Devolution: the sober reality


Is there a so-called drinking culture in Cardiff Bay?

A straw poll of party figures who cross my path this morning says that no, there isn't. A snapshot of comments: "You just can't compare the Assembly with Parliament," "this is a very small bubble in which politicians could put themselves in a vulnerable position," "there's no more, no less drinking here than most people come across in their professional lives."

For what it's worth, I tend to agree.

Is there now a perception that there's a drinking culture in Cardiff Bay? Yes, "an unwelcome perception." Again, I tend to agree.

We learn, by the way, that Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies drinks only water and orange at receptions - "call me boring" - and thinks forsaking family friendly hours would keep some of his colleagues out of trouble. His tongue may have been in his cheek but only maybe.

And there you go. I tend to think there's little more I can add.

So back to my favourite subject and a sober one it is: the "unsustainability", as Carwyn Jones has it, of the constitutional status quo.

Yesterday I blogged about the deal struck between Alex Salmond and David Cameron. But it's looking increasingly clear that, putting Edinburgh completely to one side for a moment, that the constitutional status quo between Wales and Westminster is becoming, to use the First Minister's word, "unsustainable".

Having sat in the Supreme Court last week and listened to the Welsh Government's Byelaws Bill be pushed and pulled this way by the finest legal minds in the country, it was clear that there are all sorts of difficulties buried within the devolution settlement - some now emerging, others buried but ready to explode.

That case remains to be resolved but hardly had "all rise" been called as the arguments over byelaws drew to a close that it was disclosed that another piece of Welsh legislation may well find itself making its way to the Supreme Court - this time the Official Languages Bill. It remains to be seen whether this will happen but I don't think it would meet with the warmest welcome from their Lordships should it come before them.

Today we've had yet more constitutional wrangling, this time over the fate of the Agricultural Wages Board, which has the power to set pay and conditions for low paid farm workers in England and Wales, and which Westminster is looking to abolish. My colleague David Cornock has outlined the issues here but, much like byelaws, the upcoming wrangle over the AWB is largely down to the drafting of the devolution settlement itself.

The Welsh Government has powers over the field of agriculture (pardon the farming pun) as part of the devolution settlement and has signalled its intent to legislation to bring some form of AWB back in Wales. Aha, says Westminster but the AWB is not about agriculture per se but about wage policy - which isn't devolved. So, according to them, any legislation would fall on stony ground.

And then there's organ donation - seen as the flagship legislation of the Fourth Assembly. Again, the Welsh Government is adamant it can push ahead with legislation in this field - namely health, and has already published draft legislation. If the Bill is passed by the Assembly, the hints coming from the Wales Office were that it might end up in the Supreme Court on the grounds that introducing an opting out system of donation goes far wider than health into human rights and even habeus corpus - which is certainly not devolved.

Would the Attorney General really, really want to be seen to be referring the first three bills created from scratch in Wales to the Supreme Court? Surely that's not a 100% record he'd covet. Surely it's clear too to everyone involved how the Welsh Government would grab that particular stick and beat the UK Government with it at every turn.

What's remarkable is how quickly all this has come to a head in a number of different areas. What it perhaps illustrates are the cracks in the devolution settlement which may not have been evident to those drafting it but which have begun to appear as soon as it is tested in anger.

Plaid Cymru say enough is enough and that it's time for a wholesale look at the devolution setup.

Their former leader Ieuan Wyn Jones says, "A new Government of Wales Act which enshrines the reserved powers model into law is the best way forward. We will be looking at this more closely over the coming weeks and will offer a detailed proposal in our evidence to the Silk Commission when it looks at powers later this year. A new Government of Wales Act would strengthen democracy and would bring an end to the expensive and time-consuming legal wrangling that is currently taking place."

This is far from the kind of seismic constitutional change being contemplated in Scotland but taken together with Carwyn Jones' "unsustainable" view of the current settlement it appears that the Supreme Court case is starting to crystallise opinion, in Cardiff Bay at least, that at least some change is needed.

Of course, a new Government of Wales Act is entirely within the gift of the Westminster government and Parliament. Next month we'll get Part One of the Silk Commission review of financial powers but Part Two, dealing with the devolution settlement is still well over a year away. And even then a new Act is a far from foregone conclusion.

In the meantime, let's wait and see just how busy those Supreme Court judges will be.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    83 - Mr Salmond may want DevoMax but he probably won't get it. It isn't up to the Scottish people.

    Have you been drinking ? The deal has been signed, straight yes/no question in Scotland. As for AS wanting devo-max, no. SNP want independence only, they offered to put a devo-max question on the ballot if someone came up with a viable option - as expected no-one did. Try and keep up,lad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    No-one is going to forget the British Empire for the next 1000 years. We still (some of us ) talk about the Roman, Persian, Han, Turkish Empires. What will the Scots do ? They may have to consider their problems. They probably can't credibly blame everything on the English stealing their oil for more than 200 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Now you are talking Boxer. If England will have Independance who will the future King of England talk to about his lands that time will forget,

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    #82 Alf, they won't want devolution, and some expensive Federal structure where they can be lectured on the crimes of English history. They will be like a Victorian parent. 'Then go, and never darken my doorstep again.' Ungrateful kids !
    England will want Independence. Mr Salmond may want DevoMax but he probably won't get it. It isn't up to the Scottish people.
    Watch carefully, Wales !

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Boxer post 2014 is going to be a very interesting time. Once the people of England hear all the arguments for and against and they see what the benefits could be for devolved countries. They I am afraid will be pushing for it themselves. Free prescriptions, free bus passes etc. Oh they will want it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    #80 Hold on! I didn't put it forward as my view. I clearly stated a sensible solution would be clearly defined areas of authority. I was summarising a local view of the Westminster attitude and, curiously, one I agree with. AISB it isn't the Commons role in a devolved set-up to 'approve' or second guess WAG.
    #76 A competent authority can't breach laws: it changes them. Health is devolved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Your arrogance holds no bounds. Daddy knows best! You are saying If you Welsh or Scottish then you have no right to governance. What an arrogant stance to take!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    #77 'the people of England will force federal devolution on the rest of us'
    You think so?? Federal solution will only work if there is devolution within England to create large coherent areas with assemblies possibly the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy + City Areas. However, there seems no stomach for this outside Westminster.
    As I said before, England won't have equal votes with Wales in Fed Assembly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    It is obviously going to take time for the relationship between WAG and Westminster to settle down. Face it: the Americans are still squabbling after 200+ years and a civil war.
    A sensible end-point would be defined areas. The current Westminster model is a driving lesson where Daddy takes over when it gets difficult and...Daddy knows best !

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Never mind the past it is past. The future is far more interesting. especially when the people of England will force federal devolution on the rest of us

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    56 You miss the point - The Org Don Bill is devolved under the NHS - it is not excempt form the Law
    The Wales Office has rightly pointed out that the Legisaltion potentially breaches several laws. The WAG has received this advice as a matter of record.
    The Courts act in many instances - they rulled that 28 day detention orders were unlawful. When did Wales or the Welsh vote for an opt out

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @#66 - almost but not quite right Mab. - the entymology of Cornwall would come from words for peninsular and strangers, nothing to do with the Welsh. Cornish is not descendent from Welsh it is a cousin of Welsh, both being descendent from an older language. Please stop peddling your un-factual nationalised propoganda it does little for your cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.


    I introduced 1536 because you can't seem to grasp that that particularly odious piece of English legislation was only removed by devolution within the last few years! (against your wishes, no doubt).

    On the other hand, Henry VIII's inability to keep it in his tights is of no concern to the Silk Commission...presumably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    MabionGlyndwr @ 66.

    Welsh Nation? Who are you kidding?

    You presumably regard yourself as Welsh, well, as I'm born here and live here I suppose that I'm to be regarded as Welsh as well.

    Our geographical location is all that binds us. Nothing else. This is hardly nationhood. Having heard your opinions, I wouldn't wish to be associated with you.

    Nation? Where? It's not around here, I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    71 'Stop living in the past will you - this is about the future! '

    This from the man who introduced the 1536 Act into this afternoon's discussion.
    I am just trying to ensure that when my friend introduces a rebuttable fact in his stream of invective, then it is rebutted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.


    Stop living in the past will you - this is about the future!

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    #63 'all because of his libido'.
    Henry VIII's quarrel with Rome had little to do with his libido. Much of England's internal struggles for the last 500 years were over disputed succession. Henry - and England - needed a legitimate male heir.
    K of Aragon wasn't going to provide it. Hence Henry needed a divorce or annulment.
    A royal Prince, then & now, doesn't neeed a wedding ring to get laid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Comeoffit @ 45.

    Ms. Jenkins is a Plaid AM after all. Mabion must find something to excuse her drunk driving.

    Perhaps he would not be so keen if the drunk driver had knocked someone down. Personally speaking, I would not wish be represented by a drunk driver, irrespective of party.

    Unfortunately, MabionGlyndwr still fails the test by calling my Anti-Devo opinion as being made "moronically".

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    57 - "a heartless swipe at an AM" oh please - if the drunken AM had (in a haze of alcohol) rundown a member of your family I wonder what you would have said. I doubt that it would have been "poor dab she was depressed"!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    #63 henry VIII 'raped our monastic heritage all because of his libido.'
    Straight out of '1536 and All That'. From 1066, Mortmain - the dead hand of the Church - had steadily accumulated more and more land & property for the Church. It couldn't go on, and stopping it probably saved England from another Peasants Revolt or English Revolution.
    Of course, the taxes and sales came in very handy.


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