Friday, 20 May 2011

So - was it worth it?

If One Wales was part good, part bad, and part ugly, was it worth doing overall?  It’s hard to make an assessment of what would otherwise have happened; there’s inevitably an element of subjectivity and guesswork. 
Taking the Good first:
I don’t think that we would have had the Holtham Commission without One Wales – and that has to be a major plus point for the agreement.
I don’t think that we would have had the new language Measure either – at least not in as comprehensive a form.
Whether we would have had the referendum is a more open question.  We certainly would not have had it under the Rainbow option for which Plaid’s leader and many others were initially so enthusiastic, and I don’t think we would have had it under a minority Labour Government either.  Whether Carwyn Jones would have decided to go for it in this new term is also open to question; some say he would have done, but I’m inclined to think that he would have waited at least another term, until the reduced number of MPs had been elected on new boundaries, thereby reducing his own internal opposition.
Turning to the Bad:
Had Plaid Cymru remained in opposition to a minority Labour government, I’m convinced that Labour would have been unable to get their change of policy on tuition fees through the Assembly; it would have remained a matter of principle for more AMs.  What would have happened under the Rainbow is a more open question.
Absence of One Wales would have made no significant difference on the question of a Welsh daily newspaper, or on the implementation of government policies on small schools or Welsh medium education.
And in summary, therefore, most of the Bad that I noted would still have happened, but we would have lost some important elements of the Good.  Purely on a comparison between the Good and the Bad, therefore, it seems to me that One Wales did more good than harm from the point of view of the national project.
But it’s the Ugly that is the killer for me, because it blunted the one force which had previously been so responsible for shaping the debate about the future of Wales.  Whether permanently or purely temporarily is something that remains unclear at this point.
Actually this was one of the things that most concerned me about entering One Wales in the first place.  I was never convinced that the party was being led with a sufficiently clear sense of direction to be able to both make and justify short term compromises whilst also being able to continue to present a more far-reaching vision of how things can be.  Without that, pragmatism replaces idealism rather than supports it.
I’ve never opposed the idea that Plaid should be willing and ready to take responsibility – even shared responsibility as a junior partner – for the government of Wales. 
And, unlike some former colleagues, I don’t see that Labour and the Conservatives are so different, in the context of longer term ambitions for Wales, that there should be any axiomatic differentiation between them as potential coalition partners.  There are sound political considerations and significant practical difficulties in terms of policy agreements for taking a different view about the two, but no great issues of principle as far as I’m concerned.  Treating the Tories as untouchables is playing to the Labour agenda.
But any coalition or agreement should have clear objectives, rooted in the context of the wider aspirations, which move the project along in definable ways.  And people should not be afraid or embarrassed about stating where compromises are being made, and especially not afraid of enunciating clearly what the preferred option would have been in such cases.
Failing to do that, and trying to insist on absolute loyalty and support for a compromise programme as though it were the real thing, is to ape the binary (government-opposition) model which operates in Westminster, and to lose an opportunity to create a very different and more pluralistic kind of politics here in Wales.  Copying a model that we know is always easier than devising a new model, but that doesn’t make it the best solution.
Many are talking about a change of leadership as though that will solve the problems, but it is really only part of the solution.  The problem is also one of institutionalisation; those who are part of an establishment have ended up conforming to, and working within, its norms, limitations, and culture. 
Westminster has frequently been described as being the best club in London; there is a danger that the Senedd becomes the best club in Cardiff.  It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  There always seemed to be a certain inevitability about the final paragraph of Animal Farm, but if the other animals had realised what was happening sooner, I’m sure that they could have prevented it.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you're being too cynical John.

Over all One Wales was a good government and good for Wales.

Macsen

Boncath said...

John
Spot on

The gweryn know what the situation is on the ground but who asks them for their point of view?

The annual conference as a mechanism for political change is deader than a dodo. It kills good ideas faster than a well knowm toilet cleaner

Westminster and the devolved governments are so held by proceedure and by the desire to maintain the status quo that they are not effective in a rapidly changing global economy.

Their origins lie within the stability of a world dominated by the Victorians and the English Empire

Dave Edwards said...

Fine words Boncath, but where is your recipe for change?

John Dixon said...

Macsen,

"Over all One Wales was a good government and good for Wales."

And I don't exactly disagree with that. However, 'being a good government' may be enough for most parties, but it isn't really enough for a party with a broader mission. For such a party, 'success' must also include an assessment of progress towards the goal. Further, that assessment must also include both a short term and a long term element.

It's my assessment against the long term element which underlies my conclusions.

Welsh Ramblings said...

And people forget that in Animal Farm there was a period of progressive self-government under Snowball's leadership. After Snowball got kicked out of government conditions deteroriated.

Daniel Evans said...

"For such a party, 'success' must also include an assessment of progress towards the goal."

Is that to indicate that you do not believe a successful referendum on further powers was an advancement of Plaid Cymru's position?

Also John you have become quite revisionist recently. You were the chair of the party when the One Wales agreement was established. I don't recall these reservations ever being aired at the time?

John Dixon said...

"Is that to indicate that you do not believe a successful referendum on further powers was an advancement of Plaid Cymru's position?
"


No, of course it isn't; and I made it clear in the original posting that I considered that to be a big plus for the One Wales agreement. The quote that you've picked out was in response to the rather broader assessment of 'success' contained in the first comment by Macsen.

"Also John you have become quite revisionist recently. You were the chair of the party when the One Wales agreement was established. I don't recall these reservations ever being aired at the time?"

As the Chair, I regulated the discussion and thus took no direct part in it myself. That doesn't mean that I hadn't expressed a number of reservations in a less public fashion.