Calling the Welsh national assembly a parliament would make a statement about Wales as a nation with a strong legislature
Last year, the people of Wales voted for the National Assembly for Wales to have primary law-making powers. Today, in 20 fields such as health, education, local government and the environment, the national assembly has the authority to legislate without Westminster. The executive itself is now separate from the assembly and shortly after the referendum rebranded itself the Welsh government. So today, I am calling on the National Assembly for Wales to be renamed the Welsh parliament.
In this, the week of the National Eisteddfod, the most important Welsh cultural event in the calendar, I feel it is now time to have a Welsh parliament. Polling and the recent referendum show that the electorate want an institution as strong as a parliament, and in reality the national assembly is in all but name the Welsh parliament.
Many may question why I as a proud unionist would call for such a move. I have never shied away from the fact that I believe the United Kingdom has been a force for good, where we have a richer and fairer society because we are united. Where the UK allows us a much bigger presence on the world stage, where as we have seen with the Olympics, the UK has so much to offer the world as a union. But, by the same measure, I and many in the Welsh Conservatives are proud to be Welsh. We are proud of our culture, language and heritage, and as a party are proud of devolution.
There can be no doubt too, that uncertainty with the Scottish referendum is having repercussions in Wales. Some in Wales do want to break away and go it alone. A recent poll, however, showed that only 7% of people in Wales do want to separate. I believe that the United Kingdom gives us strength as a community. When any part of the United Kingdom suffers a setback, the rest of the country stands behind it. From severe weather to economic setbacks, there is a community within our union that goes beyond the political to the emotional. It is because of strength of the UK that I believe now is the time to have a strong Welsh parliament in a strong United Kingdom.
So why now? Why change a name from assembly to parliament?
This isn’t simply a rebrand for the sake of rebranding; this is a statement about the institution that now legislates for our great nation. The assembly deserves to be respected. It deserves the respect of the executive, and it deserves to be an institution that stands out. Some may question why there needs to be any change at all. There is a parliament in Scotland with primary law-making powers, so why not in Wales?
For years, confusion has understandably existed among the Welsh public in distinguishing between the Welsh assembly government and the National Assembly for Wales. The rebranding of WAG to Welsh government’ has helped mitigate that, but we believe the time has come for Wales’s devolved institution to lose the “assembly” tag and brand itself as a proper Welsh parliament – strengthening the distinction between legislature and executive, while giving it the accolade the people of Wales afforded it in last year’s referendum.
The process for this to happen is very simple. One small amendment to the Government of Wales Act 2006 would be all that needs to happen to change the National Assembly for Wales into the Welsh parliament. No expensive rebrand, no new buildings, no more politicians, no new protocol, but what a statement it would be!
A statement that shows that Wales is a nation with a strong legislature in a strong United Kingdom.
When we look at other countries such as Australia, state parliaments operate alongside the national parliament. In the UK, we have the Scottish parliament and the Westminster parliament. There is no reason why we couldn’t have the Welsh parliament, too.
So in this week of celebration of Welsh culture, I call on other leaders to consider this change. There is no hurry to overnight changes, but in 2016 wouldn’t it be a great thing for the Welsh people to vote in elections for a Welsh parliament for the first time since the 15th century.
Some may say that this is just a name change, but I say that there is a lot in a name.