Monday, 2 March 2015

Daft and dafter

Last week saw the great announcement of the ‘St David’s Day Agreement’ – so-named, I guess, because it was neither concluded nor announced on St David’s Day and doesn’t seem to have been agreed by anyone of import outside the Conservative Party.  (Perhaps that last bit is a tad unfair.  From a Conservative perspective, getting Messrs Cameron, Crabb, and Davies to agree about anything probably looks a great deal more significant than it does to the rest of us.)
Cameron claimed that it was one of the biggest transfers of power in the history of Welsh devolution.  That left me wondering what he was comparing it with.  It certainly isn’t as significant as the setting up of the Assembly in the first place; nor as significant as the 2006 Act which, coupled with the 2011 referendum, delivered legislative powers.  What does that leave with which the new proposals can be compared, exactly?  With so few transfers actually having taken place, any new one must be one of the biggest.  Logic decrees, of course, that it must also be one of the smallest.
But perhaps the most sweeping claim was that the proposal to use an unspecified method of setting an undefined floor for funding removes the last obstacle to holding a referendum on the power to vary income tax in Wales.  Only someone a very long way removed from reality could believe that one, because the barrier to holding such a referendum has little to do with fair funding, whatever the First Minister might say.  The real barrier is that holding a referendum on such a narrow issue is one of the silliest ideas ever to be proposed by a government (and unlike in the case of transfers of powers, there’s plenty of competition on this one).
It’s such an uninspiring proposal that a low turnout is guaranteed, and there is very considerable doubt over the outcome.  What First Minister in his right mind would be daft enough to do that?  (Although, having said that, at the time of the last referendum I seem to remember that we had a First Minister who actually was daft enough to suggest that income tax powers could not be transferred without a referendum.  Chickens and roosts come to mind.)
Lee Waters, the Director of the IWA, picks up on the idea that we could avoid a referendum if all the parties in Wales committed to the transfer of the power in their manifestos.  Whilst I think that the idea is technically and constitutionally valid, I don’t doubt that True Wales and those who think like them would cry foul – and given the past statements of a number of politicians, and the cross-party agreement of the Silk Commission on that issue, who could blame them?  Perhaps we just need our politicians to collectively bite the bullet and ignore that outcry, but what we need and what we get aren't always the same.
Or perhaps, as I’ve suggested before, we need to turn the subject of the referendum into something more meaningful.  Parity with Scotland would be a pretty good starting point.

1 comment:

Dafydd Williams said...

Absolutely right - the only referendum we should accept is about full parity with Scotland.