20 years ago, the Welsh Assembly dropped anchor in Cardiff Bay. Today, the institution is seemingly more entrenched than ever. Why, when a record number of Welsh voters want the Assembly scrapped?
After two decades of reversing Wales’s fortunes in nearly every devolved area, the Welsh Political Establishment is propped up by a Media Establishment thirsty for more devolution. While 1 in 4 of the Welsh people live in poverty, Cardiff Bay has become a safe space for politicians who believe they have a well-paid, taxpayer funded, job for life.
Little known outside of the Bay Bubble, Elin Jones, Plaid Cymru AM for Ceredigion and current Presiding Officer (PO), is the embodiment of a Devo-fanatic. As PO, she heads up the Assembly’s Commission - the real power behind devolution in Wales. Its purpose is to promote, not just the work undertaken by the Assembly, but to ensure the Bay’s grip on Wales tightens at each election.
In a crowded place she is easily missed. In the Cardiff Bay Bubble, she has a reputation for her taste in cardigans while conducting official state business and for driving an agenda that would result in Wales leaving the UK’s family of nations. Under Assembly rules, the seemingly partisan position of PO is exemplified during “Questions to the Commission.” Unlike the majority parliamentary institutions, the PO leaps out of her chair and shuffles back to the Plaid Cymru benches to defend the Assembly Commission. Anyone familiar with the TV series Blackadder, will not fail to notice the gruesome, if not laughable, similarity between the PO and General Melchett, who presides over a court martial while simultaneously appearing as a witness for the prosecution.
In short, she is the judge, jury and executioner of Cardiff Bay politics. The small number of Assembly politicians who have sought to criticise her or the Assembly itself, have frequently been shut down. In the chamber, she has regularly halted “unwelcome” contributions, refused points of order and muted Member’s microphones, once uttering the immortal phrase: “Wales can’t hear you”.
Historically, real debate and effective scrutiny was not common place in the Assembly. Pre-2016, the chamber comprised of forgettable, pliant Labour AMs, hard left nationalist zealots, a handful of pitiful Lib Dems and lukewarm Conservatives.
Today, there are two sitting AMs who want the Assembly scrapped. Consequently, the very existence of the Assembly is now a political issue. But for Elin Jones, and others on the Assembly’s pilgrimage to the Promised Land, all AMs must promote the institution, something the Assembly Commission tirelessly pedals via its website, “community engagement” and taxpayer funded schemes - such as plans to move the Bay operation to North Wales for one week.
For 58 of the 60 Assembly politicians, to even think of scrapping the Assembly is heresy. But in wider Wales, more and more people are questioning the need for professional politicians who value political virtue signalling above economic growth and national prosperity.
The 2021 Assembly Elections are the opportunity for Wales to say no to the Devo- fanatics and loosen the Assembly’s stranglehold on Wales.
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