welsh voters
Conservatism and Constitution

Wake up and smell the coffee – It’s time to take a long hard look at devolution

Be in no doubt. The future of our precious Union is on the ballot, writes Dr Tomos Dafydd Davies, Deputy Chairman of the Welsh Conservative Party.

“When they arrive in the far west of Wales, I’m afraid they will meet a local population that are fearful, that are anxious and are on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas”.

These aren’t the predictable words of a dogmatic Welsh nationalist, but the words of Labour’s very own Mark Drakeford, someone who calls himself a ‘Unionist’ politician, as he announced his travel-ban from English Covid hotspots.

If ever there was any lingering doubt, this Welsh Labour Government, already drunk on power, is marching to a reckless nationalist drumbeat.

With the creation of the Assembly, few of us could possibly have imagined or anticipated a scenario whereby a devolved Government, yes, a devolved Government, could unilaterally contemplate, let alone shut the border between Wales and England.

Nor could even the most fervent advocates of devolution have possibly envisaged amidst a global pandemic, that narrow tribal and nationalist loyalties would trump public health considerations.

And yet, Comrade Drakeford’s recent intervention should come as no great surprise.

In fact, throughout this pandemic, the Labour First Minister has seemingly relished the platform afforded to a once anonymous leader, lapping up the adulation of the Cardiff Bay bubble and the nationalist commentariat with his perennial grandstanding against the so-called ‘English’ Government.

As the four-nation consensus to this wretched virus further unravels with the expected announcement of a Wales-only “circuit-breaker,” nationalists, already buoyed by polls showing a modest uptick in support for Welsh independence, must be licking their lips at the sight of a Labour First Minister taking a sledgehammer to the Union.

For those of us who care and believe passionately in our precious United Kingdom, there can no longer be any room for complacency.

As incredulous as it may have once seemed, the Welsh independence movement can no longer be classed as a fringe movement. Recent polling suggests that as many as a quarter of Welsh voters would consider backing independence if a referendum was held tomorrow.

Whilst most Conservatives have come to accept and live with devolution, we are all united in our desire to bring an end to perpetual debates around more powers.

I have previously written of my optimism that with the passage of the last Wales Bill, we might finally, just finally, draw a line in the sand and focus on policy outcomes, not process. I also hoped, with the devolution of certain tax levers, that we might bring an end to Labour’s begging bowl politics and that finally, just finally, the Welsh Labour Government might show some financial accountability. Wishful thinking perhaps!

Alas, over two-decades since Wales voted (by the narrowest of margins) for the establishment of the Assembly, our political class remain fixated on petty constitutional squabbles rather than on delivering what really matters to Welsh voters, namely, jobs, opportunities and world-beating public services.

Fixating on the constitution cleverly deflects attention from Labour’s abysmal record in Wales – a record which has seen Wales languish at the bottom of economic league tables, a record which has seen the budget of the Welsh NHS slashed (the only part of the UK where a Government has cut health spending), and a record, as the then First Minister Carwyn Jones famously remarked, of taking “the eye off the ball” on education standards.

The same political establishment which so spectacularly mistook the mood of the Welsh electorate in the 2016 Brexit referendum is at risk of doing the same again with further calls for devolution of powers, including over our police, courts and welfare system.

The Welsh Conservative Party leadership seemingly understands the political frustration and resentment of Welsh voters, as evidenced by Paul Davies’ more sceptical tone towards devolution and his vocal opposition to increasing the number of Assembly Members and the calls to freeze the Welsh Government’s pay and perks.

It is high time we went a step further and restored the bonds of trust between Welsh voters and their politicians with a very clear, yet simple promise.

The next Conservative Manifesto, without prevarication, should proclaim a complete moratorium on any further devolution of powers until the end of the next Welsh Parliament term.

Put simply, no more committees, no more commissions and certainly no more constitutional conventions but rather a relentless focus on reforming our public services and growing the Welsh economy from the wreckage of the Covid pandemic.

Taking a leaf out of Ruth Davidson, and now Douglas Ross’s successful stewardship of our Scottish Conservative cousins, it is time the Welsh Conservatives similarly offered a full-throttled and unashamed defence of our Union. As countless businesses can attest, Wales continues to benefit enormously from the unprecedented job support schemes delivered by the UK Government during this pandemic.

As the Conservative party begins to grease its election machine ahead of next year’s Senedd elections, the campaign should settle on a clear, concise and compelling electoral message.

Be in no doubt. The future of our precious Union is on the ballot.

Only the Conservative and Unionist Party can be trusted to proudly champion a strong Wales, within a strong United Kingdom.

Dr Tomos Dafydd Davies is Deputy Chairman of the Welsh Conservative Party.

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