Saturday, 30 May 2015

Imagine if Wales had voted No to devolution in 1997

Three weeks after the General Election and the implications of a five-year term for a radical Conservative majority Government are beginning to sink in.
The left are dejected; Labour in particular is discombobulated. Of course this has happened before. Conservative victories through the 1980s provoked the question to be asked after 1992, ‘can Labour win?’  It is being asked again, but this time there’s a big difference – devolution.
Even though there’s a considerable feeling that devolution has not achieved its promise on the economy and public services, few people mention that it has achieved its primary political objective: it has made Offa’s Dyke the line between right and left.
To prove my point, consider what would have happened over the last decade and a half had 6,721 people voted differently in the 1997 referendum.  Radical Conservative policies on health, education and a raft of other domestic issues would have been implemented, even though the Tories won just 27% of the vote in the most recent vote in Wales.  An NHS shake-up introducing competition and GP Commissioning of services; the spread of Free Schools and Academies, outside local authority supervision, free to hire unqualified teachers and rip up the curriculum; and the abolition of GCSEs, would all have been rolled out across Wales.
Policies that had been endorsed by voters in England, but had been opposed in Wales by parties that won the majority of votes, would nonetheless have been applied here too. The fact they haven’t been is perhaps one of the most unremarked upon features of Welsh politics since the establishment of the National Assembly.
This isn’t a partisan point, you may well think Welsh public services would have been better off introducing these reforms – indeed had the 1997 referendum been lost it is likely that some of these reforms would have been implemented in Wales by new Labour; the point is they would have been imposed against the grain of Welsh political consensus, and opponents would have been powerless to stop it.  Whereas now power over many domestic policies has been passed down, many of the most contentious policies in the manifesto of the winning party at Westminster won’t apply to Wales.
It may not be the best time to make this point – at a time when devolution is being criticised for failing to improve public services – but the 2015 General Election result marks the achievement of a Key Performance Indicator for Welsh devolution.
The reason I say this is because the principal political driver behind the establishment of the Assembly was as much a desire to stop changes being applied to Wales, as it was to implement a pre-designed alternative.
Support for devolution began to build after the 1987 General Election. Rhodri Morgan, one the intake of new Members of Parliament in 1987, felt that Welsh MPs were powerless to protect Wales from “the ravages of a Tory Government which, although totally rejected by the people of Wales, was completely rampant”, as he put it to me: “You had this huge, massive, rush of hard-line Conservative legislation – the Poll Tax, Electricity privatisation, Water privatisation …the fury of legislation which was put through in the first two years of that Government really was pretty astonishing and we could do absolutely nothing to stop it”.
Throughout the 80s and 90s Labour always performed better in Wales than it did in the UK as a whole, but remained in Opposition.  After the party’s fourth successive defeat in 1992 (and, critically, the removal of Neil Kinnock as Party leader), the left began to think that despite their strength Conservative majorities at Westminster risked rendering them powerless to prevent right-wing policies being implemented in Wales. “To put it very crudely” Kim Howells told me,  “in a lot of people’s minds they said ‘look, if we can never ever win Britain then we have got to change the rules’”.
The reason I bring up this history lesson is to note that the dejection of the left in Wales after this month’s General Election has echoes in the recent past. But the difference now is that devolution affords some protection from “the ravages of a Tory Government” – to use Rhodri Morgan’s phrase.  Had Wales voted No in 1997 left-of-centre parties in Wales would now be railing about David Cameron’s plans to extend the Right To Buy to Housing Association tenants, or to ‘turn every failing and coasting school into an academy, and deliver free schools if parents…want them’. But because of devolution those policies won’t apply in Wales.
Some may see this ability to defy a radical Westminster Government on at least some domestic fronts as the chief achievement of devolution – and it does provide a marked contrast to situation Wales faced in the 80s & 90s. But the real advantage devolution offers is the platform it provides to fashion an alternative political narrative. And that’s an advantage that has yet to be fully explored.
None of what I’ve argued lets the Welsh Government off the hook for its performance on policies and their implementation. But it does remind us that the devolution project was primarily about where power lies. The challenge now facing devolutionists is that unless the way those powers are used is sharpened up there is a risk that support for giving some powers back to Westminster may grow.

Yes, we can

IWA Director Lee Waters outlines the think-tank’s latest report on closing the wealth gap between Wales and England
“An outsider observing our economic policies and the national debate, such as it is, would conclude the Welsh were either content with their relative position or did not believe there was anything to be done about it” – Gerald Holtham, Chair IWA Economy group.
We mustn’t accept that Wales will always be the poor relation of the UK. That’s the core message of the IWA’s latest report, An Economic Strategy for Wales?
Our expert group of economists, business leaders and academics have spent the last five months analysing data and debating its recommendations for reversing Wales’ economic decline. Its conclusion is that Wales has been a ‘middling performer’ since devolution but the wealth gap with England can be closed if there is determined political leadership behind an ambitious and detailed delivery plan for growth.  We recommend a bold £25 Billion programme for investment over the next 15 years, funded by public sector borrowing and private sector investment.
Whilst Welsh wealth (GVA) per head remains at 72% of the UK average – the same level it was at in 1999 when the Assembly was established – the North East of England has climbed to 75% GVA per head. By growing 2% every year the English region has outpaced Wales over the same period even though it lacks the tools devolution has given the Welsh Government.
2% annual economic growth is achievable, and if we could sustain it for 10 years we could reach 75% of the UK average; over 20 years we’d stand at 79% of the UK’s GVA per head by 2035. That is surely do-able, but it would still leave us a fifth poorer than the UK average in a generation’s time.
True catch-up growth with England would require growth of 4% a year for 20 years – unprecedented in the UK, and in-line with the leaps made by the former Soviet republics after the Iron Curtain fell.
The additional economic activity we’d need to generate would be the equivalent of the annual turnover of Admiral Insurance every year, for two decades.
These are sobering figures. We’ve laid them out because it’s important we confront the severity of the position we are in, and our failure to make any progress out of it since devolution.
As Gerald Holtham writes in his chapter of the report, “there is an undercurrent of grumbling in Welsh public life about the relatively poor economy, as if there is an expectation that the government should do something about it. Rather than vague grumbling or vaguer aspirations, surely it is time for the country to take a clear-eyed look at how ambitious it wants to be for its economic future and what sort of changes would be required to achieve its ambitions”.
The IWA’s Economy Group, chaired by Gerry Holtham, is firmly of the view that closing the gap with England is achievable, but the political debate in Wales is nowhere near acknowledging the scale of the actions that are necessary.  Our report says “The growth policies of Welsh governments up to now have sometimes fallen down in implementation owing to a lack of commercial nous but they have also generally been on a scale implying acceptance of only modest narrowing of the gap with the rest of the UK”.
Our report highlights examples of good policies or projects taken forward by the Welsh Government – the Arbed housing energy saving scheme or the WG’s policy on procurement for example, but even these are too modest in scale – in the case of Arbed – or are not being implemented effectively, in the case of procurement.
In a telling passage Gerry Holtham – who recently left his role inside the Welsh Government advising on accessing finance for investment in infrastructure writes:
“The Welsh Government broke new ground with a National Infrastructure Investment Plan, but with no underlying economic strategy it is a list of projects that will happen as Departmental budgets permit. In the absence of a strategy and priorities resources will not be moved between capital budgets to reflect those priorities”.
The risk aversion of Ministers and their senior officials needs to be overcome if we are to obtain true catch-up growth. That, the report says, “requires taking risks because investments may not pay off to the extent hoped or expected. It also requires sacrifices. Money spent on investment cannot be spent on goods and services – including public services – in the here and now. Even if financed by borrowing, the investment would require debts to be serviced in the near future at the expense of other sorts of spending”.
The capacity and competence to deliver well was a recurring theme in the IWA’s Constitutional Convention project, and is also woven through our economy report.  The civil service is not a delivery body and it is time for the First Minister to reconsider his aversion to arms length delivery bodies. An early test of this will be the delivery of the Metro project, which currently seems to be stuck in the system.
These are the principles we espouse in our report – ambitious targets, a detailed plan to deliver a clear strategy, willingness to take calculated risks and a robust approach to implementation. We set out the type of projects we believe would contribute towards narrowing the wealth gap. These are not definitive, nor exhaustive. There needs to be a wide debate on the best approach but we put these forward as examples of interventions, if taken together, could propel the Welsh economy:
—   Implementation of City Region projects with full roll-out of south Wales ‘Metro’ project.
—   Challenging investment targets for Research and Development need to be set and much more needs to be done to encourage companies to invest in R&D in Wales.
—   New build housing: an investment of approximately £500 – £750 million over and above existing programmes could enable an additional 10,000 affordable homes to be built.
—   Housing retrofit: doubling existing investment in improving energy efficiency of homes to £250 million over the next Assembly term would support nearly 9,000 jobs.
—   Large scale programme of multiple low carbon and energy savings projects to make Wales ‘renewable energy’ self-sufficient.
—   Firms should be encouraged to develop more linkages to the local economy through their supplier choices and bringing more of their own activities to Wales.
—   A “succession fund” to keep businesses in Wales by enabling owner managers to get retirement money out without selling the business or by facilitating management buyouts.
Devising and implementing a new energy model for Wales involving a more energy-efficient housing and vehicle stock, distributed micro-generation and smart networks would require massive investment but could spawn a new industry of locally-grounded firms. Concentrating and accelerating infrastructure investment in growth-pole areas with schemes like the Cardiff metro could also give the economy a boost, especially if a firm eye was kept on local content and local apprenticeships. A renewed commitment to financing higher education at an appropriate level and pursuing initiatives like the software university, and the generation of medical spin-outs is also a promising area. All of these things will require heavy investment, necessitating a programme of borrowing.
They also require new public institutions working at arm’s length from government and employing people with the requisite skills, experience and drive. Each of them involves considerable risk and perhaps some stringency in current spending on other public services.
Ultimately it is a political question for the people of Wales. Do we want to purse modest sensible policies that will change our situation only very gradually? Or are we ready to venture something bolder with no certainty of success but some hope of making a faster change in Wales’ circumstances?
The IWA believes Wales can do better, and its time for all parties to get behind an ambitious long-term to grow the economy sustainably and spread prosperity

A case-study of what’s wrong, or an example of what’s right?

Ahead of Tuesday’s final vote in the Assembly on the Future Generations Bill Peter Davies and Lee Waters exchange emails about the new law
Last Tuesday, on the day that Assembly voted on the penultimate stage of the Well-being of Future Generations Bill, IWA Director Lee Waters was quoted on BBC Wales saying the bill was “a case study of what’s wrong with the way we’re making laws in Wales”. The Bill had ‘gaping holes’  in it after key sections were removed in its committee stage but not replaced. “The reason we’ve had a slight farrago in the assembly is that there’s not enough depth of thought behind this bill and what it’s trying to do,” Lee Waters said. “We’ve ended up with a bill that doesn’t really know what it’s about” he told the BBC.
Later that day the Bill was strengthened by the Assembly and Wales’ Commissioner for Sustainable Futures and Chair of the Climate Change Commission, Peter Davies, tweeted “Disagree most strongly with @Amanwy [Lee Waters] re #FGBillWales inaccurate ill informed Should not detract from hard work and positive outcome”.
The two agreed to debate their views in greater detail by email over the days that followed. Here is the exchange in full:
Lee Waters [LW]: Dear Peter, my critique of the Future Generations Bill was quite specific: it stands as an example of the weakness of the way political parties prepare their manifestos. The Programme for Government was based on a commitment in the Labour manifesto for a Sustainability Bill. But there was very little detail or thought behind it and, as you know, this has been seen within Government as a ‘Bill looking for a cause’ for a number of years. Your valiant efforts at generating a conversation about ‘the Wales we want’ underlined the fact that despite committing to passing a law there was no clear idea in advance what the law would do.
Peter Davies [PD]: Dear Lee, As an independent Commissioner I am not privy to the process of drawing together the political manifestos! However what I do know is that there was clear evidence prior to the last election that the existing structure of delivering our commitment to sustainable development in the Government of Wales Act was not working effectively.
This had been highlighted by independent reviews of the Sustainable Development scheme, a specific Wales Audit Office report and my annual commentary in the Government’s Annual Sustainable Development report. There were a range of consistent weaknesses which were well documented and needed to be addressed, including the fact that the SD Scheme ran parallel to the programme of Government, was not central to policy development, applied only to Government not the rest of the public sector, and did not connect  policy to the key sustainable development indicators. So I would argue there was a strong evidence base for the proposals to introduce legislative change in the Labour manifesto.
Since the election there has been an extensive period of engagement with an initial discussion paper, leading to a White Paper and then the Bill. Your reference on the BBC, that it started life as an Environment Bill repeats a misunderstanding of sustainable development as purely an environmental issue. I think there has always been a clarity in what we are trying to achieve through the legislation in establishing a framework for “our long term development as a nation”. The same objective as being pursued by the United Nations in setting global Sustainable Development Goals.
The national conversation on the Wales we Want was initiated as part of the process, to both inform the legislation and pilot elements in the proposals. There is no greater cause than the wellbeing of future generations – so I do not think there was any sense of searching for a cause!
Of course the process has not been without its challenges and I certainly agree there are lessons. Happy to discuss further
LW: There are two separate issues – the way laws are made, and the substance of the Future Generations Bill.  Lets come back to the latter.
The first issue is what I was addressing in the BBC interview (which was recorded several weeks ago as part of a longer interview on the IWA’s Constitutional Convention). Now that we have law making and tax raising powers we are firing with ‘live ammunition’. So the process of drawing up manifestos needs to be thought through far more. My argument is that all parties need to raise their game in policy development, and in making the point I am trying to draw attention to the considerable challenge they face.  The Welsh parties are all very small and, with the obvious exception of Plaid Cymru, have little tradition of policy development at a Welsh level – they have been largely administrative / organisational outfits.  The number of people they have to draw on to come up with new policies is tiny, and Welsh civil society is weak, Government dominated and largely delivery focused. So, we have a problem.
It was in this context that I cited the Future Generations Bill as “a case study of what’s wrong with the way we’re making laws in Wales”.
At the time of speaking there were ‘gaping holes’ in the Bill after the Government had withdrawn key clauses at a very late stage and couldn’t get the votes to replace them with anything. Hence my quote,”The reason we’ve had a slight farrago in the assembly is that there’s not enough depth of thought behind this bill and what it’s trying to do…We’ve ended up with a bill that doesn’t really know what it’s about.”
PD: You are probably in a better position than I am to talk about the political party manifesto process, and there is some logic in your argument about the challenge of policy development within relatively small devolved party structures.
Obviously organisations such as the IWA itself has a key role in informing this process, as do the wider business and civil society organisations. I do not  accept that we have a weak Welsh civil society, having spent much of the last year working with vibrant community groups and organisations on the Wales we Want, while I would also highlight the work of the SD Alliance around the Future Generations Bill as an example of active civil engagement.
However as the new Chair of WCVA I do accept we need to both build the capacity for innovation and to focus on the processes by which successes can be embedded in policy. The biggest challenge though which came through from the Wales we Want was that people felt disengaged and done to not listened to. I think there are plenty of practical ideas out there if we listen more!
In respect of your specific reference to the FG Bill, I would repeat my disagreement with your assertion of the “lack of thought behind the Bill”. I chaired the Reference group for the Bill and so had first hand experience of the contribution of a wide range of stakeholders and international expertise. This is not to say that there are not lessons from the process. The Bill as drafted did not fully reflect many points that were felt to be critical and we could have improved the process to get it right first time, but nevertheless the scrutiny process of the Assembly worked to good effect. There were strong submissions to the Committee and active engagement to produce amendments from both the Government and the other political parties which have produced a much stronger Bill.
So I would argue that while there are lessons, the FG Bill is in fact a good example of the law making process, and has a very clear view of what it is trying to achieve.
LW: The thinking took place after the Bill was announced in the programme for Government, not before – and that’s my point. And as to the strength of civil society, we both know that very many NGOs and campaigners had deep concerns about the ambition and scope of the proposals, but how many felt confident to say so publicly?
PD: All I would say is that there was a clear evidence base for the proposals in the manifesto and guess that the challenge of translating manifesto commitment into legislation is nothing new. However I think that is very different from saying that there was a lack of thought behind the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill.
In my view there has been a process of really open and honest exchange with Government on the development of the legislation since the election, not least through the Wales we Want national conversation and the establishment of the SD Alliance which brought together civil society organisations to actively and openly challenge on the scope and ambition of the Bill.
LW: I admire your positivity but I’m afraid I’m unconvinced. The whole ‘Wales We Want’ exercise seemed engineered to disguise the fact that the Government wasn’t clear what problem the promised Bill was designed to solve.  I appreciate you had a delicate balancing act between your insider role sitting on the Bill team (an unusual arrangement) and as an independent scrutineer of the Government’s performance on Sustainable Development an interface with civil society organisations. Your sunny account aside, I know there were lots of frustrations amongst the NGOs with what they perceived to be a weak commitment by the WG to meaningful acts at tackling climate change. But, as is so often the case, Welsh civil society self-censors – either because of understandable concerns about the security of their funding, or in this case I detected a feeling that the political salience of climate change had become so low that they dare not push their luck too much. Something was better than nothing.
It seems we don’t agree on the thrust of my critique of the way laws are made, lets see how far we get on the second of the points I was making – the substance of the Future Generations Bill.  There is much in the final – amended – version of the Bill that is worthwhile (regardless of how we got there), but, essentially, this is a process Bill.  As the former Director of Oxfam Cymru, Chris Johnes put it in article for the IWA, “Subtly, but critically, it has changed from putting sustainable development at the heart of Government decision making to focusing on how public policy maximises wellbeing. In other words, it is now primarily concerned with the outcomes of operating in a sustainable way rather than with achieving a sustainable development path for Wales”. Sincere implementation is what will decide if this Bill is meaningful, and how confident are you of that?.  Perhaps you can answer this – had this Bill been in place at the start of this Assembly term would the Welsh Government still be going ahead with building a new section of the M4?
PD: We just need to get some clarity here. I did not sit on the Bill team and had no “insider” role. I was independent chair of the Bill Reference Group which brought together stakeholders from across the sectors and met regularly over 12 months with Welsh Government to inform the  development of the Bill. The Wales we Want  was  pilot  of a process which will be incorporated into the legislation as part of the function of the new Commissioner, while also playing a role informing the proposed goals in the Bill.
As I have said there were clear weaknesses in the Bill that emerged from this process and lessons that need to be applied in getting it right first time. However we have had a robust scrutiny process and strong civil society engagement in producing an amended Bill, which puts a clear sustainable development duty on the public sector.
I do not therefore agree with Chris’ interpretation, which I think you will find was made before the final amendments, as the  Bill puts in place a clear structure to underpin that sustainable development duty with long term goals, the setting of milestones, and a set governance principles to be applied in decision making. The Bill now includes clear reference to climate change and the Government have agreed to incorporate climate change targets within the Environment Bill. I certainly have seen no sense that civil society organisations have been reticent in coming forward throughout this process!
I do agree it is  all about implementation and we have made an important start with the early adopter network of 11  local authorities and 3 National Parks who have been working in preparing for implementation over the last year. I have been really encouraged by the positive involvement from right across the public sector particularly the health service, to the Bill as “a framework for the whole public service in Wales” to quote the White Paper on Reforming Local Government. The Bill also includes a key delivery structure through Public Service Boards that should enable  integrated public service solutions to better meet local needs.
The Bill will not provide set piece answers to specific questions such as the M4 relief road, but does provides a legal framework for better decision making and includes clear roles for Wales Audit Office and the new Future Generations Commissioner to ensure delivery.
It is nothing to do with a sunny disposition but an acknowledgement that this is the most ambitious piece of legislation to go through the National Assembly, and which is recognised outside of Wales as  being of international importance. As a participant in the national conversation said “it is amazing how bad Wales is at telling its stories”
LW:  Your distinction between Chairing a Bill Reference Group rather than sitting on the Bill team is noted. I think there is a broader debate to be had about how Independent Commissioners interact with Government and I hope this is something the IWA will look at later in the year. There is no doubt that you played an important and trusted role in shaping the final version of the Bill, and I’m certain it is stronger because of it.
Ultimately I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about the Bill.  I’m less interested in frameworks and processes and more concerned with the solid actions we’re taking to tackle climate change to give meaning to the ‘groundbreaking’ duties and strategies we already have. The Williams Commission report noted last year that there are already nine Duties and requirements that Local Authorities and public bodies have to take into account. It concluded “the practice of legislating to require public bodies to ‘have regard’ to a specific concept or objective in their decision-making processes simply complicates those processes without necessarily achieving anything in terms of the objectives concerned”. It was also pretty sceptical about the efficacy of service board in achieving ‘integrated public service solutions’.
It is simply too soon to say whether this is “the most ambitious piece of legislation to go through the National Assembly”. But one thing it is hard to dispute – a point I heard  Anthony Giddens make at Hay a few years ago – Governments across the World find it easier to talk about what changes need to take place in 50 years to tackle climate change than they do taking firm action now.
PD: I am sure we could continue this conversation but no doubt time will tell as to the effectiveness of this legislation if it is voted through this week. The annual reviews of progress will provide important benchmarks and I am sure the IWA will  play a constructive role going forward. I am sure we agree that it is not simply Government’s responsibility to make the changes needed and we each have a role to play

Should there be another referendum?

Two years ago Manchester rejected the option of a directly elected Mayor but last week was told it would get one after all, as well as responsibility for health and education spending of more than £6 Billion – without the need for a referendum. Wales, meanwhile, must hold a referendum on whether a small proportion of income tax powers should be under the control of the National Assembly. “The irony of that is not lost on me” Kirsty Williams told the Liberal Democrat conference last weekend.
Nick Clegg has called the parallel a ‘red herring’, whereas David Cameron flatly asserted that a promise had been given to hold another referendum in Wales, and that was that.
There is no consistent rule of when and why referenda are held in the UK. For example, there has been no referendum of the UK’s membership of the EU since 1975, despite significant extra powers being passed to Brussels; plans to significantly change the workings of the House of Lords were not put to a popular vote; and Police Commissioners – a radical departure in the way we govern – were established without a referendum. But four years on from the last Welsh referendum we face another, which would be the fourth on devolution in the last 35 years.
Since 2011 the Assembly has been a law-making Parliament and as a result of the St Davids Day Agreement will now have the ability to change its name to reflect the fact. But unlike every other Parliament – and indeed, unlike Community Councils or County Councils – it will primarily be a spending body, responsible for only raising only 10% of its income.
The Silk Commission regarded this as a problem, just as the UK Government did with Scotland. In 2012 the UK Government changed the law (without a referendum) to force Scotland to take responsibility for raising some of the money it spends through income tax in order to make it properly accountable. The UK Government now wants Wales to do the same – although only after another referendum. “If we believe that the devolution of tax powers is essential to ensure properly accountable and responsible government” Prof Richard Wyn Jones, Director of Cardiff University’s Welsh Governance Centre, argued before Welsh MPs, “then the question must be asked: should accountability and responsibility be optional?
Indeed, Professor Roger Scully has not be able to identify a single example of a referendum being required before tax powers are transferred to a pre-existing layer of ‘regional’ government anywhere in the world. “What if people vote No to accountability? Where does that leave us?” Richard Wyn Jones asked at a fringe meeting at the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference
But what’s the principle at stake that demands a direct endorsement by voters? It can’t be tax raising powers per say as the full devolution of business rates has been agreed from April 2015. Indeed, the Assembly will be responsible for 10% of all taxes collected in
Wales and no referendum has been deemed necessary.
The other argument advanced is that of precedent. There was a separate question on tax powers in Scotland in 1997, and Welsh voters have not been asked – in fact they were assured in the 2011 referendum that tax powers were not on the table. The Scottish powers to vary income tax have never been used and the Scottish Calman Commission argued that the principle of ‘financial accountability’ was the overriding principle. The question of pledges made in the last Welsh referendum is one I’m acutely aware of. I was Vice-Chair of the campaign and responsible for communications. The campaign’s message was a requirement to achieve cross-party consensus, but since the vote the UK Government’s decision to set-up a ‘Calman type Commission’ in Wales in the form of the Silk Commission, and the Treasury’s subsequent agreement for ‘minor taxes’ and Business rates to be passed down, have changed the terrain.
I’d suggest the principal reason is historical. Ever since the political establishment was shown to be staggeringly out of touch with public opinion of devolution in 1979, where an elite consensus was met with a 4:1 rejection in a referendum, the political class has been afraid of being out of step with the voters on Welsh devolution. The unease was reaffirmed by the water-thin majority in the 1997 referendum. The generation of political warriors that made up the party representatives on the Silk Commission was seeped in that mindset. It was at the first meeting of the Silk Commission in October 2011 it was agreed, without discussion, that another referendum would be needed on the tax question, and it has been very difficult for political leaders to move beyond that – indeed until the removal of David Jones there has been no political space to even discuss changing tack.
In her speech to her Welsh party conference Kirsty Williams flew a kite. “I think there is a debate to be had that if all parties did commit to [income tax powers] in their manifestos one could question [if] there was such a consensus whether a referendum was needed or not” she said.
I doubt very much that she’ll find much support for the idea. Conservative MP Glyn Davies is one of the few voices openly challenging the consensus. But in civil society the party line is increasingly coming to be questioned.
In the absence of an agreed and consistently applied set of rules of when referenda are necessary, the question of which tax raising powers are passed to the Welsh Parliament should be decided in the long established way – in party manifestos at a General Election.
I understand the nervousness of those who fear the UK tax base being fractured without full consideration of the consequences, which is why a full Constitutional Convention needs to think through how the moving parts of the UK fit together. But these are questions and judgements that need to be considered as a whole, and the conclusions applied consistently. Ad hoc decisions, as well as ad hoc mechanisms for executing them, do nothing to stabilise the Union.

The morning after the night before

The result, in the end, was clear, thankfully: 55.3% thought the UK was ‘better together’, 44.7% wanted Scotland to be an Independent country.
There will be much analysis of the campaign to come, but this morning the immediate question is: what next?
The Prime Minister has quickly set out the UK Government’s response. He’s promised “a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well”.
It’s a settlement, however, that will not be addressed on a UK-wide basis.  Carwyn Jones’ prescient calls for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention do not feature in David Cameron’s thinking.  Instead, a cross-party committee is being set-up (including the SNP) under Lord Robert Smith of Kelvin (Chair of energy giant SSE who led Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games organising committee) “to oversee the process to take forward the devolution commitments with powers over tax, spending and welfare all agreed by November and draft legislation published by January”.
Separately a Conservative / Liberal Democrat cabinet committee, led by William Hague, will draw-up plans to the same timetable to address the question of ‘English votes for English laws’ – including the recommendations of the McKay Commission and a announcement in the coming days of “how to empower our great cities”.
What about Wales?  David Cameron said “There are proposals to give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers. And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations”.
Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb ensured that Wales featured in the PMs statement, but its not yet clear where Wales fits in to the Government’s response. The Wales Bill, enacting some of the recommendations of the first part of the Silk Commission’s report, is currently before Parliament andcould yet be amended.
My first reaction is that is looks likely we will repeat the mistakes of the past in crafting an expedient response to pressure. Just as in the 1950s a Scottish Covenant movement and a mass petition for a Parliament for Wales was defused with conceding some change – a Cabinet Minister for Wales in our case – so the pressure for a Parliament for Scotland, and aversion to a ‘democratic deficit’ in Wales, produced a modest devolution settlement in the late 1990s. Both have subsequently developed in response to further pressure, but the absence of a stable settlement has brought the Union to the brink of collapse.
Whilst a 55% vote for Scotland remaining in the UK looks like a show of strength, the Union is far from secure. More than 1.6 million people in Scotland yesterday voted to dissolve the United Kingdom.  The promises that helped to keep them in are the source of growing resentment amongst a considerable number of English MPs, and growing public disquiet.
Respected Conservative commentator Tim Montgomery said on Radio Four’s Today Programme this morning that preventing MPs from outside England from voting on laws that only apply to England would have significant advantages for David Cameron, noting “the chances of English majority rule by the Conservatives are hugely increased”. And it’s a point not lost on Labour
“The Union is secure for now. But a commitment had to be made to give Scotland substantially more powers. That had not been part of the plan at the outset. Anyone who imagines that this referendum has settled the Scottish question for all time will be very disappointed” Prof James Mitchell from Edinburgh University wrote in his analysis this morning.
The greatest pressure on David Cameron is coming from England and Scotland, and it is a political inevitability that the Government will want to defuse the immediate threats. But surely the history of the devolution process since 1945 tells us by now that short-term tactics are not successful in stabilising the Union.  If the Union is to fair and balanced to everyone, as David Cameron said this morning, then a lasting settlement needs to be forged.
“The inclination of the Westminster establishment is to be minimalist and incremental.  The decision has to be maximalist and radical” former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said this morning.
 The early signs are not encouraging.

Whoever wins the vote, Yes has won the campaign

Posted on Click on Wales on September 18th 2014

Only a fool predicts the future, and with polls consistently showing that the outcome is within the margin of statistical error, it would take a particularly foolish fool to call this one.
Just a month ago YouGov found that only 35% of people planned to vote for Scottish Independence, but four weeks on and the Yes campaign is within touching distance of victory.
Even if there is a No vote Scotland will get extra powers and protected spending, and the SNP will have secured a launchpad for a successful General Election campaign, a continued majority at Holyrood and a very strong base to trigger another independence referendum within a generation. So whoever wins the vote, Yes Scotland can be said to have won the campaign.
How have they done it?  They’ve run a campaign that has stayed faithful to the progressive playbook: hope, not fear; the future, not the past; and a local grassroots campaign.
In a much more modest way the 2011 cross-party Yes for Wales campaign suggested the template – a big tent campaign, that was unremittingly positive, and a focus on the stories and advocacy of ‘real people’ rooted in their communities. The Welsh campaign went one further in minimizing the visibility of elected politicians and had civic society figures fronting the campaign.
The Yes campaign in Scotland took this template and added booster rockets. The No campaign did the reverse.
It is clearly difficult to make a positive of a negative; asking people to oppose something automatically puts you on the defensive.  But, at the design stage, it was clear that the focus groups were telling the campaign architects to frame their case in positive terms. The fact the campaign was titled ‘Better Together’ showed they understood that, but the lesson was quickly forgotten.
Project Fear has been a disaster. Its analysis was based on the premise that the interests of London were the same as the ‘periphery’, as constitutional scholars have long become used to calling the Celtic constituent parts of the UK.   And at times it was delivered with a withering and dismissive sneer.
Viewed from the booming south it is indeed hard to fathom why the Scots would wish to dismantle ‘the most successful political union in history’As the polls gradually converged this bemusement turned to anger, fuelled by the surveys of popular feeling in England which pointed to a growing resentment to the special provisions being granted to their neighbours.
There are highly relevant and mightily complex questions associated with dismantling a deeply embedded Union which were essential to discuss in the campaign. However, the alarmist framing of the consequences of these questions, and the method of delivery – largely by people not seen as sympathetic to the success of a devolved Scotland – was profoundly flawed. When contrasted with the largely positive and calm Yes campaign, the tone of the “better together” message served to underline the analysis of the independence advocates.
The campaign for a No vote not only failed to mobilise pro-union sentiment, but it drove floating voters and ‘soft’ unionists into the arms of the Yes campaign.
I do not know the people who ran the Better Together campaign but having been involved at the centre of the much shorter and less intense Welsh referendum campaign I am sympathetic to the difficulties they faced. Indeed, the official No campaign will have had little control over some of the less helpful stories published by the London press in the name of their shared objectives. The difficulties intensify when you add into the mix the three party dynamic, coalition government and inevitable tensions between the conflicting perspectives of London and Edinburgh. However, taking all that into consideration the Better Together campaign will not be treated kindly by analysts or historians.
A campaign driven by London’s perspectives and prejudices was doomed to fail. Their message was easily interpreted as a judgment that the Scots weren’t up to it, and that complexities are best left to the wisdom of Whitehall. That was never likely to inspire a nation that has been augmenting the architecture of statehood for the last 15 years.
Gordon Brown’s late role in this campaign will be much analysed. His early call for a positive and modern narrative of Britishness when he was positioning himself to become Prime Minister may well be seen as a lost opportunity for keeping the Union intact. The book he published late in the campaign, My Scotland, Our Britain, showed that he – perhaps alone amongst senior Labour figures – “got” the aspirational mood that Alex Salmond has helped create. Brown wrote,
“The United Kingdom was once said to be a union of four nations which worked in practice, but not in theory. Today, after two decades of reform, it does not work either in theory or in practice”
But his prescription for saving the Union seemed hurried and tortured, and crucially did not take into account the perspectives of the other parts of the UK.  It also caused confusion in the messaging of the No campaign, and added to the sense of panic.
The landlady of my Edinburgh guest house had been telling me the morning before Gordon Brown’s speech in the final days of the campaign that she was a no voter, and was clearly deeply concerned about the warnings of job losses in the banking sector and the threat of price rises by the supermarkets. But after Brown’s offer of more powers she was even more confused: “Why are they offering us more when they’ve been saying that England can stand on their own two feet without us?”, she asked plaintively. She just didn’t get it. She instinctively believed in the Union and didn’t think Scotland would have the wherewithal to be independent, but the last minute desperation to keep hold of the Scots by offering more and more was making her think right up to the very end that, perhaps, all was not how it seemed after all.
Her indecision is not unique. A few days before the vote I accompanied the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and a campaign aide, around the streets of her Glasgow Southside constituency. The local Yes campaign was tightly organised and had been gathering data on voting intentions for more than a year in advance. Despite her high profile role in fronting the campaign she spent Monday afternoon going door to door trying to nail down the ones that had, so far, got away. In hallways, driveways and living rooms I saw her chase every vote, combining a zen-like calm about the outcome, with an extraordinary drive and determination to seal the deal.  To a Muslim family she emphasised that just as Pakistan had secured Independence and not looked back, so Scotland would take its place in the club of mature nations. To another family she pointed out that immigration policy in a new State would be more humane, and would make it easier for them to bring their family to Scotland. To a floating voter concerned about the treatment of the vulnerable in an economically more austere Scotland she shamelessly claimed that in the event of a No vote Nigel Farage would join the government in London and oversee a right-wing lurch.
Perhaps the most striking feature of my afternoon observing her campaigning was the nature of the opposition she was facing – just a couple of doors firmly, but politely, closed; some insincere claims that minds had yet to be made when it was clear from their uncomfortable body language that they were not on her side; and a small number of genuinely ‘undecideds’ who had a series of practical questions for her to answer. But what was notably absent was a positive case for the Union.
Not a single voter in the two hours I spent with her said they were voting No because Britain was better together. Not a single No poster was visible in her central Glasgow constituency, a former Labour seat. For whatever reason – perhaps a fear of being out of step with the momentum of the Yes campaign, perhaps an embarrassment of endorsing the tone of the No campaign or, perhaps, a self-censorship for fear of intimidation – as some no campaigners claimed, although I saw no evidence of it – but a positive vision of a Union of nations was notably absent. “Nobody’s tried to make one” Sturgeon told me. “I could have made a better case for the Union than they have – even though I wouldn’t have believed it. There is a case to be made”, she said. And that suggests to me that even if there is a No vote the days of the Union with Scotland are numbered. If the principal case for staying together is negative and based on anxiety, that is not a case that is likely to hold for long.
If the Union is to be saved a new case needs to be made for its purpose. And a new shape must be fashioned. Not just Home Rule for Scotland but Home Rule All Around.
Over a year ago, First Minister Carwyn Jones told a private meeting of civil society organisations at his party’s conference that the Union between England and Scotland had become a “loveless marriage”.  If it is dissolved it is likely to be a painful divorce. If it can be saved there is now a deep rupture that will need much counselling to overcome.
And what of Wales?  It is not a question that has much troubled the Westminster leaders it would seem. The decision to support Gordon Brown’s guarantee of the future of the Barnett Formula in the event of a No vote is significant not only for its economic impact, but more for what it says about the weight of Welsh claims.
Under whatever outcome it is hard to be optimistic about the consideration of our requests for a ‘fairer funding’ model or the full-list of Silk Commission recommendations. At our conference last week on the implications for Wales two contributions stood out. Gerald Holtham, until recently an adviser to the Welsh Government and formerly chair of the Commission on Funding and Finance Commission for Wales, played down expectations of what might flow to Wales from the Scottish fallout. “We’re a non-story,” he said. “We’ve nothing interesting to say. All we have to say is ‘Give us more money’. My advice is tend the garden. Improve policy outcomes with the instruments we’ve got. Then we would be more persuasive. We have to raise our game”.
Guardian columnist and Chair of the National Trust, Sir Simon Jenkins, offered this thought:
“I think the real problem is that nobody knows what Wales really wants, in Scotland; you knew that the end game in Scotland was independence, you either get it or you don’t. In Wales I get no sense of there being anything. I really don’t know what it is that’s wanted. I heard Carwyn on the radio the other day sounding unbelievably hesitant and sort of, what does he want…If you want a convention, have a convention, stop waiting for someone to give you a convention. What’s the matter with you, have a convention, decide what it is you want to do and then present it to London and just at this particular moment in time you’ll just about get it”.
This referendum has already changed the shape of British politics. The question that now remains to be answered it: how will it change Welsh politics?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

I swear, its not funny

Today is Father’s Day. My son presented me with a handmade card with a lovely message, and then promptly ripped it up and threw it in my face. That’s because my son has Tourettes Syndrome.

That’s right, the funny condition that makes people swear – it’s hilarious isn’t it?

Perhaps the wits at Modern Toss could sit down and explain to my 9-year old how an inherited brain disorder that causes him such pain and anguish is funny?

Of course, I’m a hypocrite. Before I had a child with this disability I used to make casual jokes about Tourettes, because I was ignorant of the condition. Now I know that less than 10% of people with the genetic condition have the urge to randomly swear.  And those that do, find it a very distressing, and embarrassing tic.  Other tics are far more common – blinking, touching, jumping, and screeching, amongst many others. Everyone is different and tics come and go – twirling in circles this month many be replaced by touching the floor every few seconds.

Tics are symptoms of a disorder in the brain wiring. Many people have them to varying degrees, but when they occur in multiple forms and for over a year they can be diagnosed as Tourette’s Syndrome.

It has best been described to me in comparison with a sneeze – you know you are about to do it, can’t stop it and just need to get it out, and when you do there’s a feeling of relief.

In themselves most tics are harmless, but imagine how wearing it can be to be constantly blinking, touching, jumping, or screeching or worse, resisting the urge to do each of these.  It can be exhausting, frustrating and depressing, especially to a child who does not understand why these things are happening to them, and in the context of the school setting where differences are often cruelly seized upon.

Sufferers can suppress their tics, often for long periods – typically whilst in school or in the company of strangers. Indeed, it is not uncommon for family members or teachers to make comments like “he seems fine to me” or “there was nothing wrong with him today”.  But parents and siblings will tell a different story: when they are at home or in a ‘safe environment’ the tics that have been suppressed all day often come out with greater intensity.

Our son has so-called ‘rage episodes’. These are intense, ferocious, often frightening, violent eruptions that come like thunder in a blue sky, and can pass just as quickly – but often with the storm damage you might expect. It’s not just physical, but verbal too - the invective can be fierce. Punches are thrown, feet fly, rooms trashed, pain is inflicted. And just as suddenly it stops, and tears, contrition and self-loathing follows.

Tourette’s also often presents itself alongside other conditions.”The ‘rule of thumb’” according to Tourette’s expert Leslie E. Packer, “is that if the child has one disorder, they probably have symptoms of at least one other disorder as well”. OCD and ADHD are the most common ‘co-morbidities’.

These are all unpleasant conditions that cause great distress.  OCD is well known, but also misunderstood. “I’m a little bit OCD”, you often here people saying, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder goes beyond being house proud; a compulsion to perform repetive tasks can debilitating. OCD also involves intrusive and distressing thought. For example,  “I think I’m going to burn the house down and kill my family”. These thoughts aren’t ‘real’, that is to say the people experiencing them will not carry out the action they are obsessively thinking about, however, they are frightening and bewildering. They provoke inevitable feelings of guilt and culpability: “I think I’m bad”.

Like any disability the sufferers are not at fault, their symptoms are not a reflection of character defects, they are the result of the way their brains are wired at birth. Indeed, while there are still very many gaps in the medical understanding of Tourette’s Syndrome, one-thing researchers think they know is that the part of the brain thought to be responsible for the condition, the basal ganglia, is some 10% smaller than in those who do not suffer from the disorder. 

As the Time to Change campaign has so brilliantly demonstrated, much of anguish caused by these brain conditions surround other people’s reactions to them.  Prejudice, at its heart, is about misunderstanding.

There is no ‘cure’ to Tourette’s. At a seminar in London yesterday afternoon I heard international expert Dr Douglas W Woods explain that around half of children with Tourettes the symptoms have either abated by the end of their teenage years, or they have learned to cope with them better.

As I write my son has just finished throwing gravel at me and is standing before me with a guitar singing “Daddy’s fat, I don’t like you, you hate me, I don’t love you”.

It is not the type of Father’s Day the greeting cards' industry leads you to expect, not even the ones produced by Modern Toss.