Wednesday 16 November 2011

Carwyn's tests

In a lecture in Aberystwyth, the First Minister has set out his criteria for deciding whether or not further powers should be devolved to Wales.  Superficially, his three tests (“devolution of responsibility would benefit the Welsh public, be accommodated within existing Welsh Government structures, and have limited impact on the wider UK”) seem to be straightforward, but are they really as simple as they look?
Clearly, I start from a very different perspective; his second and third tests are not really ones which any nationalist would propose or support in any event.  As for his first, well, if I didn’t believe that an independent Wales ‘would benefit the Welsh public’, then I wouldn’t argue for it, so it’s not a test that anything would ever be likely to fail from my perspective.
But does it stand up, even from his perspective?  I’m not sure that it’s as clear as he suggests.  In what is presumably a précis of a much longer speech, the newspaper report refers to only three specific examples highlighted by Carwyn.
The first is the devolution of consents for renewable energy projects; something which he says would meet his tests.  It is left unexplained why devolution of renewable consents meets the tests, whereas devolution of non-renewable consents does not.  Why does the one ‘benefit the Welsh public’, whilst the other does not?
I suspect that what he’s really saying is that his government would take a different view from the current UK Government on the one, but really wouldn’t want the responsibility of the other which would merely highlight the difficulties all Welsh parties face over issues such as Wylfa B.  And that highlights a common problem – it seems to me that those arguing that a particular decision should be taken at a particular level are often doing so not from any basis of principle, but from the basis that that is the level most likely to take the decision that they want.  It may well be a valid approach, but we shouldn’t pretend that it’s based on a series of objective tests.
The second is the devolution of corporation tax.  In truth, I share his concern about the danger of a ‘race to the bottom’, but that’s taking a very narrow view of the power.  It highlights another problem with his approach – breaking things down into single-issue decisions avoids any attempt to look at the bigger picture. 
Having control over a range of taxes, as well as other economic powers, would enable different administrations to use different combinations of policies to promote their own economies.  That doesn’t necessarily lead to a race to the bottom at all.  But looking at individual powers on a case by case basis, in the way that Carwyn seems to be doing, will almost inevitably lead to a rejection of all.  His three principles don’t seem to allow for taking a broader view.
He also rejects the devolution of any power over income tax, but here he seems to be introducing a fourth test, that of a requirement for a referendum, although there doesn’t seem to be any hard definition of which items require a referendum and which do not.
One issue which he did not refer to was the devolution of criminal justice and the establishment of a Welsh jurisdiction.  It’s something he has himself supported in the past, but I don’t see how it can ever pass his second test, that of being “accommodated within existing Welsh Government structures”, so presumably he would now reject it as an option.
In principle, I welcome any effort by Labour’s leaders to spell out where they see devolution going, and what principles should underlie that; but in this case, Carwyn’s attempt falls a long way short of the clarity which is needed.


DaiTwp said...

He also said something along the lines that we shouldn't blindly follow the Scots while in the same speech said that if the Scots vote for Devo Max/independance then Wales should get more powers (along the lines of what Scotland has at present).

He just sounds like he's making it up as he goes along, there are so many holes and contridictions in what he's coming out with.


Unknown said...

It's not up to that buffoon (or anyone else 'we' voted in who has been told to keep those taffies weak and feeble) to decide what should or shouldn't be devolved.

It's up to us, the people of Wales. If we want more powers to be devolved to Wales then we just need grow a set and then vote to make it happen.

Glyndo said...

"have limited impact on the wider UK"

This clearly states where his priority is, and it isn't in Wales.

You mean there's more??? said...

You have to feel a bit sorry for Labour. Losing Scotland and Wales would place a lot of Labour voters in a diferent country. It might make the Labour party incapable of taking power in England ever again.

Plaid Panteg said...

A very good post John, I think we all we be very well versed in Carwyn 'tests' as we move through Silk etc.

In today's post you referred to the tightrope Carwyn is walking, something I was meaning to raise on this post yesterday.

The problem Carwyn has is that he is intelligent enough to realise that he is a First Minister and in the leadership team of Wales in Labour. As First Minister, he has to maintain at least the veneer of pragmatism in the teeth of his own party's blind dismissal of anything suggested by the Tories.

It's why he doesn't really rule anything in or out and that his tests are subjective at best.

I cannot help but sigh that the future of devolution is a yet again a fudge to satisfy internal Labour issues rather than to benefit Wales as a whole.

Anonymous said...

As I have alluded on the Welsh Ramblings post, this is a sign of a party who has not been able to maintain its grip on devolution. Without agreeing that the Tories will manage devolution on the basis of anything other than self-interest, the lack of depth and consistency in Labour's public opinions on devolution is a cause for concern. A case of making it up as they go along.