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Friday, October 22, 2004

Coals to Newcastle

Rhodri Morgan is reportedly spending today in the North East of England campaigning for a yes vote in their devolution referendum. The proposal they are voting on is for a 25-member assembly, with 15 elected from super constituencies on a first-past-the-post basis, and the remainder on a proportional representation regional list. The body would not control health or education.

The outcome is increasingly looking like a 'no' vote. This does not surprise me as the new regional assembly will be even more problematic than the Welsh Assembly. In addition to not controlling health and education it will not have the same powers on secondary legislation. Indeed it is difficult to see what it will be able to do or how it will be able to benefit the lives of those it will represent. Within months of a narrow 'yes' vote, if one were to come about, all the controversy about cost and the creation of 'overpaid professional politicians' that are thrown at the Welsh Assembly will be bandied about in spades. The only possible reason I can see for a 'yes' vote is that it might eventually get the powers and responsibilities it needs. I doubt if that will be enough.

Rather bizarrely Rhodri Morgan is arguing that any review of the Barnett formula, which determines how much money the Welsh Assembly has to spend, is dependent on the outcome of this vote. He is right of course, the pressure for reform will be much greater if there is regional government in England, as is proposed by the Liberal Democrats. The strange thing is that up until now the Labour Assembly Government has set its teeth firmly against arguing for such reform. Will we now see a u-turn from Rhodri Morgan and his Ministers on this issue?

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