Friday, 18 January 2013

How would it be different?

Shortly before Christmas, both Labour and Plaid renewed their calls for devolution of policy over energy.  Well, actually, over planning consent for energy related developments; not at all the same thing, although one wouldn’t know that from listening to them speaking.

Leaving aside the element of point-scoring and game-playing (particularly from Plaid in this case, who seemed to be preoccupied with “putting Labour on the spot” for failing to vote for a Plaid amendment in the House of Commons), both parties implied, although wisely avoided saying directly, that devolution of consent would lead to a change in policy in some way.
Now, as a supporter of independence, I’m not going to disagree with their call for devolution of these powers – on the contrary, I’d go a lot further than either of them seems to want to.  I’m concerned though about arguing for something on the basis of a false prospectus; it’s not an honest argument for further devolution.
Let’s take for example Wylfa B.  Would a Welsh decision be any different from a UK one?  I doubt it.  With all the Tories, most of Labour, and at least a third of Plaid AMs likely to support the project, the result would almost certainly be exactly the same.
Or how about TAN 8?  Whilst some AMs make a lot of noise about the need to look at it again I don’t believe that there’s a majority in the Senedd for changing the policy.  (And there’d be no complaints from me on that score – I’m as convinced as ever that Wales does need to exploit its potential for wind energy).
Or how about gas power stations?  The Welsh government didn’t oppose the new station in Pembrokeshire despite the known environmental problems and failings.  There were some politicians in all parties actually supporting it – on the basis of jobs.  What part of that exactly would devolution of this power have changed?
Or what about “fuel poverty”?  This was the specific peg on which Carwyn Jones based his latest call for the devolution of these powers, but there was nothing at all in what he said which indicated how, if at all, he and his government could or would use the powers he was requesting to address the issue.  Energy pricing is not devolved, and neither was he calling for it to be devolved.
There’s something more than a little disingenuous about calling for more powers on the back of problems which either those powers would not solve or else those making the call would not be prepared to use those powers in ways which would solve the problems.  The danger in that is that it discredits the idea of devolution itself, quite apart from adding to the mistrust for politicians.


Welsh not British said...

The difference could be that rather than people in Wales having no say over these power stations being dumped on us. We could instead vote out the parties that force them upon us.

At the moment no matter how we vote we are still lumbered with whoever England wants to vote for.

John Dixon said...

There's a difference - an important difference - between 'could' and 'would'. Of course it 'could' be different; that's the potential of independence. But we also need to take a reality check here; even if Wales could take the decision on Wylfa for example, it would, sadly, still be likely to gain political approval, because none of the four parties is offering an alternative. Three are officially for the development, and the fourth is clearly happy for its elected members to take whatever stance they wish. (In practice, I think it wil be stopped for financial reasons; nothing to do with politics).

Turning a 'could' into a 'would' requires not only devolution of the relevant powers; it also requires a political commitment from one or more parties to do something different. My point was not that I'm opposed to the powers being devolved, but that I do not see the commitment to do anything different with them.

Anonymous said...

Surely the most obvious benefit would be Welsh Ministers elected in Wales making the decisions and being accountable for them? Also, ability to vary the ROCS on Scottish lines is essential.

John Dixon said...

"the most obvious benefit would be Welsh Ministers elected in Wales making the decisions and being accountable for them"

Absolutely, completely agree. More local, more accountable decision-making is a key part of the argument for devolution of anything. Do not assume, though, that it necessarily leads to different decisions. That requires another step as well.

"ability to vary the ROCS on Scottish lines is essential"

And I'd entirely agree with devolving that power as well. But that doesn't mean that I have much confidence that the power would be used to actually do something different.

Both those points neatly encapsulate the point that I was making in the original post - the argument for devolving powers doesn't depend on an assumption that they will be used to do anything different, and for people to present the argument in those terms when they have no proposals for doing anything different is misleading at the least.

Anonymous said...

What would need to be devolved in order for the Welsh Ministers to put conditions on wind developments stipulating the level of community benefits?

I think that's the key to getting community support for wind and also showing that a share of natural resources are benefiting local people.