I was in Cardiff last weekend at our Labour Link Forum. My first union post was in the city and it has certainly changed a lot, particularly the area around the Welsh Assembly. On Saturday I contributed to a workshop sharing experiences of devolution. Something we do too little of with Welsh colleagues and in this session, delegates from London.
Two Welsh Assembly Members outlined their experience of devolution, one of whom was formerly an MP so could offer some comparisons. Their experience was very similar to ours. They stressed the immediacy of the political process under devolution. Working much closer with the public and trade unions. Of course we both recognised that this also has much to do with the size of our countries compared to England. Something English colleagues may wish to consider if they revisit regional government.
They also highlighted the disconnect between the experience of devolved governments and Westminster. Devolved governments have delivered in very different ways to Westminster, yet there seems to be a nervousness at UK level to showcase the achievements. Labour in Wales have delivered some impressive initiatives, putting clear red water between them and Westminster. This reflects our own experience of devolution when there was often a reluctance to highlight the very different solutions Labour developed in Scotland.
They also indicated a close interest in our constitutional debate and the wider implications for the whole of the UK. This is something that has been given limited attention so far and it was interesting to see Welsh FM Carwyn Jones today calling for a constitutional convention for the UK. He has also proposed a reformed House of Lords with equal representation from the four nations, similar to the model used by the US Senate. He also spoke at the Cardiff conference in a speech that impressed Scottish delegates in particular.
This theme was also taken up in today's Herald by Iain MacWhirter. He argues:
"The rational solution is surely to turn the new House of Lords into a Senate elected largely on a regional basis to reflect the new constitutional reality. I've been punting this idea around for some time and I've yet to hear a sensible argument why it shouldn't work. If a Senate works in America, Australia and a host of countries, why not here?"
The problem is that England needs to be persuaded and probably to go down the road of regional government, or at least regional representation. That didn't have much traction when it was last tried in the NE referendum, although the removal of powers from local government muddied the waters there.
Either way there appears to be some merging of our constitutional debate and House of Lords reform.