Unity Our Greatest Strength

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 4, 2004 | Go to article overview

Unity Our Greatest Strength


Following the Richard recommendations into extra powers for the National Assembly, and the row over a compromise solution, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain and First Minister Rhodri Morgan outline the way forward for the National Assembly

THE Welsh media are so anxious to write a 'Labour split over devolution' headline that they are going to be very disappointed in the run-up to our September 11 conference. The big news is that Labour, after an extensive consultation involving more than 1,800 party members, shows every prospect of being united over the right way forward for devolution in Wales.

Whereas we can look forward with confidence to widespread support for our proposals, unity is not unanimity. There will be speeches from diehard opponents of devolution itself and those who don't believe that the time has come for any changes at all. Voices will be heard on the other side of the argument too that nothing short of an immediate move to a Scottish Parliament-type settlement, or at least the Richard Commission report recommendations, is acceptable.

But we believe that our proposals will command widespread support from all over Wales, both from constituencies, individual members, trade unions and the whole of the wider Labour movement.

The strong partnership between Labour in Westminster and Labour in the Assembly is our greatest strength. It gives us the opportunity to translate our values into practical change for the people of Wales. We need to ensure that our devolved institutions continue to deliver the agenda of the people of Wales to the people of Wales.

The key to getting progress in improving the Assembly's ability to deliver for the people of Wales is that Labour does need to win power at the next General Election. If it doesn't, there will be no progress. If it does, we can say with some certainty that there will be progress and that is why we are laying out not an opposition wish-list, but a practical route map for a more effective Assembly today. But no progress will be made without the support of party members in Wales at our special conference on September 11.

What will happen? Firstly, the farce of people losing in constituency elections and then popping up through the back door on the regional list needs to be changed if we are to restore proper democratic credibility to our electoral system. The absurdity of the three defeated candidates in Clwyd West getting into the Assembly via the regional list was roundly criticised in the Richard Commission. Welsh voters want their vote to determine who gets elected to the Assembly and who does not.

Obliging candidates to stand either in the regional list or on the constituencies but not both will command widespread support. Beyond this, more fundamental electoral reform is hampered by the palpable lack of public appetite for increase in the number of AMs beyond the present 60.

Secondly we propose to amend the defect in the structure of the Assembly, whereby currently there is no divide between the executive and legislative branch.

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