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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fanning the flames

Welsh Liberal Democrats peer, Richard Livsey, is featured in the Western Mail this morning arguing that the Government's failure to give the Welsh Assembly primary law-making powers will fan the flames of Welsh nationalism. His submission to the Secretary of State for Wales states that:

"The proposals in the White Paper do move matters forward, but eventually are likely to result in deadlock and dissent between the National Assembly and Westminster. Ultimately, this will fan the flames of Welsh nationalism.

"There will never be a better time to reform the Assembly and replace it with a Parliament similar to the Scottish model. MPs should show far more vision and realise that the granting of primary legislation to the Assembly does not undermine their roles."

Richard's arguments on powers are totally sound, whilst the spectre he conjures up of a revitalised nationalist movement growing out of legislative deadlock is an interesting one. The calculation is quite fine and depends to a large extent on why a deadlock has occurred and how clever the Westminster government has been in engineering it. Nevertheless, that fact that a deadlock will occur at some stage or another is inevitable.

Labour MPs will no doubt point to the fact that the highpoint of Plaid Cymru's popularity came in the first Assembly elections and will argue that it is greater powers for a devolved Welsh Government that makes them more relevant. I would dispute this. The existence of Plaid Cymru can only be justified in its campaigning for independence and devolution. If the UK Government gives Wales a proper devolved settlement that enables us to run our domestic affairs and allows us a fair financial settlement then, in the minds of the vast majority of voters, the raison d'etre for a Welsh nationalist party largely disappears.

In the conclusion to his submission, Richard is spot-on:

"The model of democratic governance proposed in this White Paper is an unsustainable compromise, and would perpetuate the production of hybrid England and Wales Bills.

"There may be a modest increase in 'all Wales' Bills, but the reality would result in the Assembly being unable to produce clear, coherent legislation for Wales. The original 1998 Wales Act (setting up the Assembly) was a compromise. These proposals incorporate yet another.

"Time is not on our side, and Wales deserves better."
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