Adrian Mason is on the Advisory board of the Centre for Welsh Studies.
The fears that many express about the perils of a Corbyn style Labour Government at Westminster are legitimate. The consequences of this type of extreme socialism would set the UK back generations. Those of us old enough to remember the 1970s can recall the chaos that a union-led socialist government brought upon us.
It makes it all the more surprising that today’s Conservative Government chooses to sponsor socialism in Wales by awarding more powers to a Labour Government who align themselves closely to Corbyn’s left-wing principles.
There has never been the same appetite for devolution in Wales as in other parts of the United Kingdom. The first referendum in 1997 was won by the tiny majority of 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent on a turnout of just 50.2 per cent.
This paved the way for the creation of the Welsh Assembly and allowed Cardiff to administer laws in twenty different competencies in key areas such as health, agriculture and education. Any law making required the final approval of Westminster. So, a second referendum in 2011 asked Welsh voters a simple question: ‘Do you want the (Welsh) Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?’
This resulted in 63.9 per cent voting in favour of allowing the Welsh Assembly to pass laws independently of the UK Parliament. It did not, however, authorise the devolution of further areas of competency or confer additional powers in such matters as taxation or the borrowing of money.
The Wales Act 2014 implemented nearly all the recommendations on fiscal devolution as set out in the Silk Commission. Crucially, s.12 of the Act set out the requirement of a referendum before any income tax powers could be devolved to the Welsh Assembly. This Section was essential as Wales, unlike Scotland, had never been given the opportunity to vote specifically on the matter of taxation.
This provision was confirmed by a Command Paper to Parliament in February 2015 entitled ‘Powers for a Purpose: Towards a Lasting Devolution Settlement for Wales.’ However, in his Autumn Statement that same year the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced that the requirement of a referendum before tax raising powers were devolved to Wales was no longer necessary. It is difficult to imagine a bigger betrayal of democratic accountability.
Since then we have seen the introduction of the Wales Act 2017, which has given the Welsh Assembly a whole new raft of powers. The Assembly will be able to call itself a ‘Parliament’, lower the voting age from 18 to 16, impose punitive taxes upon Welsh people, borrow money and increase its own size from the existing 60 Assembly Members to as many as 90 under current proposals. That’s over 30 per cent of an increase in representation for a population of just 3.2 million! Contrast that with the Government’s proposals to reduce the number of Members of Parliament from 650 to 600.
You might be reading this thinking that the changes are in response to demand from the Welsh people. You would be wrong. The 2011 Referendum is likely to represent the high-water mark for the popularity of devolution. A few short years later, the Welsh Assembly has never been more unpopular. A party campaigning to abolish the Welsh Assembly polled more than the Liberal Democrats in the 2016 Assembly elections in both North Wales and South-East Wales, despite not actually campaigning in the election!
It is only when you put matters in context that you realise just how much of a political paradox this all is. The Welsh Assembly is dominated by Labour AMs whose power base is in the South Wales valleys, the home of erstwhile mining communities, traditionally strong Labour Party supporters, where 24 of its 29 AMs sit.
The chances of these seats changing hands to Conservatives are most unlikely in a generation, let alone the next Assembly elections. These are not moderate Labour AMs either; they are mainly from the left-wing of the Party.
Labour’s mismanagement of the Welsh economy and public services over the last 18 years has been staggering. Even though Wales receives no less than £1.15 and up to £1.20 for every £1.00 spent in England, education and the NHS are in far worse shape. Welsh Labour is wrecking the Welsh economy in much the same way as the Labour Party did in the UK as a whole up to 2010.
Welsh Labour, with the inevitable support of far-left Nationalists, is entrenched in power. The current proposal to increase Assembly Members will no doubt see a commensurate increase in their representation, making Labour’s position even more unassailable.
It is frankly astonishing that the Conservative Party at Westminster has spent the last few years seemingly devising ways to enhance the powers of the Assembly and the left-wing socialists who dominate it.
If the aim of our Party is to play the long game and ‘give enough rope’ to socialists in Wales, hoping for a popular swing to the Conservatives when they fail, then two things need to be considered: what damage will that do to the Welsh economy in the meanwhile? And what about the wellbeing of those of us trapped in a socialist quagmire with very little prospect of being rescued?