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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Talking about our democracy

There are two articles in today's Western Mail about the devolution project. One offers a useful starting point for debate, the other in my opinion takes us down a blind alley.

Wrexham MP, Ian Lucas is quite right in suggesting that the present devolution settlement plays into the hands of the separatists, although I suspect that we agree for different reasons and each of us envisage a different end-game.

Mr. Lucas suggests that there is a need for further devolution to the English regions to counter-balance that in Wales and Scotland. His preferred mechanism however, is to set up Regional Grand Committees at Westminster so as to improve scrutiny. It is not even administrative devolution and there is certainly no attempt in his vision to improve accountability, and transparency or to promote policy diversity.

Both Mr. Lucas and the Tory MP, David Jones suggest in the article that the North East rejected a previous attempt at regional devolution because they did not want an additional tier of government. That may well be the case, but it could also be that they did not want a particular brand of regional government being thrust upon them, which had extremely limited powers and which would have created just another talking shop. It may be some time before that proposal can be revisited but that is no reason to rule it out if it is done properly and with conviction.

The other question that hangs over Ian Lucas' proposal is what happens to Welsh devolution whilst the English are being pacified. I suspect he wants us to stand still until Labour are ready to move on. Unfortunately, it is not going to be so easy to put that particular genie back in the bottle. A referendum on full law-making powers in my opinion is now an inevitability. It becomes more so, the more Labour and Tory MPs resist the LCO process.

The trick now must be to allow comparative advances in England to match progress in Wales and Scotland, so as to keep some sense of proportion within the asymmetric constitutional settlement that Labour has thoughtlessly created. In my view that is the best way to keep the United Kingdom together. It cannot be done by dangling rotten carrots in front of the English, whilst pulling back on the reins in Wales and Scotland.

The second article that has raised my heckles this morning reports on an extraordinary proposal by Dafydd Wigley. Described by the paper as Plaid Cymru Leader, Mr. Wigley suggests that we need to extend positive discrimination so as to give preference to disabled people when selecting candidates for the Assembly list seats.

One of the reasons why the Assembly has so many female members is because at least two of the four parties opted for a system of positive selection for women back in 1999 when they were choosing their candidates. Although the policy achieved its aim, it is worth noting that the Welsh Liberal Democrats also got 50-50 representation simply by giving able women the chance to compete on level terms with men. However, we have a long way to go in terms of identifying and training women and ethnic minorities if we are to replicate that success at all levels of government and over a long period of time.

What positive discrimination also did was to invite accusations of tokenism and allow some people to question the quality of the successful candidates. Perhaps that is the reason why Mr. Wigley does not also suggest such a policy for ethnic minority candidates. And why pick on the regional lists? Isn't the electoral system discredited enough as it is without using it as an instrument of social change?

In my view we need to question the policy objective of reflecting the make-up of society amongst our elected representatives. Are we sure for example that we have an equal proportion of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender people within the Senedd as we do in our communities? Of course not and why should we?

The key here must be in creating opportunities for all people irrespective of their race, gender, sexual orientation and whether they are disabled or not, to be able to compete on equal terms for places in the Assembly. In my view that must involve training, encouragement, mentoring, and support and such facilities should be available for white heterosexual males as much as for one-legged black lesbians, and be offered regardless of party. This an opportunity agenda rather than one for equality. I believe that it is the best way of fostering respect and of allowing people to fulfill their own potential.
Excellent post Peter. Almost as much agreement between us as there is between Cameron and 'Calamity'!
Peter you do talk a remarkable amount of sense on times. Could we discriminate in favour of people who do that do you think?
In his excellent anthology of his own poems "Acts of Union" published by Gomer Press in 1990, Swansea based Poet Nigel Jenkins wrote:-
"Be black, be Welsh, be a woman, be gay, be working class, be all of these together then try to find yourself a flat in Langland."
Perhaps we could substitute "flat in Langland" for "a seat in Cardiff Bay", as long as minor parties do not select top of the list regional candidates in meetings of just fourteen in telephone kiosks!
Firstly, Mr Wigley's comments relate to how Plaid Cymru can deal with what he sees as internal difficulties regarding access to people with disabilities. He is not proposing anything that would impose a legal or moral obligation on any other party.

Whether you agree with Wigley's answer to the problem or not, I would have expected a person who claims to be both Liberal and a Democrat to congratulate Mr Wigley for raising the issue for debate.

Prejudicial comments about "one-legged black lesbians" don't advance the cause of equality of opportunity for all. I would have expected better from you Peter.
It seems that you have not just taken my comments out of context Alwyn but also misread what Dafydd said.

He is quoted as saying: “I believe the time has come for all the parties to look at how they use the regional list to ensure those with disabilities have been given the helping hand.”

I would say that such a proposal extends beyond internal discussion within Plaid Cymru. It also seems that you are the one who has a problem with debate, not me.
Who cares ? Only the Western Mail takes Wigley seriously.Wigley should realise that individuals of talent whatever their so called disability do not need positive discrimimation. Look at the great Marxist thinker Gramsci. Labour already has a first class MP who not only could be classed as disabled but is also a woman. She got into Parliament on merit. Labour has never really recovered from the nonsense of the 1999 twinning which saw some pretty poor politicians becoming memebrs of the Assembly merely because they were females. They are still there and it hasn't helped the cause of women in politics one bit.
Alwyn your condemnation of what you allege to be ‘prejudicial comments’ shows how far from equality we really are, as there seems to be an assumption that there is no equality as regards a sense of humour amongst minority groups.

As for opening up debate. Mr Wigley made his comment to the Western Mail – the aim would seem to be to gain column inches rather than open up serious debate (not that there is anything wrong with that, but don’t go down the holier than thou road.)

What he is espousing and Plaid are supposedly considering is not equality. And as for open debate, that is hardly likely to take place behind the closed doors of their national council. When the Welsh Liberal Democrats discussed (and rejected) a proposal to introduce positive discrimination for women we did so at Conference, where policy is decided by members, in a forum open to the media and anyone else.

I am a firm believer in equality, and this is not equality. There is a need for change in the political world at large, many sections are grossly under-represented, but that change needs to come about as a result of encouraging everyone to engage in the political process. It also requires a genuine change in attitude not platitudes and experiments.
Karen, I am a member of a very unrepresented constituency in Welsh politics, those who have no sense of humour. MOF's have a right to have their views heard as much as those that think that politics is a funny business.

Peter, the Liberal Democrats can't claim that they have conquered all gender equality issues, never mind other equality matters.

How many LD Euro List primaries have been been postponed because NO woman had applied? At least three, to my knowledge, including Wales!
Alwyn, the Liberal Democrats have made no such claim and neither have I. Again I refer you to what I wrote above and in particular the passage: "we have a long way to go in terms of identifying and training women and ethnic minorities if we are to replicate that success at all levels of government and over a long period of time." By the way there is no such word as 'unliberal'.
Its very difficult for women to get any where in most of the parties as they are male dominated at local level and like usually votes for like.
However I think that the first condition should be suitability for the job. Being a councillor doesn’t necessarily make u the right person to be in National politics, neither does the ability to touch heartstrings, neither does longevity of membership.
There should be a set of core competencies that are mandatory before any one male female, able-bodied disabled etc has to demonstrate before being entered into the race. As a taxpayer I think I have the right to know that people I pay are at least literate, numerate and competent in skills that go wit the job.
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