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Protective shield

Devolution is often popularly described as process, not an event. That is certainly true in Wales' case, Leanne Wood explains.


t didn't take too long for the original Government of Wales Act in 1998 to be seen as deficient. Whilst progress, the ensuing Government of Wales Act 2006, has been frequently described as a dog's dinner, giving the Welsh Government of the third Assembly the One Wales coalition of Labour and Plaid Cymru the opportunity to make new Welsh laws on a case by case basis. This was through a tortuous Byzantine process where Legislative Consent Orders could see three years from start to finish.

So it was no surprise that an overwhelming majority of votes cast in a 2011 referendum was to scrap the system and instead give legislative powers in 20 fields directly to the government, including health, education and the Welsh language.

Wales has moved on, but for many our devolution process remains deficient. Many independent commentators, such as Professor Richard Wyn Jones of the Welsh Governance Centre, pin this on the lack of clear vision from the Labour Party, the architects of both the confused 1998 and 2006 Acts. One reason is that Labour's generals are often fighting the last war, looking to take control of the last issue that the Tories tried to privatise, rather than the next one: a backward looking approach when Wales needs to look forward.

Ironically, it was the Conservative-LibDem coalition which has founded a new Commission for Devolution in Wales (popularly known as the Silk Commission after its chair Paul Silk). This was set up in Autumn 2011 with the intention of writing two reports, firstly on financial powers for Wales (published in Autumn 2012) and the second focussing on the wider devolution agreement in Wales (for which it is currently taking evidence).

For Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, our response to the Commission is measured and sensible - a tidying up exercise to ensure that devolution works better, a protective shield against ideological mis-government from London and opportunities for us to create a better society here in Wales.

The first issue is of tidying up. The very nature of devolution is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland than Wales. In the former, their devolution acts set out which powers are reserved to Westminster. If there is no explicit mention, then it is assumed that competence belongs to those governments. In Wales, it is the other way around - powers are conferred from Westminster on a top-down basis. If a power is not explicitly mentioned, then it is probably not for the Welsh Government to legislate but uncertainty abounds. Instead of this, Plaid Cymru believe that the onus should be on the UK Government to explain why they should retain power, not for us in Wales to ask for it. Sovereignty lies with the people, not with Westminster.

Then there is the 'protective shield' question. Plaid Cymru have always argued that policing and criminal justice should be devolved to Wales. This is more important than ever given the proposed ideological changes being made at Westminster. The Winsor recommendations will have a devastating effect on policing. Then there are payment-by-results proposals for the probation service and the outsourcing of prisons. Plaid Cymru have already said that we would scrap the unnecessary police and crime commissioners and put the savings back into front-line services - officers, custody suites and manned police stations. Wales cannot wait until after these changes have taken place for us to take control.

Finally, the opportunities are there for us to create a better society in Wales. On the one hand we are calling for full control of energy powers and policy in Wales, so that we can concentrate on green, renewable energy a vital component in sustainable development. On the other hand, we are arguing for the transfer of jobsearch functions such as JobCentre Plus to better align with the Welsh Government's economic plans. Silk's first report focused on financial powers and the need to incentivise the Welsh Government's economic powers through taxation, giving them a reason to focus on the economy, and increasing not just employment, but the wages people are paid. Having substantial borrowing powers which would allow us to invest in infrastructure and create jobs during difficult economic periods means that we can take responsibility for our own economy and not just blame Westminster or the wider world.

After all, devolution is about Wales taking responsibility for its own affairs not leaving it up to others to do what they want, or tell us what to do.