Wednesday 16 June 2021

Problems, diagnoses and budgies


It seems that hardly a week goes past without one or another member of the Welsh government issuing dire warnings about the future of the United Kingdom if Boris Johnson continues to ignore or over-ride the devolution settlement. Drakeford, Gething et al increasingly remind me of Harri Webb’s budgie – the one that squawks and squawks as it flies into a fearful rage – as they vent their anger. There’s not much wrong with their diagnosis of the problem; power devolved is power retained, and the problem with devolution from the outset has been that powers enjoyed by Wales were only ever on loan and could always be recalled.

There is a great deal wrong, however, with their prescription. In essence, it boils down to waiting for England to elect a Labour Government and then hoping (against all the evidence provided by decades of experience) that that government will set up a commission to examine constitutional options, come to an agreed position and then implement it. It’s an approach which depends on an English Labour Government being in power for at least two – and probably three – full five year terms, and being prepared to invest a substantial amount of time, effort, and political capital on matters constitutional over the whole of that period in order to deal with what will always look from a London perspective to be the concerns of a fringe minority (aka Wales and Scotland). There is simply no appetite in England for the sort of significant reform required and ‘England’, in this context, includes the English Labour Party. Given the unlikelihood of a Labour government being elected at the next election – and maybe not even the one after that, in the light of active attempts at voter suppression by the Tories – it’s a recipe for waiting 25 years for action, even if all the ducks, however many legs they possess, were to line up as required.

That’s a quarter of a century to wait for the off-chance that something might eventually change. It’s no wonder that the alternative scenario, which is that Wales follow Scotland out of the dysfunctional union, is gaining support. Those who expect that all this fulminating and complaining by Labour politicians in Cardiff will eventually lead them to support the obvious alternative should remember that budgie again. As Harri put it:  

But he won’t get out, he’ll never try it,

And a cloth on the cage will keep him quiet.

When push comes to shove, the Labour budgie is a remarkably well-behaved bird. And Westminster knows where to find plenty of suitable cloths.

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