Friday, 1 August 2008

The other S word

John Osmond, of the IWA, has produced a good paper on the question of Welsh sovereignty, looking at how things have changed since the establishment of the National Assembly.

In principle, I share his view that we should really be looking beyond the powers contained in the Government of Wales Act 2006 and more towards the model set out by the Richard Commission. (And, of course, Tomorrow's Wales raised similar concerns recently). In practice, however, I tend to the view that the easiest and quickest way forward from where we are today is to hold a referendum, as soon as possible, on the basis of the 2006 Act, rather than to seek a new act of parliament as a pre-requisite for moving forward.

Waiting for Parliament to pass a further act would slow the process down. We won't get such an Act before the next General Election – and I'm certain we won't get one from a Cameron government after that. Better to take what we can get pragmatically today, and honour the One Wales commitment for a referendum at or before the 2011 elections. An Assembly strengthened by that process can then start to look at the other aspects of Richard.

'Sovereignty' is not a word often used in the debate, but it's an important one. (Given the connection of the word with the idea of a 'sovereign', it's not a word with which I'm entirely comfortable; but I don't have a better one to offer.) On my understanding of the (unwritten) UK constitution, 'sovereignty' is vested by God in the monarch who graciously devolves it to Parliament to exercise. (Although the 'graciousness' in this case was forced onto a long-dead ancestor rather than having been an entirely voluntary act of grace!). It is a centralised, top-down concept, which leaves we mere citizens as 'subjects' to be 'ruled over'.

My own view of sovereignty – and I think that I'm squarely in line with Welsh radical tradition on this point - is that it actually belongs to the people, and any government can only rule by consent - consent which can be withdrawn at any time. It's a decentralised bottom-up concept. Not surprisingly it leads to a natural and instinctive republicanism; believing that the people are absolutely sovereign is not something that could sit easily with the concept of an hereditary 'ruler'.

Although unspoken, I wonder if this complete clash of world views doesn't cause some of the problems for us when we are discussing Welsh Independence. I start from the viewpoint that power belongs to us; it is for us to decide how much of it we want to see exercised at a Welsh level, and how much we want to share at a British or European level. Many opponents seem to be starting from the viewpoint that power belongs to the UK Parliament (exercising it on behalf of the monarch), and it is therefore for them to decide how much to allow us to exercise.

For me, calling for a referendum on the next step is simply about allowing the people of Wales to exercise their legitimate right. Those who oppose, in principle, the holding of such a referendum are effectively seeking to deny that right. (From my perspective, the jury is still out on whether or not some of those who claim to be arguing only about the timing are really just making excuses for denying Wales the right to choose.)

PS The fact that we have the right to decide that power should be exercised at different levels does not necessarily mean that we should do so of course. The right to self-determination necessarily includes the right not to seek self government. Our job as a party is to convince people that we are right in saying that there are better options for Wales; but we sometimes forget that we haven't convinced everyone yet that the decision is ours to take in the first place.


Unknown said...

Do it now, and call for a referendum. The majority are already in favour of a Welsh parliament. Following good publicity the YES vote will win the day. We cannot rely on waiting for Labour, and we certainly cannot leave it until election time and the Tory's assured victory in England.
Do it now.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that Plaid are still putting Independence ahead of trying to help the people of Wales with concerns over price of fuel, food, cost of living etc.

I just wish that people like Helen Mary Jones, Adam Price, Bethan Jenkins etc would start to think of their constituents for once and not Push Independence down throats of the people of Wales.

John Dixon said...


"I can't believe that Plaid are still putting Independence ahead of trying to help the people of Wales with concerns over price of fuel, food, cost of living etc."

We're not. Independence is the best way to address the problems of Wales, not an alternative to addressing them.