Showing posts from November, 2013

Are the Silk threads unraveling?

Published on IWA blog  on 11th November 2013 The Prime Minister and his deputy got the headlines they were after:  Wales offered tax-raising powers by UK government . David Cameron was able to show the modern Conservative Party is pro-devolution and financially responsible, and Nick Clegg was keen to stress his party’s historic role in delivering ‘Home Rule all around’. But just a week after the two men stood side by side in front of Richard Rodgers’ undulating wood celling, and the veneer is already beginning to peel away. The UK Government have promised AMs the power to borrow money, and have given them the option to vary the rate of income tax and keep the proceeds.  But there’s a catch. The Chancellor may still get to decide what the borrowed money is spent on, and the tax powers are limited, and can only be used if there’s a fresh referendum within a time-limited period.  Taken together, I think the conditions Cameron and Clegg have insisted upon make it unlikely that t

A second city – relegation for Swansea?

Published on IWA blog on 5th August 2013 Is Swansea Wales’ second City? In population terms certainly, but it seems a rather dated question – reflective of a time when the ‘principality’ was only worthy of two perhaps.  With the elevation of Newport  to city status it is probably more productive to think in terms of Wales having several ‘second cities’. So what then of Swansea’s identity?  That too is changing.  The  last census showed  a growth in the city’s population of around 15,500 over the last decade with Swansea becoming more cosmopolitan (though still 94% white). A 9.0% fall in the number of welsh speakers (greater than the 3.5% fall recorded for Wales over the period), underlines the sense that discussions about Swansea’s ‘identity’ are more appropriately framed in terms of the city having several ‘identities’. Any sense of place, and the orientation of the people who live there, is of course dynamic. Identities are fluid, and are constantly changing. Swansea’s is

Carwyn Jones’ government by instinct

Published on IWA blog on July 22nd 2013 On his nine-month journey through the United States in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville discerned the characteristics of a young nation with a clarity that few have matched. Surveying a society in the throes of rapid change, the young French aristocrat was planning a treatise to help his countrymen – who had just endured the trauma of a bloody revolution – to understand the dynamics of a new democracy. The society he famously captured in  Democracy in America  - a work more quoted than read – was insulated from the intense ideological battles that shook Europe. Tocqueville admitted to some regret at the “low rhetorical temperature” of this young country gripped by materialism. As he weaved his way down the east coast of America he jotted the conversations he had, and the insights he gleaned. His notebook captures a conversation with a lawyer who told him, “In truth there are no parties now in the United States; everything is reduced to a qu

Critical friend – the IWA’s key role

Published on the IWA blog on April 24th 2013 What should the priority for the IWA be? As you might imagine, it’s been a question that has been exercising me in recent weeks. My conclusion is: to be a critical friend. If small countries need to be smart to succeed then sketching out what a smart country looks like is one of the IWA’s primary roles. But to achieve a high performance culture we must first create a self-critical culture, and we have some way to go. “The thing to remember about Ministers”, a senior civil servant recently told me, “is that they don’t like criticism”. Nor do senior civil servants, I might add. As understandable a human impulse as that is, it’s not the mindset we need if we’re going to achieve the promise of devolution. We’re too small a country to self-censor, but we have developed an aversion to challenge. I’ve spent seven years as a political journalist coaxing people to say on the record what they were willing to say off the record, and hav