Blair and his steamrollered devolution

It felt odd walking into the plush offices in central London of Tony Blair's foundation with its striking panoramic oil paintings of middle eastern cities, to discuss the Welsh political scene of 20 years ago.

But the former Prime Minister had agreed to give an interview to discuss the events that led to the 1997 devolution referendums in Wales and Scotland.

He is clearly keen for people to consider the wider legacy of his decade in power, away from the divisive Iraq war.

A trim Mr Blair bounded in, the 'Bambi' grin still there, keen to reminisce.

His view is that the challenges facing Welsh and Scottish devolution came from opposing directions.


In Wales, it about was making people comfortable with the notion of devolution after years of fierce debate and anxiety that it was "a plot to wrench Wales out of the UK", whereas in Scotland it was about trying to persuade those who felt devolution should have gone further, or was a "staging post by the nationalist elements to full separation."

While he felt the debate in Scotland continued to be "acerbic and difficult," the debate in Wales is settled and healthy.

The rosy picture of devolution in Wales will of course be challenged by many, although the political consensus now surrounding the establishment of the assembly would suggest he is right in saying that it has developed in better ways than many thought.

The "steamroller" admission is an interesting insight into his perception of the scale of the obstruction towards devolution from within his own party.

The key point was the moment it made it into Labour's 1997 manifesto. Mr Blair made it clear he had no choice from that point on because otherwise there would have been "huge problems on the other side of the debate."


Rhodri Morgan inevitably came up during the interview. When I asked him about why he over-looked him for a job in his government at Westminster in 1997 and then supported Alun Michael to be the first leader of the assembly, he insisted that he had rated him as a politician and as a person, but disagreed with him on policy.

Mr Blair said that while he was at the forefront of change as a progressive politician, Mr Morgan had belonged to the traditional wing of the party.

With that in mind, I asked him whether he was disappointed that Welsh Labour had not pursued his reforms in areas like health and education, but he refused to be drawn, other than to say he understood "why there was a different political atmosphere in Wales, as indeed there was in Scotland."

His broad view is that if you have devolution, you also have the freedom to take policies in different directions.

History will not be re-written here but nevertheless we have a rare insight into some of the thoughts at the time from a former Prime Minister whose role in devolution is often over-looked.