Wales

Leighton Andrews blames Cameron for poll threat to union

Leighton Andrews
Image caption Labour AM Leighton Andrews says David Cameron 'did a deal' with Alex Salmond without consulting others

You might think anyone trying to maintain the UK has an obvious bogeyman in Alex Salmond.

So it's interesting to hear a Labour AM blame David Cameron for putting the union with Scotland in peril.

But that is exactly what Leighton Andrews, recently reappointed to the Welsh government as the minister for public services, did on Monday night.

In a televised debate for the BBC's The Wales Report, Mr Andrews accused Mr Cameron of failing to consult the rest of the UK before agreeing to the SNP's independence referendum.

"The reality," he said, "is that we are in this situation because David Cameron did a deal with Alex Salmond to have a referendum in Scotland without consulting any other part of the UK.

"A big mistake. This is the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and he has put the union in jeopardy."

Conservatives point out that Scottish voters had given the SNP a mandate to hold that referendum, leaving the prime minister with little choice.

But Mr Andrews' comments hint at frustration in the Welsh government which has struggled - some might say failed - to make its voice heard.

Before the referendum campaign began, First Minister Carwyn Jones wanted a constitutional convention to map out the future of the UK. But Downing Street ignored him.

David Cameron also rejected a request from Alex Salmond to put a third option on offer to Scottish voters - an offer known as "devo-max" which would enhance the powers of the Scottish Parliament, but stop short of independence.

Budget

As it happens, Scots are told that option does now exist - they just need to vote No and Scotland will get more devolution. With an endorsement from the UK government, Labour's Gordon Brown has set out a timetable to deliver it.

Carwyn Jones says that whatever Scotland is offered, Wales should be offered it too. But he was given no warning that his party was preparing to offer more devolution to Edinburgh.

"We saw that timetable and it was something that came as news to us," the first minister said last week.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have also promised to maintain the funding formula which sets the Scottish budget.

Known as the Barnett formula, there is a common consensus in Welsh politics that Wales is hard done by the system, but the promise to Scotland means radical funding reform is off the agenda.

The Welsh government must now hope that the Treasury will instead tweak the formula to protect Welsh spending in a way that does not affect Scotland.

'Threats'

Carwyn Jones has managed to extract some concessions on Welsh devolution by exploiting his position as a potentially useful ally in the campaign for a Scottish No vote.

He says he told Mr Cameron it would be very difficult for him to campaign against Scottish independence if Westminster did not give Cardiff Bay more financial power.

That power - to vary some taxes and borrow money - is being devolved, and Wales' first minister has duly gone to Scotland to spread the message that devolution works.

But does it really work? To Alex Salmond's mind, Mr Jones has been reduced to issuing threats to get his way.

He may not want Scotland to vote for independence, but the referendum has enabled Carwyn Jones to bargain with Downing Street.

His critics have their own view on whether or not he has been successful in that endeavour.