Assembly and Welsh Government, by appointing a nominee to the Richard commission, or calling for and supporting the work of the All Wales Convention and the Holtham Commission. This is in marked contrast to the SNP in Scotland, which chose not to take part in the Scottish constitutional Convention as well as the Calman Commission. Wales’s constitutional processes have managed to be inclusive of all major parties in a way that Scotland’s haven’t – and have been all the more effective for that. The deliberate framing of a remit to limit Plaid’s engagement would severely weaken the Commission, its work and its possible report. Gwydyr House and Number 10 would be well advised not to repeat in Wales a Scottish lesson that doesn’t apply there.