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Wales in a Changing UK: 1 - Henry Hill

Union Flag alongside the Red Dragon at the Senedd Photo: ITV News Wales

Welsh politics is frequently dominated by debate about how much power Wales should have over its own affairs, what effect events in Scotland have on change here and what impact change in both countries will have on the make-up of the United Kingdom in future.

With St. David's Day tomorrow, I've asked a range of people with strong opinions to set out their views, starting below with Henry Hill. He's a Conservative blogger who writes as Dilletante and first set out his call for a Constitutional Convention - for unionist reasons - on the Conservative Home website.

Here he expands on his argument. I'll publish Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards' view later.

Changing to save the union - by Henry Hill

Henry Hill Credit: Henry Hill

In the past couple of weeks, Wales has been doing what more of us should be doing and facing up to the constitutional consequences of the Scottish referendum. The big concern, naturally, is what happens to Wales in the boldly renewed/sadlydiminished United Kingdom that emerges at the tail end of 2014.Arch-devolutionary first minister Carwyn Jones and hard-left separatist leader Leanne Wood areboth understandably worried about the departure of scores of Scottish LabourMPs from Westminster. There’s some talk of a ‘constitutional crisis’.

At itsmost tedious and least useful, the response is simple “more-powers-ism”.Whether or not Scotland leaves, argue several Plaid spokespeople, Wales willneed to receive lots of new powers, either to counter-act the “privatisinginstincts” (if Scotland leaves) of the Tories or as part of a “positive vision”for the United Kingdom – i.e. a less united one – if Scotland doesn’t. CarwynJones has joined in, offering up a devolutionary vision which would practically bring to an end “British” domesticgovernment – and all without a referendum.

Much more interesting, and in accordance with David Cameron’s own thinking, is the need for a constitutional convention to come up with a joined-up, stable and defensible settlement for governing this country, and bring an end to the devolutionary process. A constitutional convention which Tony Blair should have organised when he initiated devolution, and which is thus years overdue.

Whatever its merits or demerits, devolution has run out of control since it was first enacted. There are several reasons for this: the tendency of politicians to seek to aggrandise their own institutions; the bilateral nature of each devolutionary process; and the emasculation of devo-scepticism. Opposition to ever-more devolution has ceased to be portrayed as an honourable position with which one might disagree and become instead the domain of “dinosaurs” and other species if bad people.

The result is that the people setting the course for devolution are the separatists and federalists, the latter of which are not exactly a large group in pro-Union politics. The great bulk of unionist politicians, having no coherent vision of the UK’s final constitutional status to defend, get dragged along in the slipstream of these two relatively small but energetic and confident political groups.

The aftermath of 2014 offers an opportunity to change this. If Scots vote for the Union on a clean two-option referendum, then unionists will be on the front foot on the constitutional question for the first time in decades. Politicians should seize this opportunity to convene a constitutional convention to sort out a joined up, stable and defensible settlement for all of the UK.

The advantages would be considerable. First, it would bring an end to the “salami slice” nature of devolution, where each tranche of powers is viewed as little more than a holding action. Second, it would bring together the three bilateral processes between London and Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh and inject a British perspective into the competing visions of devolved politicians. Third, it would force politicians to finally face up to the West Lothian Question which Blair lacked the courage to tackle. Finally, and most importantly, it would give unionists something positive to defend, and thus the vital self-confidence they need to say “No” to the ‘progressive’ half-way houses of separatist agitators.

Devolution may have proven, as somebody once claimed, to be a process, not an event. But even the least confrontational unionist politician must realise that, as a process, it will still come to an end. The question is whether it ends with the dissolution of the Union or before that point. The well-aired worries of the Welsh devolutionary class illustrate this all too well. Although I’m sure that was not their intention.

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