Wales in a Changing UK: 3 - Mick Antoniw AM

This is the third in a series of articles looking at the question of 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.

The first article saw Conservative blogger Henry Hill set out the Unionist case for a Constitutional Convention to discuss fully what changes, if any, there should be to the way the nations of the UK are governed. You can read it here.

If you click here you can read the view of Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards who agrees with the idea of a convention but for very different reasons.

And below Labour Assembly Member Mick Antoniw sets out why he thinks change in the current 'dysfunctional' system is long overdue.

He too thinks a convention is essential and explains why he thinks it will inevitably produce a Bill of Rights for the UK.

And he says the relationship between the Assembly and local councils must change, saying that, in his view, there should be more AMs, far fewer councillors running just five authorities with the Welsh Government taking on direct handling of education and social services.

These articles are meant to encourage the debate about the way Wales is run. You can send your comments on twitter to me - @adrianmasters84 - and I'll aim to include your thoughts in future updates.

Adrian Masters

Change for Wales, England and the rest of the UK - Mick Antoniw AM

Mick Antoniw AM
Mick Antoniw AM Credit: Mick Antoniw

What will Wales look like in ten years time? What do we want the UK to look like in ten years time. Where is the devolution process taking us? We are right to ask these questions and the answers are as important to the people of England and the rest of the UK as they are to us.

I do not see devolution being about nation building per se but about the decentralisation of power and the empowerment of individuals and communities. I see the current stages of devolution as part of a historical process of constitutional change that began two centuries ago.

The shift of power from the Lords to the Commons, the creation of a common franchise, universal suffrage, empowerment of workers through trades union legislation, human rights, membership of the European Union and so on.

Our current constitutional arrangements are dysfunctional and a consequence of ad hoc changes in response to popular political pressure without any consistent long term plan.

After 1997 when the new Labour Government agreed plans to devolve power to nations of the UK, it forgot England.

This is important because our future, economically and socially is inexorably tied up with the future of England. The plan was for power to be devolved to the regions of England. However, a failure to think through the plan and the lack of any clear strategy doomed the referendum in the North East to failure leaving London as the only devolved region in the UK.

Undoubtedly some were happy at the time but the constitutional lacuna remains with consequences for all in the UK. That is why a constitutional convention is necessary.

We need all interests in the UK to come together to map out the future of the UK and the nature of the common relationship between all sections. Probably it will lead to the establishment of a Bill of Rights which is now long overdue.

In England I believe that decentralisation to the regions is the answer and the restructuring of the UK Parliament as a type of federal parliament responsible for overall budget and redistributive policies, foreign affairs, and defence and the devolved parliaments and regional committees dealing with health , social services, local planning and so on.

For Wales, we now have to see the assembly as a Parliament within the UK and within Europe. As a legislature it is too small for a country of three million but at local level Government through 22 local authorities is too large with too many councillors.

A future Welsh constitutional structure has to include a clarification of the roles of the Assembly and local government. My personal view is of an assembly of 80-90 with two members per constituency, one male one female and a top up of 20-30.

The quid pro quo for increasing the size of the legislature is a substantial reorganisation of local government. Perhaps a reduction from 22 local authorities to perhaps 5 regional councils of say 90 councillors each; a reduction of the number of councillors form over 2,000 to less than 450.

What is essential though is the clarification of the relationship between the Assembly and local government. Education and social services could remain at assembly level as could macro economic and energy issues. Councils would be more local. It would be necessary to look at the operation of Community councils and their empowerment.

Although I have no problem with some devolution of tax raising powers, corporation tax and income tax are a red herring. The powers we could never use. More symbolic than practical.

Of more importance will be the development of a fairer economic redistributive policy to replace Barnett and to this end independence as a concept, whatever it means in a global capitalist economy, is largely an emotional and romantic irrelevancy.

The same with the excessive focus at the moment on policing, criminal justice and legal jurisdiction. Of course important, but areas to look at and plan for the future, but not matters that we could accommodation within the existing capacity and resources of the Assembly and without being part of a broader UK Constitutional settlement.

Silk stage 2 will create added impetus to the need for a Constitutional Convention. In fact, I would be surprised if the commitment to a constitutional convention does not feature in some form or other in the manifestos of all the major political parties at the next general election.

The feeling I get is that there is now a common agreement amongst most political parties, albeit reluctant in some quarters, that serious constitutional debate can no longer be avoided.