Clinical strike or homing missile?
- 26 June 2012
- From the section Wales politics
What does the Welsh Government make of Kirsty Williams' letter? A source tells me that:
"The letter was clearly written by someone under pressure. We do not want to add to that."
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
If Scotland's First Minister managed to get rid of the nuclear-armed submarines based in Faslane, there would be a welcome for them - if not in the hillsides - in the deep waters of Milford Haven. At least, so said the Welsh First Minister last week.
He said it in response to a question from a friendly Labour AM during First Minister's Questions, a weekly event where Carwyn Jones is, to put it bluntly, rarely put under pressure. He leans on the lectern, bats off what he doesn't like, evades what looks remotely difficult and generally seems untroubled by most of what comes his way. He looks at each opposition leader in turn with slight disdain, as though he'd frankly expected better from them but will do his best with what he's been given.
So why mention nuclear-armed subs?
Perhaps he thought it would give him and Mr Salmond something to discuss at the British Irish Council in Stirling Castle later that week. More likely he saw it, at the time, as a surgical strike to target Plaid Cymru over what Labour has marked out as Plaid's weakness over job creation and the economy. "The First Minister" said his spokesman, "is of the view that he would be neglecting his duty to do what he can to boost the Welsh economy if he were to dismiss the possibility of bringing these jobs to Wales."
Either way, he's been decidely less keen to talk about it since that initial invitation.
When the questions erupted - is it remotely practical, can any port be home to liquefied natural gas, oil refineries and nuclear submarines, how many jobs would come to Wales, was he serious? The answer to all of those questions was this: the First Minister has said what he had to say.
When Plaid's Rhodri Glyn Thomas tackled him over the issue in the chamber, Mr Jones had nothing to add. He'd said what he had to say.
Kirsty Williams tried another route: Written Assembly Questions. She asked three, about risk assessments, about whether the matter had actually been discussed with the UK government, whether the Welsh cabinet has had a say. She got just the one answer:
"I have nothing further to add to the answers I gave in response to the urgent question tabled by Rhodri Glyn Thomas and the associated supplementary questions, in plenary on 20th June. Cabinet minutes are published 6 weeks after the meeting to which they relate".
Anyway, the matter was "academic". Those submarines are going nowhere.
The Lib Dem leader is not impressed and has written to Mr Jones telling him so:
"To duck and hide from questions in the Senedd is one thing, but I believe you are in danger of stooping to new depths by refusing to answer official Written Assembly Questions".
She goes on:
"Declining to answer Written Questions could open you up to accusations of showing a lack of respect and disdain for the democratic process we have in Wales".
Meanwhile in Westminster, there are more shouts of "discourtesy" to democracy, this time from Labour. The accusor? Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. The issue? The UK Government's green paper on Assembly boundary changes. By scheduling a debate on the green paper - described to me just a few days ago as one of the 'most damaging' papers ever to relations between Welsh Tory MPs and Tory AMs - for Monday morning, Mr Smith accuses the Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan, of banking on Welsh MPs not being there to properly scrutinse the proposals. He accuses her too of failing to hold a proper consultation with the Assembly, showing AMs "a discourtesy."
This is, say the Conservatives, another example of Labour "whingeing like hell" instead of engaging in real debate. The special session of the Welsh Grand committee, points out a spokesman, is scheduled for 11,30am. "It strikes me Welsh Labour MPs seem to have a problem turning up for work of a morning."
Trident in Milford, constituency boundary changes - two ideas that must have seemed like good, clinical strikes at the time have turned into rather more uncomfortable homing missiles.