Stephen Crabb offers a wind of change in attitude to devolution
- 1 August 2014
- From the section Wales
Guest blogger Guto Thomas says Stephen Crabb offers a more positive attitude to devolution as he takes up the reins as Welsh Secretary.
The assertion way back in 1997 that devolution is a process rather than an event was certainly catchy, but nobody could have foreseen that Ron Davies's soundbite would become so voracious in its appetite to develop devolution in Wales.
The ever-changing landscape of what devolution means for Welsh governance has inevitably created tensions for all of the political parties as well as those parties in power at any given time.
There has always been a wide spectrum of opinion about the extent to which areas of responsibility should fall under the respective wings of Westminster or Cardiff Bay.
Leading figures within Labour and the Conservatives alike have had to chart their way through choppy constitutional and internal party political waters, often enough reaching the unintended destination, known within all political systems as "compromise."
However these intra-governmental and intra-party tensions were particularly apparent during David Jones's period as Welsh Secretary.
His interpretation of devolution as a much more confined settlement led innocuous looking items of legislation to the Supreme Court on numerous occasions - most recently over the question of whether devolution included the power to create a Welsh Agricultural Wages Board - and whether this particular aspiration fell under the aegis of agriculture (devolved) or employment (not).
When called upon, on this and each other occasion, the Supreme Court decided in favour of Carwyn Jones's administration and the ever-changing devolved settlement.
But if it wasn't already apparent, yesterday's question-and-answer session for the Welsh press pack with Mr Jones's successor Stephen Crabb confirmed that a wind of change is sweeping through Gwydyr House.
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan received a cool response to his famous speech in Cape Town in February 1960, when he said: "The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact."
This led to full independence for many African colonies and territories of what had been the British Empire.
Whether Mr Crabb's comments will have a warmer response in a Welsh political context remains to be seen. But on one issue after another, he signalled a different approach to devolution.
He suggested the need to develop a model of devolution with a purpose, devolving powers where they are needed rather than their historical location in Wales or Westminster.
He conceded that the decisions of the Supreme Court should give the UK government food for thought on stabilising the devolution settlement.
And crucially, he talked about the foolishness of avoiding the questions posed by fiscal devolution, and how this can be developed - in a mature way - in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum in September.
This could include further engagement on the contentious issue of allowing different rates of income tax in Wales to be changed without also directly enforcing a change on the other tax bands.
And most strikingly, to admit that he was "not bound" by his predecessor's position on this aspect of future devolution will doubtless be pounced upon by both sides of the debate.