Archive for category Wales

What if Scottish Ministers were as ambitious as the Welsh?

When the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament were set up, there was a substantial gap in their powers in Scotland’s favour. The Welsh administration couldn’t pass primary legislation before last March’s referendum, and even the Assembly name was second-tier, akin to the second-tier devolution Scotland voted for in 1979.

And yet there are issues where this notionally weaker body has forged ahead of the Scottish Government. In 2000 a Lab/Lib Dem coalition banned GM crops, but two years later a Scottish Executive of the same colour ignored a vote at Lib Dem conference and went ahead with plantings.

Today sees the now Labour-only Welsh Government take another step ahead of Scotland with what looks potentially like a massive switch in transport policy in favour of walking and cycling, just as Scottish Ministers plan to head in the opposite direction by spending billions on duplicate road capacity.

As a supporter of independence I’d like to see Scottish Ministers flexing every muscle they have to improve this country using the powers devolved already: that’s the best way to demonstrate the need for the full powers of an independent nation. So why are Welsh Ministers better at doing that than Scottish ones?

Land of my Sisters

Plaid Cymru has announced Leanne Wood as their new leader, on the same day the Electoral Reform Society prepares to issue a highly critical analysis of women’s representation in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.

Wood is a former probation officer and women’s support worker from Rhondda. She beat two other current assembly members to the post: Elin Jones and Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the former presiding officer.

As the new leader, Wood will have to steer the party through an interesting time in Welsh politics. Labour now governs the Senedd alone with half of the sixty seats, after a disappointing showing for Plaid in last year’s elections, making them the third largest party after the Conservatives. Nonetheless, the party has begun to reinvigorate itself in the last few months, announcing a 23% boost in membership.

Interest in Welsh home rule is also increasing. The Commission on Devolution in Wales is holding its first public meeting in Swansea this evening, beginning a series of events for the Welsh public to participate in the ongoing constitutional debate about more powers for the Senedd. It seems fertile ground for Welsh nationalism to flourish, an opportunity recognised by the party’s chair Helen Mary Jones.

“The candidates have been saying themselves that we’ve very often won the argument but lost the election.

“We now have to start winning the argument and winning the elections, and that’s where our new leader will be leading us forward.”

Leanne Wood is Plaid Cymru’s first female leader. The party has never had a female MP in Westminster, but women are represented in the highest echelons of the party, with Jones as chair and Plaid MEP Jill Evans as President.

The new study into women’s representation in devolved legislatures is shortly to be published by the Electoral Reform Commission. According to The Guardian, the “report accuses all the large parties of allowing the issue of equal representation for women to ‘fester’, undermining the ethos which underpinned their foundation in 1999 to improve equality, accountability and wider democracy.”

In last year’s elections, the number of women AMs declined to 24, or 40% – the lowest since the Assembly was founded in 1999. The number of women elected to the Scottish Parliament is not falling but stalling, increasing to 45 MSPs, but still lower than the 2003 intake of 50.

Both Scotland and Wales have been leading on progress in women’s representation in politics in the last decade. The slippage, especially in Wales, is concerning, because diverse legislatures, which recognise and reflect the society they serve, are essential for good lawmaking and governance.

The electoral strength a diverse candidate mix can bring to a party appears to be recognised by Plaid, with party chair Jones calling for her party to consider all women shortlists a few days ago. With the election of Wood and her strong interest in women’s issues, I hope this progress continues.

Update: The Electoral Society Report, Women’s Representation in Scotland and Wales, is now available here.