Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Swords for AMs?

Amongst the evidence given to the Welsh Affairs Committee by the Assembly’s Presiding Officer last week was the proposal that her job should be renamed as Speaker, because that was more recognisable and is used in Westminster.
Neither of those strike me as being particularly good reasons to choose a different name.  And it left unanswered the question as to what the Welsh equivalent would be, although my guess is that it would continue to be Llywydd.  I can, after a fashion, understand why so many AMs seem to want to ape what they see as a “real” Parliament doing, although it’s an attitude which disappoints me.  It’s a sign of insecurity.
Choosing a name because it is used elsewhere rather than using an accurate and meaningful description seems to be elevating the arcane over common sense.  The origin of the title of Speaker seems to be tied up with the idea that one brave MP should speak on behalf of the whole house to the monarch of the day, suitably quaking in his boots as he did so (they were all ‘he’ in those days).  In practice, however, the Crown usually got its way over who should be appointed anyway, and dispatched (in rather permanent fashion) any who brought them news that they didn’t want to hear.
It’s certainly true that large numbers of parliaments throughout the world do use the term Speaker, although it’s worthy of note that it is particularly prevalent amongst parliaments in countries which used to be part of the British Empire.  Aping ‘mother’ is catching.  I wouldn’t say it’s never used outside of that sphere, but chairman or president seems to be a much more common title outside the former empire. 
I’d be tempted to say that perhaps we should simply dispose of the English title completely and use only the Welsh, Llywydd.  It would be following the example of Ireland - although it’s not an entirely happy precedent; whilst using only the Gaelic titles, the actual use of the language itself has declined.
What was proposed may only be a minor name change, but once the Assembly starts reverting to Westminster customs and habits, where will it end?
Will we have AMs pretending to be reluctant (as if!) to take on the lucrative rôle being dragged to the chair?  Or perhaps we should keep collapsible top hats under the chair for when members want to raise points of order (after all, it’s not that long since the House of Commons got around to abolishing that peculiar practice), or provide pegs for the AMs swords, or have the AMs walking round in circles when they want to vote?
Let’s just forget Westminster and its arcane procedures and titles, and concentrate on the job in hand – building a rather more twenty-first century democracy here in Wales.

1 comment:

Bill Chapman said...

I think you're right to see the wish to "ape" Westminster titles as a sign of insecurity. I believe that this insecurity is based on widespread ignorance of the role of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government. Certainly in my part of north Wales, there is little in the local press. There is a short piece by Tom Bodden entitled "A view from Cardiff". Cardiff is a long way away from Conwy town. It's a 200 mile journey, should anyone wish to go.

What I am suggesting is that the Welsh Assembly has yet to be seen as relevant in people's lives.