Wednesday 9 December 2009

That resignation

I wouldn't say that I know Rhodri Morgan particularly well, but over almost 40 years of political activity, our paths have inevitably crossed from time to time. Wales is a small place at the best of times; but mostly, it's the Dinas Powys connection – he lives in the ward which I represented for 12 years on the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

His affinity for the Old Arcade in Cardiff has often been referred to, but I bumped into him more often ensconced in the back bar in the Star in the centre of the village. It was one of my late brother's favourite haunts, although I was always more of a Cross Keys man myself. I haven't been there for many a year, so I don't know whether he still makes an occasional appearance.

Politically, we are opponents, of course, but in 1979 (long before he held any elected office) we found ourselves on the same side in the devolution referendum of that year. Rhodri was one of the very few Labour Party members actually prepared to come out and campaign for a yes vote – delivering leaflets on the ground alongside myself and other Plaid members, rather than pontificating from above. It was a time when others in his party - including the man credited as being the 'father' of devolution - were still on the 'wrong' side of the debate. Rhodri had then, and I know still has, a genuine commitment to devolution for Wales.

I haven't always been impressed with him in Government, to be honest. He was definitely an improvement on his predecessor, but overall has turned out to be more cautious and less radical in his approach than I had expected. It's easy to blame the limited nature of the Assembly's powers; but still, from what I knew of him, I had expected more flair and imagination in the use of those powers. He has though made an undoubtedly unique contribution to the 'bedding down' of our Assembly.

He has managed to retain a down-to-earth style, as others have commented. It should be a source of pride in our fledgeling democracy that our First Minister can behave in such an ordinary fashion, and still maintain that contact with the people who put him where he is. And it says a lot about the man that he would want to adopt that style as well.

Like many others, I wish him a long and happy retirement now that he has stepped down as First Minister. I do hope though that he will feel able to perform one last service to the people of Wales. I cannot imagine a better person to take a leading role in the campaign to deliver a 'yes' vote in the next referendum to be held sometime between now and May 2011.

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