Welsh Assembly

Welsh Assembly

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Carwyn on why we must vote yes...

2011 promises to be a busy year for voters... With an Assembly election and at least two referendums, I don’t think anybody will be able to say that their view hasn’t been heard. 

The really important referendum for Wales in 2011 is about the Assembly’s powers.  Unless you have a particular interest in constitutional law, you may feel you need to know more about it. 

So, let’s start with what the referendum isn’t about: 

It’s not about tax-raising powers. The Assembly can’t raise tax and it won’t be able to after the referendum whatever the result. End of story.

It’s not about more politicians. There will be 60 members as now. That’s enough. That’s not to say we don’t need to keep our 40 MPs. The more of a voice we have in Parliament the better. 

It won’t cost any more. In fact, a yes vote will save some £2 million through cutting duplication of work in Cardiff and London.  Now more than ever it surely makes sense to put in place a cheaper and more efficient Assembly.   

It isn’t about boosting some kind of elite in Cardiff Bay. I went to a comprehensive school and live in the town I was brought up in. Like all Assembly Members, I was elected by the people of Wales. Elites aren’t elected; they stay in power whatever happens - just like the unelected quangocrats of 1980s Wales. 

It’s not about independence.  In non-devolved areas like defence, social security and police, laws will continue to be made at UK level.  Wales will still be an integral part of the UK but, I’d argue, we’ll be more like equal partners with a yes vote. 

So what is it about? It’s about using powers more freely.  At the moment, the Assembly can make laws in the areas it’s responsible for, like health and education, but very often we have to ask Westminster first for the powers to do so. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, they can simply get on with it without asking Westminster’s permission while we have to jump through hoops before we can pass a law.   It’s a bit like passing your driving test and buying a car only to discover you have to re-sit your test every time you want to drive it!  

The present system also wastes money. We have to do everything twice.  First we have to ask for the powers, itself a long multi-stage process.  Then we need to implement the powers in Cardiff, another long multi-stage process. In terms of staff time and bureaucracy this costs up to £1.9 million a year! We could spend that money better on vital public services. 

Using powers is about people.  Let me give you practical examples.  Three years ago we decided we wanted to do more to provide more affordable housing. Too many young people couldn’t afford to get a house or to stay in their home areas. In order to make more houses available, we needed to pass a law. The snag was that we had to ask Westminster for the powers. The process took three whole years.  In the meantime young people were suffering. Scotland and Northern Ireland could have acted straightaway, while we had to wait. I just don’t think that’s right. 

We’re also looking at changing the law in Wales to make it easier for people to donate their organs when they die. Many people die every year for lack of kidneys and other organs. We’d like to start the process of making it easier but, again, we have to wait for Westminster to give us the powers. It would be much quicker, cheaper and better if we could just get on with it. 

There may be some who take the view that this is a step towards independence. They’re wrong.  Even after a yes vote, the Assembly would still have fewer powers than the Northern Ireland Assembly, which serves a province half the size of Wales. It’s also worth remembering that the Northern Ireland Assembly and its powers are strongly supported by the Unionist parties there who want very strongly to remain part of the United Kingdom! The idea that a yes vote would move us towards independence has as much weight as suggesting a no vote would lead to the abolition of the Welsh rugby and football teams.

The question you have to ask yourself is this. Do you think that those laws which only affect Wales should be made by people that you elected as Assembly Members and who you can kick out if you don’t like what they’re doing? Which system is the more democratic and best for Wales? 

So when the referendum comes I will be asking you to vote for a system of making laws for Wales that is faster, more democratic and cheaper.  A system that’s good enough for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and which I believe is good enough for us in Wales. 

Some will see the referendum as a way of registering their opposition to the idea of the Assembly or indeed the idea of Wales. To them I’d simply relate what happened to me when, as a newly appointed Agriculture Minister, I went to London for a meeting with fellow Ministers from across the UK. In conversation, a senior Whitehall civil servant said to me, “This devolution is an interesting experiment. In the past we always listened to the Scots but now we have to listen to Wales as well.” 

I want them to listen harder, and a yes vote next year will make sure that they do.
Best wishes.


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