Wednesday 27 January 2010

Assessing priorities

It is difficult to comment on the proposal that military veterans should receive priority for NHS treatment without accusations of not wanting to properly look after those who risk their lives, and suffer physical or mental injury, in the service of the state. The matter has almost become a bidding war between the Labour and Conservative parties as to which of them can be seen to be doing most to help ex-soldiers.

But the proposal does need to be properly examined and challenged, because raising the priority of one group inevitably means reducing the priority for others. If it does not have that effect, then it is effectively a meaningless promise; and if it does have that effect, then that should be spelled out, so that we all understand the impact of what is being proposed.

The principle on which the NHS is based is that treatment and support should be provided, first and foremost, on the basis of clinical need; the more urgent the need, the more priority the case should receive. So, if military veterans have the greatest need, they will be at the top of the list anyway; and if they don't, then other people with a greater need based on clinical assessment will be moved down the list to accommodate them.

The emotional case being made through the tabloids for doing more to help 'our brave servicemen and women' is a clear one, and easy to empathise with. But responding to that by pushing non-military cases down the lists - even if the need is greater, and the suffering more intense - is not something that I could justify supporting.

The real question is surely how we ensure that everyone receives the treatment and support they need, as and when they need it. In that case, adjusting the priorities between cases in response to headlines is avoiding the real issue.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

An interesting explanation

Yesterday, I referred to the way in which Carmarthenshire Council had apparently implemented the decision to allow people to park for free in the two weeks leading up to Christmas before the decision was taken. In reality, it was obvious that the decision had in fact been taken by someone outside the formal decision-making process, and that the Executive Board had merely rubber-stamped the decision.

I have now been told about the council's 'explanation' for this curious state of affairs. They claim that the Executive Board didn't actually take the decision at all. It may - and probably will - come as a surprise to most members of the council to discover that all decisions on whether to charge, or how much to charge, for car parking are considered to be 'operational' matters and thus delegated to the council's relevant officer. There was, from a legal perspective, no need for the Executive Board to even discuss the proposal, let alone approve it.

That might clarify the legal position, but as with so many of the council's 'explanations', it raises at least as many questions as it answers.

For starters, if the officers had already taken the decision, why did they then submit a three page report to the Executive Board, setting out the implications of the proposal and stating that the key decision required was "That Executive Board approves the introduction of free car parking after 10.00 hours in all towns in the two weeks leading up to Christmas 2009"?

Or why spend time discussing the matter in the Executive Board (with the relevant members of course claiming credit for their generous and wise decision), before formally minuting the decision as "UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED that the introduction of free car parking after 10.00 hours in all towns in the two weeks leading up to Christmas 2009 be approved."?

This is an authority which claims to be desperately cash-strapped and facing severe cuts in front line services, but they apparently have enough member and officer time available to go through a complete charade of producing reports with recommendations in them, debating what to do, and then solemnly minuting a decision, when the whole process was completely and utterly unnecessary.

Monday 25 January 2010

Tory warns about his own party's cuts agenda

This story in yesterday's Sunday Times was interesting not so much for the suggestion that the Tories might not be totally united over cutting public expenditure as for the way in which it hinted at the real underlying agenda which many of them support.

The sentence in the report that caught my eye was this one: "Clarke’s blunt remarks will be seen as a warning to right-wing Tories who regard the budget squeeze as a chance to slash the size of the state".

This highlights a concern that I have expressed previously, which is that the public deficit is in danger of being used as an excuse for pursuing a much wider agenda, and that much of the Tory impetus for spending cuts has more to do with a desire to reduce taxes for the better-off than with the budget deficit per se.

I would not argue that there is not a public deficit which needs to be reduced, but the extent to which it needs to be reduced, and the nature and timing of reductions are questions which are not getting the serious consideration which they deserve. The agenda has been set on the basis of the headline figure for the deficit, and the Tories and their allies in the press have managed to create a climate in which serious debate about alternatives has become difficult if not impossible.

The situation is far from being as black and white as many suggest, but if we are not careful, the result will be one in which deeper and more rapid cuts are made than are necessary to deal with the budget deficit. The losers will be those who depend on public services, and the winners will be those who benefit a year or two later from tax cuts.

Jumping the gun

I mentioned last week that Carmarthenshire Council had got themselves into a bit of a tangle over how and where a decision was taken. Another example has been highlighted this week by one of the Plaid members on the council.

The council announced in its propaganda sheet, published on 25th November, that it would again be providing free parking for a fortnight before Christmas, as it has done in previous years. A praiseworthy decision, and one supported by councillors of all parties. The decision was duly implemented on 10th December, with notices placed in all the car parks advising motorists that there was no need to pay.

It was only when the minutes of the Executive Board meeting on 14th December appeared that it became clear that the decision wasn't actually taken (in the sense of being formally taken at a properly convened meeting under the terms of the Local Government Act, 1972) until 14th December - four days after it was implemented, and nine days after it had been publicly announced in the newsletter.

So, what actually happened? Clearly, the real decision must have been taken at an earlier date, although apparently not at any formal meeting convened under the terms of the Act. So, when, and by whom was the real decision taken? Whilst the council's formal decisions are officially taken in meetings open to the public and properly minuted, it is increasingly clear that much of the real decision-making happens in secret – the open meetings are just a rubber-stamping exercise for decisions which have already been made.

That was not exactly the intention of the relevant legislation. The process would be more convincing if they got the rubber stamp out before implementing decisions.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Led astray

In recent weeks, the Western Mail has been publishing a little supplement on Saturdays containing pictures from days gone by. Yesterday's paper contained a picture of the demonstration outside the Arms Park when Wales played the Springboks in 1970.

It brought a few memories back - to quote Max Boyce "I was there". I can't remember exactly where in the crowd, mind, and the faces are all too small for me to be able to identify myself, but somewhere in the picture there is probably a tiny image of me. It was before I joined Plaid - indeed, I was still in school at the time. I had actually been offered a ticket to see the game, but declined since I'd already decided to join the protest.

The Springboks tour that year was greeted with protests wherever they played, and the campaign was led by a leading and radical light in the Young Liberals, a chap called Hain. I've often wondered quite what became of him. Like so many of the radicals of that generation, he probably fell into bad company and got led astray.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Decisions, decisions

Q. When is a decision not a decision?

A. When there is no decision to be taken.

The Executive Board of Carmarthenshire County Council wanted to close four council-run care homes, and were planning to start a formal consultation on the proposal, until a joint meeting of the two scrutiny committees on December 2nd, in response to strong Plaid opposition supported by some rebellious Labour councillors, rejected the idea, and decided to set up a task and finish group to consider the issue instead.

On 7th December, the county council issued a press release, which gave a rather different version of events. The press release stated "Consultation on the future of elderly care in Carmarthenshire is to stop pending work by a special cross party Task and Finish group. Members of the executive board took the decision at an informal meeting today following widespread concern for residents who are currently in residential homes".

Needless to say, Plaid Cymru councillors were quick to challenge the idea that any decisions could ever be taken at "an informal meeting". There is the little matter of the Local Government Act 1972, with its – for the council – inconvenient requirements for meetings to be properly convened, with notice given, and the public allowed to attend.

It turns out, however, that the 'informal meeting' did not actually take any decision at all. There was, after all, no decision to be taken – the scrutiny committees had already done that. That neatly absolves them of any suggestion of illegal decision-making.

It raises some other questions, however – such as why an official council press release states as fact something which turns out not to be entirely true. And why we, as taxpayers, are funding spin doctors to produce misleading and inaccurate statements.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Social Mobility

With Labour and Conservative parties both trying to appeal to the 'middle class', social mobility is a phrase which we have been hearing more frequently. The implication is that 'social mobility' (generally interpreted as the ability to move up through the social classes rather than down, although in theory it can mean either!) is inherently a 'good thing'.

And so it is, for those able to benefit. And by drawing on a wider pool of talent and ability, society as a whole also gains from the process. And yet…

Social mobility for the few held up as though it was an indicator of a society which is increasingly classless is not the same as greater social equality for the many. Picking out the most talented and enabling them to 'get on' is not the same as developing the talent and ability of all to the maximum.

When I hear Labour or Tory politicians talking about social mobility, I do really wonder whether they understand these points, and what, if anything, they are offering to the many rather than the few. And even for the few, there is a danger that their actions do not match their rhetoric.

I was listening to an address by the Vice-Chancellor of one of our universities recently, and he made the point that, in recent history, the greatest single driver of social mobility has been a university education. Making that opportunity available to more and more of our young people is, in that context, one of the most important pieces of social engineering that we have ever undertaken as a society.

Yet, whilst Governments seem to be praising the concept of social mobility, their policies seem designed to restrict the one proven approach to enabling that. Introducing tuition fees was, in my view, one of the most retrograde steps ever taken by government in this context. To pretend that it has not impacted the likelihood of young people from poorer backgrounds attending university is flying in the face of logic and experience. But the direction of policy seems to be to continue to increase the level of fees, likely to deter even more people from applying.

Recent suggestions that the number of places in universities will be cut is another indication of a return to a form of elitism which benefits the more well-off rather than the poorer in our communities. It was disappointing indeed that the Welsh government felt that it had no option ultimately but to follow the English lead over fees. I hope that they will resist following any English lead in reducing the numbers of places.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

The language of priorities

Much of the political reaction to the pensions proposals put forward by Plaid yesterday was, sadly, entirely predictable.

I suppose that I shouldn't blame opponents for drawing attention to the fact that, even if Plaid win all 40 of the seats we will be contesting, then we still won't be able to implement the policy, because the result of the general election will be decided in England not in Wales. But then none of the policy proposals which we put forward for a Westminster election are ones which we will be able to implement unless and until we firstly have the relevant powers devolved to the Assembly, and secondly win a majority in order to implement them.

There are two very good reasons, however, why it is entirely right for Plaid to be putting forward proposals on non-devolved issues. The first is that our MPs, after they have been elected, will be voting on those issues, and the people whose votes we are seeking should know exactly where their candidates stand.

The second is that it is a way in which we show that our priorities are different from those of other parties. And it is on this point that the reaction of other parties, although predictable, was still disappointing. By attacking the fact that we cannot win a majority in Westminster, and by claiming that the policy is unaffordable, they avoid debate on the substantive issue itself.

Of course affordability is an issue. If you believe that we should renew Trident, if you believe that we should give more tax breaks to the wealthy, if you believe that we should spend money on ID cards and illegal wars, then naturally decent pensions are unaffordable. That is precisely where the part about a choice of priorities comes in. Our priorities are different.

By simply dismissing the policy out of hand, what our political opponents are doing is avoiding a serious discussion about pensioner poverty and what should be done about it. We've attempted to set out what we will do – let's hear some alternative proposals. Maybe there's a better way of addressing the issue; maybe not (although Help the Aged said very clearly that increasing the level of pension to the level set for pension credits, as we propose, would have a greater impact than alternative reforms).

As it is, our opponents seem to be effectively telling our pensioners that they are simply not high enough up the list of priorities.

Monday 18 January 2010

Narrow Nationalism

I was listening to someone talking the other day about the need to promote Welsh identity, but to do so without falling back on 'narrow nationalism'. It's a line that I've heard many times before, but the one thing I don't think I've ever really heard anyone explain properly is what they mean by 'narrow nationalism'.

Generally speaking, it often sounds almost apologetic in tone – 'I'm Welsh, but I'm not one of those awful nashies' as it were; as if pride in Welsh nationality and political nationalism must always go together. But the growth of political nationalism really shouldn't leave those who don't share that political perspective almost afraid to espouse their Welshness, let alone feeling apologetic about it.

Of course there are those who seem to think that all things Welsh=good; all things English=bad. There are even those who think that the existence of a Welsh nation should automatically mean that we must become an independent country. But I'm not sure that those views are typical of political nationalists - and they are certainly not views which I hold.

I happen to believe that Independence is the best long term future for Wales, but that isn't an axiomatic consequence of Welsh nationhood. It's based on a whole range of factors, and I've always been prepared to put the case for my vision for the future of Wales as robustly as I can, since I think we need to win the argument, not simply restate the fact of nationhood.

As far as I am concerned, there is nothing at all wrong with people feeling proud of their Welsh nationality and wanting to develop and promote Welsh identity, but at the same time thinking that Wales is best served by remaining an integral part of the UK. The debate about the future of Wales, both politically and culturally, would be all the better if that case were to be put more robustly and less apologetically than sometimes seems to be the case.

Far too often, the responsibility for putting the arguments against moves towards greater Welsh autonomy is left to those who deny the existence of Wales as a nation. And I'm far from convinced that they are either typical or representative of modern Wales.

Friday 15 January 2010

Value for money?

One of the consequences of the pressure on funding for higher education is that many of our institutions in Wales seek to increase the proportion of overseas students taking their courses, because their fees are not subject to the same restrictions as those for UK students.

One route used to attract students is the British Council, which has established a web site enabling foreign students to identify courses in UK institutions. Unfortunately, there seem to be a few problems with this website, as this blog has highlighted.

As the video clearly shows, as a means of promoting courses at Wales' institutions of learning, the website leaves a great deal to be desired. It seems that this is not a new or a recent phenomenon, however - as another post on the same blog reveals, the website concerned has been in place for eight years, and appears to have suffered the same issues from the outset.

In fairness, it seems that the problems aren't limited to Wales; similar searches for courses in the other parts of the UK yield similar results. Try it if you wish.

This 'service' from the British Council does not, of course, come free. As this page on the British Council's website shows, there is a hefty cost involved for those institutions which wish to use the Council's services, of which the course selection site is just one.

Competition for available foreign students is increasingly intense, and the result is that no institution is keen to ignore a potential opportunity. If the competition is using a particular website, well, 'perhaps we'd better be on it as well'.

The result is that the British Council has something of a captive audience, paying for a service which isn't really very good – and that there is little or no incentive to address the problems. Oh, and ultimately, of course – we are paying.

Thursday 14 January 2010

The wages of spin

I thought that Alastair Campbell performed well during his grilling by the Iraq enquiry; but I wouldn't have expected otherwise. He's a master at his trade, and that came across. The question is, though, how credible is he? All those years as a spinner have destroyed his credibility for many people, even if he's actually telling the truth.

In principle, I've never had an issue with an attempt to present a decision, policy, or whatever in the best possible light. Faced with a 1 litre container which has half a litre of water in it, there's nothing at all wrong with trying to present it as half full rather than half empty (or the other way around, if you're the opposition). But there's a great deal wrong with trying to present it as 'almost full', let alone 'overflowing'. And far too often, the spinners cross the line between selecting the most 'relevant' facts, and presenting them in the best possible light, and inventing 'facts' which support the story that they want to tell.

A strong and confident performance may look good on the news bulletins; but if it's based on untruths, it will eventually fall apart. Given the underlying untruths which seem to have been at the very heart of Blair's decision to go to war, I don't think that any performance on the witness stand, however adept, will salvage Blair's reputation on Iraq.

Ultimately, the wages of spin is disbelief. Making statements which are not credible, or which are later shown to be simply untrue, destroys the credibility of those who make them.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Proscription and spin

One does not have to have any sympathy with some of the messages being preached by the organisations which were proscribed by the government yesterday to have concerns about whether the decision to proscribe them was the right one. It seems a pretty illiberal response to organisations promulgating messages that most of us don't like very much. It also raises questions about how we decide which organisations to proscribe; if I agreed with the approach, I think I could make a reasonable case for proscribing the BNP, for instance.

Clearly, if an organisation, or any individuals belonging to an organisation, commit criminal offences, they can - and should - be prosecuted. There are plenty of laws available to the authorities, and Labour seem to have added not a few to the list in recent years. Proscription seems to be based on a suggestion of illegality where either the firm evidence is defective, or else the will to take a case to court is absent.

At a practical level as well, I'm far from certain that proscription is likely to be successful; it's far too easy for an organisation to disband and reform under another name, or even operate less obviously as an informal network. Successor organisations can in turn be banned, of course, but the authorities are likely to be playing a permanent game of catch-up.

I'm left wondering whether it wasn't simply an effort to appear to be doing something in response to wholly understandable and justifiable public outrage. It might make people feel better, but it probably hasn't achieved very much.

Friday 8 January 2010

More rewriting of history

If we believe what one Tory MP says, reducing gas supplies to some factories is a symptom of the failure of the current Labour Government to adequately maintain the gas distribution network, and rebuilding the resilience of energy supplies will be a priority for the next Conservative government.

There are three things fundamentally wrong with this statement.

The first is that some industrial plants have a special contract with their gas suppliers, called an interruptible supply. It means exactly what it says on the label – the gas supply is not guaranteed, and can be reduced or turned off completely when demand for gas increases dramatically, as tends to happen in extended periods of cold weather. In return for agreeing to have an interruptible supply, the companies concerned pay a reduced price for their gas. From some of the anguish expressed in recent days, it seems that some people want both the penny and the bun.

This isn't a new practice – it was one which was commonplace when I started working for British Gas in the 1970s, and was particularly attractive to companies who had a 'dual-fuel' capacity, meaning that they could use gas when it was available, and more expensive oil or electricity for any periods when the gas supply was interrupted.

The second is that the government isn't actually responsible for determining how large our gas storage capacity should be. They used to be, of course, until the previous government decided that it would be much better to privatise the gas industry and let private companies take responsibility for the supplies. I'm sure no-one needs to be reminded which party took that particular decision.

And the third is that it implies that a Conservative government committed to reducing public expenditure is going to start committing resources to build more infrastructure on behalf of already highly profitable companies. Bet that's an election pledge which will be news to his leader.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Who pays what to whom

From a comment made on a recent post, it seems that there is still some confusion about the difference between Wales' budget deficit and the amount of money passed to the Assembly each year under the block grant. There are those who seem to think that the whole of the block grant represents some sort of 'subsidy' to Wales, despite the fact that it amounts to less than the total of taxation collected in Wales each year.

In Germany, I believe that the system works the opposite way. All taxes are actually collected by the regional governments, or Länder, and a proportion passed on to the central exchequer to cover federal costs and central government expenditure not covered by the regional governments.

Perhaps we should move to a similar system, with all taxes collected in Wales going directly to the Welsh government, which would then be required to remit an annual sum of money to the UK Exchequer. That would not, of itself, solve the problem of an unfair Barnett formula, nor of necessity generate any extra income for the Welsh government. Nor would it change the fact that Wales has a clear overall budget deficit at present.

It would, though, reframe the debate about financing. Instead of simply debating whether the UK government was giving Wales a fair share of resources, we might start to ask also whether Wales was getting value for money from UK-provided services - or indeed, whether Wales really wanted all the 'services' (Trident, Afghanistan...) for which the UK government was levying a charge.

It would create a sound basis for a more formal federal system of government in the UK – which even some Tories think would be better and more stable than the current position - to say nothing of helping to build a more self-contained and complete Welsh civil service. I won't deny that it would also help to create a clearer basis for more autonomy for Wales at some future date, if that was the choice of the people of Wales (I think people might expect me to argue for that anyway); but it doesn't have to lead in that direction, as it hasn't in Germany.

It would also lay the foundations for moving towards giving the Assembly more fiscal authority, so that it could become responsible for raising as well as spending money. Even some of devolution's fiercest opponents are likely to see at least a little merit in that.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Blue Wales

I nearly gave up on Nick Bourne's article yesterday after reading his assertion that Oscar's defection is a clear sign that the Tories are broadening their appeal across Wales. It's a complete non-sequitur, especially given that it has subsequently become clear that the underlying reason for the defection was much more to do with the Tories' laissez-faire attitude to the employment of relatives than with any issue of policy or principle.

If I had given up, I would have missed a couple of gems. His claim that the Conservative Party's position is 'clear' on further devolution is risible, and his suggestion that a Tory Wales would be a greener Wales is a nonsense given local Tory demands for new dual carriageways and unqualified support for the wasteful use of scarce energy resources.

At one point, he even seems to manage to blame Labour for making people ill ("Under Labour, considerable sections of our population have deep-seated health problems"). If only solving that problem was as easy as changing the party of government…

The piece was long on criticism of Labour (not always unjustified, mind), but remarkable short on specific proposals. Giving us all an annual entitlement to volunteer and re-imposing prescription charges do however give us a flavour for what to expect. It's the same old Tories deep down; these policies are two different faces of the same underlying idea – public services should as far as possible be either charged for or else provided by charities and volunteers, leaving enough money in hand for tax cuts for the most well-off.

Wales might indeed be a blue nation if England elects a Tory government; but perhaps not exactly in the meaning of the word 'blue' that they are suggesting.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Jones v ap Gwilym

The article, or rather two articles, by Martin Shipton in today's Western Mail made for interesting reading. I don't know to what extent Jeff Jones represents the mainstream of Labour thinking on the economy, but Eurfyl ap Gwilym has certainly provided a key input to Plaid's economic thinking for decades.

Eurfyl's analysis of the elements of the GVA gap between Wales and the rest of the UK is a valuable and useful input to consideration of the way forward. His conclusion, that Wales needs a practical long term economic plan, is entirely in line with Plaid's long-standing approach to developing the Welsh economy.

The plan produced by Dr Phil and Dafydd Wigley in 1968 remains, 40 years on, as a unique contribution to economic debate in Wales. Love it or loathe it, it was an honest attempt to show how the Welsh economy could be improved with the right direction and leadership. In contrast to that planned approach for our economy, I thought Jeff Jones was over-emphasising the importance of outward-facing transport infrastructure as a means of attracting inward investment.

That isn't to say that I disagree with everything he says. His comments about the way in which local government and the third sector chase grants very much strike a chord. I've seen enough instances, under both Objective One Funding and more recently with Convergence Funding, of the way in which grant funding is approached to agree entirely with his comment that "the name of the game is to get the money". Whilst Convergence Funding has been approached more strategically than was Objective One, I remain far from convinced that the funding is sufficiently well targeted at increasing GVA, which is the official objective.

I also find myself in agreement with his comments about 23 economic development departments, with no real overall direction - and that chimes with Eurfyl's call for an overall economic plan for Wales.

I do think though that we need to move away from the stress on improving the outward-facing infrastructure to attract inward investment. It was very much part of Plaid's economic plan; but it now looks very 1960s. In the 1960s, we were trying to anticipate future trends, and the policy was right for the times, where inward investment was very much seen as the answer to Wales' economic malaise.

But if we try to anticipate future trends, I think we should be planning for a different type of economic future - one based on sustainable and localised development rather than on attracting footloose global enterprises. And we need to plan for a low carbon footprint in a world where energy is less plentiful and more expensive. Wales needs good transport links to the outside world, of course. But I'm unconvinced that that is as central to the economy of the future as it has been in the past. A more localised economy would lead to an increased emphasis on improving the internal transport network - and in that area, we have a long way to go.

Political Algebra

If a=b and c=b, then a=c. That was, I think, just about the first algebraic equation I learned in secondary school far too many years ago.

Over the last week, it seems that the Labour and Conservative parties have been going out of their way to argue about which of them is most similar to the Lib Dems. Leaving aside for the time being the big question of why either of them would want anyone to think that they're really Lib Dems in disguise, aren't they, in algebraic terms at least, merely highlighting their similarity to each other?

It could be, of course, that they're just relying on the well-known Lib Dem propensity to try and present themselves as different things in different places at different times. ("Yes, but are you a Tory Lib Dem or a Labour Lib Dem?") But I think it more likely that it really does highlight the extent to which the three UK parties are targetting the same small subset of the electorate with broadly similar messages, whilst the votes of most of the electorate are taken for granted.

It's a sad reflection on the state of politics. All three of them are reduced to saying what they think a small section of the electorate wants to hear, rather than offering any vision of their own for the future.

Monday 4 January 2010

Hain's revelation

According to the Western Mail on Saturday, Peter Hain has 'revealed' that the Welsh language LCO would have been 'bad law' were it not for the kindly intervention of MPs.

I don't think that he has actually 'revealed' any such thing; he has merely expressed his personal opinion. The two things are quite different, although I sometimes wonder if he understands that. But there is much to argue with, even in his expression of opinion.

In the first place, it is questionable whether the MPs were making 'law' at all, in the commonly understood sense of the word; they were only debating whether the power to make law should be passed from one place to another.

I suppose it might be argued that that is indeed making law in the widest sense, since it amounts to a change in the Government of Wales Act; but even taking that broad interpretation, I fail to see how the current LCO process does anything other than make a 'bad' law (Hain's own brainchild, of course) even worse. 'Good' law surely includes maximum clarity over who is responsible for what, but the more that MPs try to slice and dice powers before passing them to Cardiff, the less clear the situation becomes.

More importantly, it really does seem as though Hain and his MPs are still struggling with the concept of devolving law-making powers to Wales at all. I'm not sure whether the exceptions to the LCO that have resulted from the efforts of MPs' are right or wrong. They are certainly legitimate matters for debate, and I hope that I'm open-minded enough to consider the case for and against. The debate, however, should have been held around any draft Measure, not around the LCO.

I don't blame the various organisations for lobbying Parliament in the way that they have. If you give people two bites of the cherry, you should expect them to take two. MPs have effectively declared that they can and will obstruct and change LCOs, not on the basis of a rational discussion about where the power should lie, but on the basis of what someone might do with it at some unspecified point in the future.

It's a pity though that those organisations are putting their time and effort into trying to stop or restrict the transfer of power itself rather then entering into debate with the Assembly's committees and members about the content of future Measures. It's an even bigger pity that Hain and friends are giving them such an open invitation to do so.