Henry Hill: Welsh FM calls for end to devolution "tinkering"
Welsh FM calls for end to devolution ‘tinkering’
I find Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister of Wales, completely maddening. He simply refuses to adopt, on the constitution at least, a set of positions that cohere with my likes and dislikes. He appears a staunch unionist, to a certain value of that term, whilst also a committed devolutionary who has precious little good to say of a role for London – i.e. Britain – in most Welsh affairs.
His latest intervention is a case in point. Jones believes that devolution has been implemented in a slapdash fashion and needs to be brought to a stable, sustainable conclusion – to be made ‘an event, not a process’, in a reversal of the old maxim. This is a position I hold myself, and outlined in March both here at ConHome and as part of ITV News’ ‘Wales in a Changing UK’ series. It’s a fine thing to see a senior politician, especially one from Labour, if not quite stepping outside the “more powers” camp then at least articulating a point at which he will do so.
The problem with this position lies in actually coming up with proposals for stabilising the constitution and moving politics and public expectations on from the era of fragmentation. One, mooted on ConHome, is the notion of a ‘new act of union’. Jones prefers a codified British constitution, which would carry a US-style presumption against central government in any case where the balance of power between London and Cardiff was in doubt.
Personally, I cannot for the life of me fathom why a codified constitution is preferable to what we have at the moment. Currently our constitution is constantly updated, with the power to do so vested in Members of Parliament elected by us. A codified constitution would be drawn up by people elected either at one point in time or not at all, and would be maintained thenceforth by judges attempting, with varying levels of sincerity, to scry the intentions of its ever-more remote drafters.
So it’s scarcely perfect. Nonetheless, with any luck Jones’ move will prompt other figures, both within Wales and without, to respond with their own proposed solutions. If enough people do so, we may alight on a good one. Stranger things have happened.
Northern Irish grammar schools speak out against abolition
Northern Irish grammar schools have come out fighting against proposals which they believe may see them forcibly merged with non-selective neighbours. The heads of four such schools met to discuss their deep concerns about area-based reforms proposed by Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd. His predecessor, Caitríona Ruane (also of Sinn Fein, who appear always to get education), was also an opponent of selective education, which persists in the province on a level unseen in Britain outside Buckinghamshire and other such strongholds of selection. She abolished the ‘eleven plus’ transfer examination.
Unionists, traditionally allies of the grammar school system, have stepped up. Although Peter Robinson publicly defended the ‘Dickson Plan’, within which two popular grammars fear they’ll be forced to merge with comprehensives, he took pains to point out that if a proposal was unpopular with the community it would be open to challenge by the executive. Both and UUP and DUP appear to support such a right of appeal right across Northern Ireland, which would if implemented most likely place every grammar beyond harm’s reach.
Labour and SNP choose by-election candidates
The nationalists have an opportunity to shore up their majority in the Scottish parliament coming up, as both they and Labour announce their candidates for the upcoming Dunfermline by-election. The election is to replace outgoing nationalist MSP Bill Walker, who has eventually been forced to resign after being convicted of 23 domestic abuse charges.
He had previously been suspended and then expelled from the SNP, but refused to resign his seat, thus putting another dent into their parliamentary majority following their seizure of the speakership and the resignation of two backbenchers over a u-turn in nuclear policy.
After falling short at the Aberdeen Donside by-election in June, this is Labour’s second opportunity to take a nationalist seat – and whereas Donside had an SNP majority of over 7,000 after the 2011 election, Walker only beat his Labour opponent by 590 votes last time around.
US public largely considers Northern Ireland conflict ‘resolved’, according to diplomat
According to Dr Richard Haas, formerly American envoy to Northern Ireland and now chair of an all-party commission on parades and other ‘divisive issues’, claims that Americans were surprised when he was asked to do the job as most of them thought the conflict in the six counties was resolved.
Perhaps they’ve been looking at the polls – the latest, commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph, revealed that less than four per cent of Northern Irish citizens would vote for the immediate abolition of the border and union with the South, and only a further 22 per cent would vote for it ‘in twenty years’. Despite all of Ulster’s local parties being fixated on the constitutional question, there are small yet hopeful signs that their public is moving on without them – and may in time drag the politicians along in their wake.
Although a segment of the US population and political class – consisting mainly of Irish Americans – has historically taken a great interest in Northern Ireland (to the extent, in a tiny minority of past cases, of funding and equipping the Provisional IRA), according to Dr Haas the recent tensions in the province are not high on America’s priority list. Looked at one way, that’s a sign of progress in itself.