David Cameron and Nick Clegg were in Wales this morning, announcing further powers to be devolved to the Assembly.
The UK Government is proposing to devolve control over elections to the National Assembly which would see AMs handed power to:
- Change the voting system for Assembly and local elections
- Introduce votes at 16 for Assembly and local elections
- Increase the number of AMs to cope with extra powers devolved since 1999
- Rename the National Assembly the ‘Welsh Parliament’
Such changes are clearly good news for Wales, bringing power closer to Welsh citizens and paving the way for policies which the Electoral Reform Society (who I work for) has long supported.
Several ERS recommendations have been adopted. Firstly, any change to the ‘rules of the game’ will require the support of at least two-thirds of Assembly Members. This makes sure that these powers require cross-party consensus and that major changes are not used for partisan self-interest.
There are also changes to governance. The Welsh devolution settlement will move to a “Reserved Powers” model, as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland, meaning the Welsh Government will have powers over everything except for what it is explicitly stated that it cannot do. This makes it clearer for voters to know who is in charge of what policy area, and makes for clearer and better governance.
But today’s move – including the fact that the government hasn’t been able to offer a comprehensive set of powers – raises again the need for a serious debate over the constitutional future of the UK. We need to decide where power lies, how we democratise our nations and what shape Britain will take in the years ahead.
It’s a debate that needs to be led by citizens – not politicians making back-room deals and delivering powers in dribs and drabs. After the Scottish independence referendum and with more devolution on the cards for Wales, it’s important for the whole of the UK – including particularly those in England – to have their say on our democratic future.
How do we have such a discussion? We need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to give people the power to decide our country’s future, rather than Britain arbitrarily drifting from change to change without democratic debate.
Where the UK goes next as a union of nations is as yet unclear. A Constitutional Convention would give us all the chance to discuss where power should lie.
So, a good day for Wales. But where next?