As Welsh Devolution Advances the Maintenance of the Union Should Also Be a Guiding Principle

Article excerpt

Byline: By Alun Davies

One of the key elements in the agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru that led to the establishment of the coalition government was the proposal to establish a convention to prepare for the next referendum on increasing the powers of the Assembly. AM Alun Davies has been appointed to the steering group that will prepare the way for the convention. Here he outlines the key tasks that will face the convention when it is fully established

SO WHAT does a convention do? Devolution, to date, has been in step and in sympathy with our values and our traditions. It has respected the wishes and, in some cases, the fears of people across the country. It has become an accepted and central part of Welsh life faster than almost anyone dared wish.

Our unwritten constitution - to the fury of both constitutional purists and those determined to break it - has been able to evolve over the centuries and meet the many new challenges of cultural and social change. Like Gwydion the magician, always changing shape - and always staying the same.

The stated role of the convention is to prepare the way for the next referendum. I hope that it will approach this task in a creative and imaginative way. The appointment of Sir Emyr Jones Parry as chair of the convention will give both the process and its findings an unanswerable authority.

In terms of timing, the One Wales Agreement foresees a referendum in, or before, 2011. I have no hang-ups about dates. Better to win a later referendum than lose an early one. However I have to say that I believe there is probably a clear majority in Wales for these primary powers today and it is probably better that we plan for the future than to try to stop it happening.

While this agreement is a document jointly authored by two political parties, I am glad that the convention concept came from the Labour Party. I believe that it reflects Labour's role as a unifier - bringing together the whole nation and representing the aspirations of the whole nation.

It is the ambition of the Welsh Labour Party that the Assembly should take the place of Westminster in legislating for Wales in all of the devolved areas. While the convention will certainly be an advocate for the devolution of law-making powers I believe that it should focus on two tasks.

The first is that it should in itself be a unifying process and experience. This must not be simply a PR exercise or a shop front for a Yes Campaign.

It should seek not simply consent but consensus.

I have no interest in winning a referendum by a few thousand votes. The challenge facing us is to ensue that the next referendum reflects not only a comfortable mathematical majority in favour of further powers - but that the process leading up to the vote helps to create a settled majority. …