Tuesday 6 March 2018

The superiority is real, not imagined

I’ve never really understood how anyone can seriously support the idea of a hereditary head of state, where the incumbent is selected solely on the basis of being the eldest child of his or her parents.  (Actually, it’s not even as straightforward as that – the selection is on the basis of who are believed to be the parents; I’ve often wondered how many of those who have ascended to the throne are the offspring of someone else.  As the saying goes, ‘it’s a wise child who knows his own father’.)  And I know that there are many elected politicians, of all parties, who share that scepticism about the value of apparent heredity.
In practical terms, however, I’ve never seen it as a particular priority.  Whilst I’d prefer Wales to become a republic with an elected head of state, it is the possession of power to make laws which is the important issue, not the question of who formally signs them.  As long as, in practice, the monarch has no power to do anything other than what the government tells him or her to do, it’s a minor anomaly which can be corrected at some future date.
Sometimes, however, the issue becomes more relevant, not so much because of the fact that the head of state is a hereditary position, but because of the fiction which stems from that, which is that all power belongs to the monarch who graciously shares it with parliament.  It is particularly pertinent in the case of devolution.
In relation to the EU Continuity Bill which the Assembly yesterday agreed to treat as emergency legislation, yesterday’s Western Mail editorial column told us that the Welsh Government was correct in seeing the UK Government’s power grab as a threat to devolution, and added that “What Westminster is seeking to do is exert its authority over democratically-elected national bodies that it considers subordinate to it”.  I take issue with the use of the word ‘considers’ here.  I agree, though, that the question exposes a problem at the heart of ‘devolution’, which is that, in constitutional terms, all the power enjoyed by the National Assembly stems not from the fact that it is a democratically-elected body chosen by the people of Wales, but from the fact that the Crown-in-Parliament has allowed it to exist and allowed it to exercise a restricted range of powers.  The Assembly truly is ‘subordinate’ to Westminster; that is inherent in the very concept of ‘devolution’.
I can understand why supporters of devolution see the UK Government’s approach to Brexit as being something of a ‘power-grab’ (and I welcome the Assembly’s efforts to protect its powers); but I can equally understand why the UK Government sees a body which has, from a London perspective, no more right to its existence than a county council as getting above itself when it dares to challenge the central power.  Legally, Westminster has every right to be “imposing its will on Wales and Scotland” as the Western Mail puts it.  And complaining about “an administration that considers itself superior” is empty rhetoric.
If we don’t want a body which is constitutionally superior to behave as though it is constitutionally superior, we need to take away its constitutional superiority.  At the least, that requires a change in the UK constitution to recognise that the people, not the monarch, are sovereign.  And for the Assembly to be treated as any sort of equal with Westminster requires us to treat powers held in Westminster as having been loaned to Westminster by the people of Wales rather than treat those exercised by the Assembly as having been loaned to the people of Wales by a hereditary monarch.  It’s a paradigm shift which I doubt the Western Mail is ready to make.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

Excellent post