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 pocket.
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.
Elsewhere 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.
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.