A UK Constitutional Convention?

A UK Constitutional Convention
Richard Wyn Jones
Canolfan Llywodraethiant Cymru
Prifysgol Caerdydd//
Wales Governance Centre
Cardiff University
• A Welsh genesis – and what that tells us
• Why a Constitutional Convention would be
positively dangerous (for the Union)
• What (nonetheless) needs to be discussed
somewhere – though probably not at the
same time or as part of the same process
A Welsh genesis
• January 2012: Welsh FM, Carwyn Jones, first
political figure to call for a Constitutional
Convention on the future of the UK
• Now ‘common sense’ in Welsh political circles
(you’re in the presence of a heretic!)
• Finally taken up by Miliband on 19.ix.2014 to
counter Cameron’s EVEL move
• No serious thought or planning has taken place
around the idea – very easy to be cynical about
it all
Why did Carwyn make suggestion?
• Trying to lever Wales into discussion (move beyond
London-Edinburgh bilateralism) and trying give
Wales leverage (‘fair funding’ et al)
– Personal observation is that having Wales in room does
change dynamics. Challenges self-serving nature of both
sides of the Scottish debate!
• Labour devolutionists need cross party support in
order to fight their own battles (justice, jurisdiction)
• CJ’s (personal?) view that we’re reaching the limits
of devolution – need an all-Union perspective and
change at the Centre
• Welsh ‘convention envy’: characteristic view in
Welsh politics that constitutional conventions are ‘a
good thing’
“If only Wales had had a Constitutional
Convention like Scotland’s…”
• In the context of the failure of Welsh constitution
making – 3 dispensations so far and counting – the
lack of Scottish Convention familiar lament. Causal
or quasi-causal claims very common
• Successive attempts to label Welsh processes as the
‘Welsh equivalent of’ (Richard Commission, ‘All
Wales Convention’
• NB Scotland is the model (not a deliberative
exercise) and there’s actually very little
understanding of what went on in Scottish
• NB In Welsh ‘one party dominant system’ – all-party
processes can propose but only Labour disposes.
The dangers of a Convention
• Various debates and processes have their own dynamics and at
very different stages of development/maturity
– ENGLAND Labour appears to be suggesting that an all-UK
Convention should propose a solution to the English question.
Obvious and potentially very serious legitimacy issues esp. when
Scottish and Welsh unionists propose solution that English
population doesn’t support
legitimacy crisis if suggested
• Composition (all party or some parties? No party not a serious
option!) which links to ToR… What if any options are ruled
in/ruled out before hand? NB Not only an issue with Nats but
also for Centre..
• And if it fails…? (Do no harm principle?)
• NB Failure of Welsh constitution making not due to lack of
convention but rather the structural constraints of Welsh
politics. Misdiagnosis/Displacement
The UKCU project’s 4 key principles
to underpin a ‘new union’
Also an agenda for debate…
1. Shared sovereignty
2. Subsidiarity, clarity and consistency
3. Cohesion and solidarity
4. Tempering English dominance
Stagger discussion? 1 and 3 can start
immediately – on intergovernmental basis?
2 and certainly 4 need to await an English debate