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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Business as usual?

Sitting in a half empty chamber this afternoon, it is not difficult to see why we are having problems getting universal acceptance of the Assembly by the Welsh electorate. The refusal of Labour and Plaid Cymru Assembly Members to cross the PCS picket lines may well be principled but it does nothing to enhance this institution in the eyes of the public.

One also has to question what those principles are when both Plaid Cymru and Labour MPs have been content to cross picket lines in Westminster to take part in the budget debate. The contrast is stark. It implies that Westminster MPs are serious about the process of government whereas the two governing parties in Cardiff Bay are not.

The arguments advanced by Plaid Cymru MPs as to why they are able to cross picket lines but their AMs should not are astonishing. They e-mailed David Cornock to say: "It is [also] inconceivable that Members of Parliament representing Plaid Cymru should not attend the budget debate today.

“It was a tough decision between supporting the strikers and the importance of the up and coming budget on public sector workers given the agenda of the two main parties in Westminster.

"There is a difference between this and the meaningless attempts by opposition parties in Cardiff Bay to score petty political points during such a worrying time for so many public sector workers.

“Their actions show how little they care for the people affected by the Westminster government's plans to cut redundancy payments."

So Plaid Cymru are arguing that Westminster is important whereas the Welsh Assembly is not. What a bizarre position for a nationalist party to take. I certainly support the right of civil servants to strike, have sympathy with their case and want talks to take place to resolve the dispute. But I am also committed to the devolution process and to Welsh Government and it is my judgement that failing to do the job we are paid for will undermine the case for subsidiarity and the campaign for full legislative powers. We are a National Assembly not a vehicle for gesture politics.

It may well be that Labour and Plaid will argue that they are able to carry out this boycott because there is no government business but not only are opposition day debates an important part of the scrutiny process but the remuneration measure that we are discussing today is a vital part of the drive to clean up politics. Do Labour and Plaid really have nothing to say on that issue? Does it not speak volumes that they have opted to stay in their constituency offices rather than scrutinise this important piece of legislation?

Today has been a poor one for Welsh devolution. This is the second time that the process of governance has been undermined by unrelated industrial action and there is a possibility that it may happen again. That is not a situation that Parliament would find itself in as Ministers there take their responsibilities seriously. It is a shame that this is not the case in Cardiff Bay.
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