Squid and a slippery numbers game in Cardiff Bay

BBC Wales' political correspondent Tomos Livingstone, @tomosl, is making a guest appearance for Nick Servini - with a few observations of his own from Cardiff Bay's assembly chamber.

Sit in the press gallery in the Senedd chamber for an afternoon and you learn all sorts of things.

On Tuesday afternoon I heard Jane Hutt, for instance, tell AMs she was busy developing something called an 'electronic squid'.

Squid, it turns out, is an acronym used in the world of public procurement - Supplier Qualification Information Database.

Slippery business, Welsh politics, with tentacles everywhere.

Take the question of how many AMs should sit in Cardiff Bay, an issue given added potency by the recommendation by the cross-party Silk Commission that the Welsh Government should take new responsibilities for policing, youth justice, transports, electronic squids and the kitchen sink.

There are 60 AMs at the moment, but everyone (OK, almost everyone) seems convinced of two things.

  1. There should be more.
  2. There is no way you can convince the public of this.

The First Minister, a barrister, isn't the sort of person you'd expect to lose faith in his own powers of advocacy, but he is the latest to endorse this position.

Here's what Carwyn Jones had to say on Tuesday: "I am aware that backbenchers from all parties do work extremely hard, particularly on the legislative committees that we have here.

'Difficult sell'

"I'm not keen, however, to conflate the idea that more powers means more politicians; I think that would be a very difficult idea for the public to support, given the fact they will inevitably see this as an attempt to have more politicians.

"I think 80 members would be better as far as this chamber is concerned.

"Nevertheless I am fully aware of the fact that suggesting to the public there should be more politicians without there being a reduction in politicians elsewhere, for example, is a very difficult sell."

Astute readers may have spotted the answer to the conundrum hidden in that final sentence. Yes, a reduction in politicians elsewhere.

Increasing the number of AMs would surely be easier to achieve if you cut the number of MPs (not exactly Labour policy) and/or cut the number of councillors - an idea envisaged by a different report, by the Williams Commission but currently held up, as I understand it, in what we might describe as not wholly productive internal Labour party discussions.

Mr Jones hasn't been as clear as this that he wants to see 80 AMs, but getting there via a cut in MPs and councillors may prove beyond his political skills.

I suspect we'll see the electronic squid happily spreading its tentacles across the public sector long before the builders are called in to install more seats in the Senedd.