This post also appears on the Institute of Welsh Affairs’s blog, ClickonWales, here.
The debate about whether there should be a legal jurisdiction for Wales, so that Wales would no longer share a system of law and courts with England, has rumbled on for some time. Plaid Cymru issued its own paper on the subject in 2010. In 2012, it was the subject of a consultation by the Welsh Government as well as a major inquiry by the National Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. The proposition received a conditional endorsement from the Assembly Committee, which noted the legal differentiation between England and Wales that was already underway and the implications of that for a shared England-and-Wales jurisdiction. However, the Welsh Government’s enthusiasm for the idea had disappeared by time it submitted evidence to the Part 2 inquiry of the Silk Commission, when it said, ‘While it would not be appropriate to establish a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales now, such a development is very likely in the longer term and action can be taken which would help to ensure a smoother transition to such a jurisdiction in due course.’ More recently, support for a Welsh legal jurisdiction has come from Justice for Wales and from Plaid Cymru. The relationship of a legal jurisdiction to a ‘reserved powers’ model (an issue that has concerned me since 2005, and previously discussed HERE (my evidence to Silk Part 2) and HERE) means it is now highly topical.
Plaid Cymru is, so far as I know, the only political party in Wales to have taken a position on the issue of a Welsh legal jurisdiction. (The Welsh Government has, but that’s a government not Labour Party matter.) Responding to the recent WGC/Constitution Unit report, Leanne Wood said such a jurisdiction was ‘essential’.
This is not policy-making off the cuff. In 2010, Plaid Cymru held an internal discussion about the establishment of a Welsh legal jurisdiction and the form it should take. As their ‘consultation paper’ from that exercise isn’t otherwise available, and given the developing debate about this issue, with Plaid’s permission I’ve uploaded the paper in PDF format. The English version is available here, and the Welsh one is here.
This post also appears on the Constitution Unit’s blog, here. Constitution-unit.com has a number of other election-related posts which are well worth reading.
It is hard to think of a general election that has ever been so freighted with questions about the UK’s territorial constitution. It is hardly an overstatement to say that the outcome of the 2015 election, and actions of the government that takes office after it, will either reshape the UK significantly or ease the way to its breakup. This post considers what the manifestos tell us about what the various parties propose to do and how they propose to do it, when it comes to the reshaping of devolution arrangements across the UK, and then discusses some of the issues that will loom larger after 7 May.
The pro-UK parties
The 2015 manifestos contain a welter of devolution-related commitments. Those in the three pro-UK parties (Conservative, Liberal Democrats and Labour) are all strikingly similar, though not identical. For Scotland, all commit to implementing the Smith Commission’s recommendations, and to retaining the Barnett formula. (Interestingly, they do not commit to the UK Government’s white paper Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement, raising the possibility they could scrape off some of the barnacles that paper puts on the Smith proposals). Labour want to go further in a ‘Home Rule bill’ in unspecified ways, though it appears that wider scope for the Scottish Parliament to legislate on welfare matters is key to it. These commitments rather resemble those made by the same three parties in 2010 about the implementation of the Calman Commission’s recommendations, though with Labour somewhat breaking ranks with the two governing parties.
There is also similarity when it comes to Northern Ireland: endorsement of the peace process and commitments to support it, along with the economic rebalancing package agreed as part of December’s Stormont House Agreement. For Conservatives and Lib Dems, this includes support for sustainable public finances, welfare reform and corporation tax devolution subject to adequate progress being made on financial matters. Labour’s commitments appear to embrace similar policies, but are confusingly worded. They say they will: Continue reading
Filed under Conservatives, English questions, Labour, Lib Dems, Northern Ireland, Plaid Cymru, Scotland, SNP, UK elections, Wales, Westminster
The approach of the end-of-year break has brought with it a flurry of interesting essays and interviews. I’d particularly draw attention to the following:
- David Marquand argued in a column in Monday’s Guardian that England’s hostility toward the EU and support for it in Scotland and Wales create a risk of break-up of the UK. I’ve taken this view for many years, though I think Marquand over-states the short-term likelihood of this. That piece is here. Timothy Garton Ash follows in similar vein in today’s issue, here.
- Jim Sillars was interviewed in the Scotsman on Tuesday. Sillars, still very influential among SNP members and other Scottish nationalists, expresses a good deal of scepticism about the impact of the European Union on an independent Scotland, particularly over currency and the Euro. He supports the idea of a separate Scottish currency, underpinned Continue reading
The Wales Office has now formally announced the members of the ‘ap Calman’ commission. The chair is indeed to be Paul Silk, and the political-party nominees are also as leaked earlier (see HERE). The novelty comes in the two independent nominees. They are Dyfrig John CBE, chairman of the Principality Building Society, and Professor Noel Lloyd CBE, formerly vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University. John was formerly a banker, and was chief executive of HSBC. As the Principality’s deputy chairman is Eurfyl ap Gwilym, the Plaid Cymru nominee to the Commission, the society appears to be giving a large degree of support to the commission. Noel Lloyd’s background is as a mathematician as well as university administrator. While the Commission therefore abounds in financial and quantitative experience, it is much more lacking when it comes to constitutional issues or the interplay between financial and constitutional ones.
The Wales Office news release is here, and there’s news coverage from BBC News here and an analysis by Toby Mason here.
The Commission’s terms of reference (which can be found here) are perhaps more interesting than its composition . These have been the subject of a huge amount of bargaining between Continue reading
For those who haven’t been following the results obsessively, we now have a final set of results for the National Assembly elections. They are:
Labour 30 seats (+4 from 2007)
Conservative 14 seats (+2)
Plaid Cymru 11 seats (-4)
Liberal Democrats 5 seats (-1)
The expected Lib Dem meltdown didn’t happen; nor did break-throughs for UKIP or the Greens. Labour’s gains include Trish Law’s seat in Blaenau Gwent, but otherwise appear to have come more at Plaid’s expense than anyone else’s. Plaid failed to reap any electoral benefit from being the junior partner in government (but junior partners seldom do). In the end, it was some small shifts largely in favour of Labour and against Plaid, and on nothing like the scale of the upheavals in Scotland.
There is full coverage of the results on the BBC website, here.
One story is the wide range of talent lost to the Assembly, because of the way the ban on dual candidacy forces candidates to make all-or-nothing choices. Plaid have lost Helen Mary Continue reading
Following the referendum result, Welsh politicians have weighed into debate about the role of the Wales Office. Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Deputy First Minister, and Lord Elis-Thomas, the Assembly’s Presiding Officer, have called for its abolition and replacement by a ‘department of nations and regions’; that has been rejected by the current Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan, and her shadow and predecessor, Peter Hain. There are news reports from BBC Wales here and here. (My own views about the issue are set out HERE.)
It’s interesting that Hain regards the statutory references to the Secretary of State as a significant reason for its maintenance. Acts of Parliament usually refer to ‘the Secretary of State’, drawing on a piece of legal theology that holds the office of Secretary of State to be a single one held by multiple people at the same time. (This means only one Secretary of State need be in office to enable government as a whole to function.) Exceptionally, the Government of Wales Act 2006 refers twice to the Secretary of State for Wales. One reference Continue reading
(This post also appears on WalesHome, under the title ”Wales will find itself moaning on the sidelines’. It’s available here.)
The Scotland bill published on St Andrew’s Day is a very ‘Scottish’ affair’. There is scant mention of Wales in it, and little scope for a ‘read across’ from what’s proposed for Scotland to what might happen for Wales. That’s no accident. Key to the UK Coalition Government’s view of devolution is that it sees Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as each being wholly different and unique, and wants to manage relations with them and their constitutional development in different ways. These aren’t even separate but parallel tracks – for the Coalition, they seem to head in different directions. Scotland will indeed have 10 ‘points’ of income tax power devolved to it, along with a ‘proportional’ reduction in the block grant from London, and some smaller taxes. While Danny Alexander says that there are no UK-level objections to a similar scheme for Wales, there are no active plans to support that either. The UK Government has also firmly closed the door on any review of the amount of the block grant, whether for Scotland or Wales, saying ‘the UK Government’s priority is to reduce the deficit and does not have any plans to change arrangements before the stabilisation of the public finances’, as well as (bizarrely, and wrongly) linking that to the outcome of a referendum on primary legislative powers for the Assembly.
But the Scotland bill is important for Wales. Many in Scotland – particularly but not only from the SNP – would question whether securing the implementation of Calman is a ‘win’, but it is a significant change to how Scottish devolution works and is seen by both the UK Government and the unionist parties in Scotland. From London’s point of view, Wales has already had a similar ‘win’, in the form of the 2006 Government of Wales Act. And both these changes Continue reading
10 Downing Street has issued a new list of working peers, available here. The list is wholly of party-political peers (with the exception of General Sir Richard Dannatt, who will sit on the cross benches). Five names have a devolution interest. Among the Liberal Democrat nominees are Nichol Stephen, an MSP and formerly Lib Dem leader and Deputy First Minister in Scotland, and Jenny Randerson, an AM and former acting party group leader and Deputy First Minister in Wales. The Labour nominees include Eluned Morgan, formerly an MEP and often spoken of as having a future in Welsh politics. The Conservative nominees include Sir Reg Empey, MLA and former leader of the Ulster Unionists (as well as Alistair Cooke OBE, who spent some time at Queen’s Belfast before entering the Conservative Research Department). And there’s the first peer to be nominated by Plaid Cymru, in the person of Dafydd Wigley, former MP, AM and leader of the party.
It will be interesting to see if the Lib Dem peers step down from the other legislature of which they’re members, as is now party policy. Mike German did so earlier this year when he accepted a peerage.
In population terms, this is a bit less than proportionate treatment of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which account for about 15 per cent of the UK population but have only 9 per cent of the new nominees). More telling is that only one of these peers will sit on the Conservative benches. Indeed, with the exception of Sir Reg, the Conservative names have a particularly English (and beyond that, southern English) ring to them.
UPDATE: It appears that neither Jenny Randerson nor Nichol Stephen are to stand down from the National Assembly for Wales or Scottish Parliament before next May’s elections, and so will hold dual mandates for the next four months or so.
On Thursday 24 September, I gave a presentation at a seminar on ‘Adaptations at the centre to party incongruence since 2007’, organised by Wilfried Swenden and Nicola McEwen of Edinburgh University and Nicole Bolleyer of Exeter University. This is part of a seminar series ‘Reforming intergovernmental Relations in a Context of Party Political Incongruence’ funded by the ESRC. Other participants in the seminar included James Mitchell from Strathclyde, Iain McLean from Oxford and Jonathan Bradbury from Swansea, as well as academics from Madrid and Montreal and a number of practitioners.
My talk is entitled ‘Intergovernmental strategies for the UK Government: views from the centre’, and attempts to assess what the UK Government has done since 1999 in managing relations between the UK at the centre, and the devolved parts of the UK. It argues that it has in fact been hard to discern a strategy from the centre, and that Labour in office had an approach that was characteristically much more a Tory one than what left-of-centre parties in other decentralised or federal systems do. It also argues that that approach combined elements that were naturally irreconcilable. The slides from my talk (which are pretty detailed) are available here.
Filed under Comparisons from abroad, Conservatives, Intergovernmental relations, Labour, Lib Dems, Northern Ireland, Plaid Cymru, Publications and projects, Scotland, SNP, Wales, Westminster, Whitehall