The Trouble With Devolution . . .

A story in the Daily Telegraph has been getting attention on Twitter and elsewhere. It appears that the Treasury in London is considering giving power over stamp duty (on property purchase) to the ‘Welsh’ Government. (Though if I’ve read the article correctly, it seems that others in the Treasury are arguing against the move!) The (pro-transfer) Treasury would appear to be considering implementing a change proposed by the Silk Commission, set up to look into the devolution settlement and recommend changes it feels might be necessary or welcome.

There would be nothing surprising in the Treasury handing over such power, for it has long been suspected that the Conservative Party would be happy to transfer to Wales authority over the raising of existing taxes. Which if you think about, makes perfect sense. If we raise £100m then this same sum will be deducted from the block grant . . . with the expense of raising and administering the tax transferred to Wales. So we’ll end up out of pockTelegraph clip 2et.

Irrespective of whether there is discord at the Treasury among the unnamed, one name we do encounter in the Telegraph article is that of David Jones, Secretary of State for Wales. Doing what Tory Secretaries of State have ever done – put England’s interests first. For while he may urge caution because of the consequences ” . . . . for the whole of the UK . . . ” this – as he well knows – is disingenuous. The legislation will have no effect on Scotland, so he is thinking solely of England. More importantly, those Conservative voters with second homes in Wales.

Just remind yourself that this post of Secretary of State for Wales exists, so we have always been told, to defend Welsh interests. Increasing stamp duty on second homes would result in more properties coming within the financial reach of local buyers, so shouldn’t David Jones be supporting such a measure? Yes, but only if you fall for the old deception that a Secretary of State for Wales is ‘the voice of Wales in the Cabinet’. In reality, he, and every other Secretary of State, Conservative and Labour, has been the voice of the Cabinet in Wales. Little more than a governor-general with instructions to keep the natives in check.

Telegrap clipElsewhere in the article we were treated to another quote, this time from “a Tory source” which first reminded us that England and Wales (or Englandandwales), ” . . . in many respects form a single economic region”. Yes, we’re aware of the problem. Before going off the rails a bit with, “The border areas are highly populated . . . “. What! Travelling north from Chepstow the border is sparsely populated until one reaches Wrecsam. Which suggests that this ‘Tory source’ is probably from the north or the north east . . . perhaps David Jones again, this time incognito.

One thing I find really sad about this little tale is that the Conservative Party within Wales has made great strides to detoxify itself, to become more Welsh, and then along comes Dai Jones talking like a Tory politician of the 1980s. Such progress has been made in Wales that the party has managed to make itself unattractive to Beata ‘Britannia’ Brookes and Rod Richards, both offloaded onto Ukip. David Melding often sounds a better Welshman than many in Plaid Cymru. Then comes the reality check in the form of David Jones.David-Jones-MP-007

Though in fairness, things would be little different if the Labour Party was in power in London. For this episode only exposes, yet again, the fundamental problem with devolution. England agrees we can have devolution just as long as it doesn’t disadvantage England. Which is almost impossible. If Wales was to act in her own best interests – as does every other country – then we would be charging a fair rate for water and other exports. Were we growing a healthy economy then Welsh companies could only expand at the expense of English rivals currently taking advantage of the lack of indigenous competition.

In a nutshell . . . The problem with devolution is that the ‘Welsh’ Government only has power to decide spending priorities of the block grant given by London. Due to the prevailing socialist ethos, this results in much of this money being squandered in order that our politicians can claim the moral high ground. Though this is defended as making Wales a fairer and “more equal” country. Which I suppose has some truth, for we’re all becoming poorer.

Compounded by the fact that we have a Labour Party in control of Wales that sees a virtue in poverty! We are said to enjoy the only administration in Europe that has a Minister for Tackling Poverty. But making a virtue, or a political weapon, out of poverty is so entrenched in Labour thinking that we also have to suffer a Third Sector that exists to glorify and capitalise on poverty, and of course, by so doing provide a few thousand jobs for Labour cronies! As if that wasn’t bad enough, many in ‘Welsh’ Labour seem fearful of making Wales successful lest this excites nationalist passions!

Further exacerbated by the problem that too many policy decisions attributed to the ‘Welsh’ Government are in fact made by civil servants and ‘advisors’ of whom we know next to nothing, beyond the fact that few of them are Welsh, and many of them answer directly to London. The Planning Inspectorate, the Housing Directorate (social housing), the Wales Rural Observatory, are just a few of the bodies involved.

While on the other hand, London will never grant powers that could improve the economic standing of Wales because to do so would, in too many instances, result in England or English consumers of Welsh resources being disadvantaged, or else – as stamp duty explicitly shows – work against the interests of English people taking advantage of Wales’ relative poverty and colonial status in relation to England.

Put it all together and it exposes devolution as a chimera; a worthless sop to Welsh sentiment designed to fail on almost every practical level. Which is what we have seen since the Welsh Assembly came into being. By almost every important criterion Wales is poorer today than she was in 1999, not just in absolute terms but relative to England, Scotland, and almost every other part of Europe.

Consequently, the current model of devolution is indefensible. To persist with it can only be viewed as a collective delusion, or the worst form of national masochism.

Mummy Knows Best!

The contributions being made to the Silk Commission by our masters from London, and other recent statements, make it clear with what contempt we Welsh are regarded. Let’s start with some examples from the recent 114-page submission to the Commission by the UK Government. First, in arguing against a separate prison system for Wales the document lists four insurmountable obstacles. These are:

  • There is no male prison in North Wales
  • There is no female prison in Wales
  • There is no high security prison in Wales
  • HMP Usk and Prescoed takes prisoners from England

All true, of course. Though when I read that I thought I’d mis-read the argument; thinking these were reasons for having a separate prison system. But no, the UK Government has, in all seriousness, listed these shortcomings of its own system, this clear evidence of neglect, as justification for persisting with that system! Using that ‘argument’ no deficiencies would ever be remedied. ‘We can’t give you the power to build a road from A to B because there is no road from A to B’. As for taking prisoners from England, well . . . um . . . couldn’t this facililty just stop taking prisoners from England. Maybe take some of the Welsh prisoners in English facilities?

River Basin

Later in the document, at page 104, water is discussed, and this is what it has to say in justification of the current arrangement: This area is inevitably complex. Put at its most straightforward, this is because the border between England and Wales does not reflect the river basins or river catchments which span the boundary. The water and sewerage industries are undoubtedly one of the most complex areas in terms of the Welsh devolution settlement.”

And you thought it was simply a matter of us being ripped off! Silly Billy! It’s all to do with basins and catchment areas. You know, like with the Nile, where Egypt rules the waves all the way upstream. Or the Danube, for everybody knows that Romania controls all the water resources right back to the river’s Black Forest origins, because of the international laws relating to river basins, catchment areas, etc., etc. As the map shows, only one country is seriously disadvantaged by this basins and catchment areas bollocks. And only one benefits hugely from it. No prizes for guessing.

This section on water provides quite a few laughs, I recommend it. Possibly also something to worry about. Because if I’ve read the document properly then there is a draft Water Bill knocking about of which part of the submission, 22.29, says: This is a change from the current approach to regulation of the water sector in that it removes the powers of the Welsh Ministers to determine the size of the market which may be served by the new entrant licensees.” So here we have the Silk Commission, looking into more powers for the Assembly and the Welsh Government, yet the Wales Office can actually submit a document that makes reference to taking powers away from Wales!

Other recent gems from London included the statement made in January by Damian Green, the Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice in Englandandwales, who said that there is “no real appetite” for devolving to Wales powers over police and criminal justice. That is, no appetite in Wales. Nonsense of course. As explained by Syniadau in this excellent post.

This reminded me of Peter Hain (so much does) and his fatuous arguments against holding a referendum on increasing the Assembly’s powers. The referendum that was held on March 3rd 2011 and won by a margin of two to one. Hain had always argued that we weren’t ready, that a referendum held too soon would be lost, and would damage the devolution process. As late as February 2011 Hain was blaming Plaid Cymru (In coalition with Labour at the time) for the referendum being held so soon, and fearing a low turnout which would invalidate the result. Hain’s thinking on the referendum even got a mention in WikiLeaks.

Allow me a wee digression before I proceed. Believe me, it is not without relevance to the subject under consideration. I recall watching some years ago a self-congratulatory bash held by the chief constables of the four Welsh forces. Some top cop was on his feet effusing about this and that. He glanced towards the chief constable of Gwent and made some insane reference to the “special conditions” of Gwent. Obviously a feeble attempt at justifying that conundrum which has foxed greater minds than his – why should Gwent have a separate police force. But it made me think . . . ‘What “special conditions”? Is Gwent an alpine state? Is the population Buddhist? Spanish speaking, perhaps?’ The scene brought home to me yet again what idiots people make of themselves when trying to justify that which either cannot be justified, or else that for which they cannot give the honest answer.

Mother England

And so it is with the intellectual quality of the arguments laid out above. They would embarrass a 12-year-old. But they are what we expect from politicians looking for excuses because they can’t give their true reasons. They all boil down to the same thing: ‘It’s in England’s interests that these powers be withheld, but we’ll try to kid you that we’re doing it for your benefit’.

When you realise that; when you understand that these bastards are lying through their finely polished teeth, you have to wonder how they view us Welsh if they expect us to believe this bollocks. They must think we’re a bunch of knuckle-dragging primitives. And then you remember your history . . . or rather, their history. For the English and their native allies have always pulled this stunt – ‘You aren’t ready to do things for yourselves. Trust us and we’ll look after you . . . and of course your resources.’ ‘Mother England’ and her ‘children’. I think it’s time we told the old slag she’s never been our mother, so stop squandering our inheritance and go stand on your own two feet.