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Leanne Wood, Bae watch (June 2011)

(June 01, 2011)

Bae Watch; with Leanne Wood

 

Leanne Wood AC/AM was re-elected to the Senedd on 5 May 2011. The Plaid Cymru Assembly Member has represented the South Wales Central constituency at the National Assembly for Wales since 2003. In her new column in Cymru Culture, Leanne updates us on the fundamental recent changes affecting government and lawmaking in Wales.


Leanne Wood AC AM

 

Ambition is Critical

 

 

The last four months have changed Welsh politics. The recent Welsh election (more of which later) was preceded by the successful referendum on law-making powers for Wales. The referendum was a landmark event, because more than 63% of people voted to endorse the next step of devolved power to Wales from London, albeit on a low turnout (35%). Given the result to establish the National Assembly for Wales in 1997 was so close (the Yes campaign won by just over 6,000 votes), this result shows that over the twelve years of devolution, many more people have been won around. The ‘Yes’ vote won a majority in twenty one of the twenty two local authority areas; only missing out in the Conservative stronghold of Monmouthshire by some 350 votes. The result stands in contrast to the result in 1997, which split the country along class and geographical lines.

 

 

Senedd

The Senedd, Cardiff Bay; Europe's newest legislature (Image: D Bertman)

 

This was a highly significant chapter in the history of devolution in Wales because, under the old system, Wales had to go cap in hand to Westminster to ask permission to pass legislation before those laws could be made. Despite Peter Hain’s boastful proclamation that he had settled the devolution question for a decade with his Government of Wales Act 2006, Plaid Cymru realised that the convoluted and expensive Legislative Competence Order (LCO) system had to be shelved if the Welsh Government was to become more efficient and more accountable. Take the débâcle over Plaid’s plans to increase the availability of affordable and social housing within the Housing LCO – under the old system it took three-and-a-half years before the order was given the necessary permission by the various powers-that-be at Westminster. It was simply unacceptable that politicians from outside Wales, some of whom were unelected, could interfere with the democratic process of the Welsh Government. It is for this reason that Plaid Cymru insisted that a referendum on law-making powers be included in the One Wales Government, during our negotiations with Labour in 2007.

 

The spirit of co-operation fostered between political parties during the referendum campaign came to end, as expected, during the Assembly elections. For Plaid the result was bitterly disappointing, especially when we were just a few hundred votes spread across several areas from having another four AMs. We are now in opposition and our key priorities will be holding the minority Labour Government to account and pressing the case for more control over our natural resources. Devolving the criminal justice system and policing should be high on the list of priorities as well and not just because a recent poll showed a majority of Welsh people supported such a move. I have long argued that the criminal justice system is not working and so responsibility for criminal justice in Wales should be devolved to Wales. Overcrowding in prisons has reached an all-time high and imprisonment rates in England and Wales are higher than other comparative Western European countries. By devolving criminal justice to Wales we could take a completely different approach, tackling the causes and not just the symptoms of crime.

 

Senedd & Pierhead

The Pierhead (left) and Senedd (image  RT Adams)

 

The Scottish National Party has just enjoyed unprecedented electoral success by making the case for a stronger and more progressive Parliament that has greater control over its own destiny. In the face of such an exciting vision, Scottish Labour’s unambitious message of ‘vote for us – we’re not the Tories’ floundered badly. Plaid can learn a lot from the SNP especially about how we present our case. If we can demonstrate the economic case for devolving further powers, then the electorate should be prepared to support an ambitious Welsh Government that is not just content to manage the cuts. For all his talk of 'standing up for Wales', Carwyn Jones will not be able to provide the protective shield he has promised.

 

If Wales had more control over the levers driving our under-performing economy, we could have the tools to address the very real fears and insecurities of the devolution no-voters and non-voters who still harbour the fears of the past. And if the confidence of people in Wales in our ability to do things the Welsh way continues to grow, then the next Welsh referendum result could be even better.

 

Leanne Wood AC/AM, 28 May 2011


 

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