ASSEMBLY ELECTION 2003: What Wales Needs Now; We Have Heard What the Political Parties Have Promised They Will Do for Wales. Here, the Western Mail's Political Editor Kirsty Buchanan and Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Publish Our Manifesto - What We Think Is the Way Forward for Wales
Byline: Martin Shipton
WHEN the first National Assembly elections took place four years ago, many people were full of hope that the new institution would deliver a kind of democracy that had not been seen before.
There was much talk of ``inclusive politics'', with an end to the kind of ``yah-boo'' conflict that had become the hallmark of Westminster. This was to lead, we were assured, to a situation where Assembly Members would regard their primary duty as being to the people of Wales instead of to their particular party.
Perhaps this was always a tall order, given the tribalism that has dominated Welsh politics for generations. But many of us were convinced that it was an ideal worth striving for and we remain convinced of that four years later. In a sense the election taking place today is more important than the one that launched the Assembly in 1999. At that time everyone was to a large extent making a leap of faith into a new era where the way the body would evolve was unclear. Because of the particular circumstances in which the Assembly was born - the resignation of Ron Davies followed by the imposition of Alun Michael - the first elections were not essentially policy driven. This time, with those matters firmly in the past, we now have an opportunity to move forward into an era where it will be possible to make tangible improvements to the quality of life in Wales. If this is to happen, however, there is a need for all politicians to be reinfused with the ideals that inspired those who participated in the Yes campaign at the devolution referendum in 1997.
That spirit, if pursued, should also bring on board those who up until now have been sceptical about the whole project.
Because we have in Wales a quite small national legislative body, it is all the more important that we have Assembly Members of the highest calibre. All of them need to be making a positive contribution, and for that to show. It is much harder for untalented Members to hide in Cardiff Bay than it is in Westminster. We sincerely hope that some of the people who will be elected today show greater ability than they have managed so far. This applies equally to Members starting their second term as those who will be joining the institution for the first time.
The danger is that passion, talent and independent thinking will founder on the rocks of party tribalism, whip-driven decision-making and personal ambition. We desperately need individual Members who have the confidence to assert themselves and party leaders who are secure enough to allow constructive criticism.
Our very strong belief is that no one party has a monopoly of wisdom and that all four major parties who have been represented in the Assembly for the past four years have ideas that are worthy not merely of consideration but of implementation. We expect the Members from all parties who will be elected today to acknowledge this as a starting point for the approach they will adopt throughout their term of office. It is certainly in this context that we make our policy recommendations.
Crucial as it is to have an Assembly of free thinkers, all of the ideas that they may come up with will inevitably stall while the present wholly inadequate devolution settlement remains in place. Too much time and energy has been wasted in the first term by often arcane arguments about whether the Assembly does, or does not, have the power to implement a certain initiative.
That is because the Assembly remains entirely at the whim of Westminster about how every piece of legislation it is expected to implement has been drafted.
Only two pieces of Wales-only primary legislation have been passed by Westminster at the request of our Assembly. By contrast, the Scottish Parliament has passed45 of its own Acts since devolution.
Our position is clear. Wales must have its own Parliament with legislative powers on the Scottish model by 2007. …