We live in a time of change. Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and social insecurity, the relationships between nations and between governments and the governed are everywhere in a state of flux. Democracy is in crisis as our existing institutions fail to inspire confidence. This year for the first time in the Edelman global survey of public trust, people in the majority of countries didn’t trust their governments to do what is right. As the political class across the whole world flounders, we have no choice but to let the people back into the heart of the political process.
This process of empowerment is taking different forms in different places. In Scotland an independence referendum is being held. In Ireland, a constitutional convention is to revise the Republic’s Constitution for the first time since 1937. In European Union, too, the continuing crisis within the Eurozone has triggered calls for a new convention process, which could lead to political union and fiscal integration. And here in Wales, of course, we have the cross-party Silk Commission which is currently examining the case for greater financial powers for the Welsh Government.
It is crucial to stress that constitutional change and political reform are not abstract, legalistic issues, but are fundamental to how we live our lives. Governance matters. The outcome of constitutional change affects all aspects of domestic life. The architecture of decision-making in the Eurozone will have a determining effect on the performance of a Welsh manufacturing company. An independent Scotland would hardly have thrown disabled workers on the scrapheap as Westminster has done with Remploy. And even in Wales the relatively limited devolution settlement here has resulted in a National Health Service pursuing substantially different policies to its English counterpart.
That is why I am willing to support the idea of a broad ranging constitutional convention which will look at the arrangements between the constituent nations of the UK following the Scottish referendum on independence. The timing of this is crucial. A convention prior to that date would be impractical because we will not know whether the UK in its present form will continue to exist and Scottish minds will be in campaign, not convention, mode. A convention after the vote is not only sensible, but necessary, to discuss either the arrangements for a successor state or the UK-wide implications of devolution-max.
Plaid Cymru is committed to empowering the people of Wales which is why we believe ultimately that Wales should be independent. We would want the opportunity to put that case in the context of any future Convention. But we also realise that our journey towards an independent nation – to coin a phrase – will be a process, not an event. Every opportunity to discuss ways in which the Welsh people, through their elected Parliament, can achieve greater independence in the context of a changing set of relationships on this island is surely to be grasped. Carwyn Jones has suggested strengthening Wales’s voice at Westminster. We would argue that it’s not our voice that needs strengthening but our hands as Welsh people on the levers of power – not just those in London but in Brussels too.
A properly structured, inclusive convention could be a real opportunity for broad public participation in constitutional reform. This is why I will be calling for any convention to be as open as possible – like Iceland’s recent experiment in constitutional ‘crowd-sourcing’ – with a real role for citizens in suggesting how we reshape our governance. Power, after all, in a democracy is meant to be bestowed by the people on politicians, though the language of devolution seems to get the flow mixed up. It’s time to turn our constitution the right way up, and return the power to where it belongs.