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.
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.
grammar schools speak out against abolition
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.
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
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
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.
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.