Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales Manifesto

Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales Manifesto 2001

Section B
Wales, Britain and Europe - the constitutional context

Along with the demand for a fairer economic policy, the Party of Wales's other central message in this election is the need for Wales to have the powers to act effectively for its own benefit.

Ever since the Government presented its plans for the current measure of devolution, we have argued that it is woefully inadequate and that Wales should have powers similar to those of Scotland. Yet we strongly supported the measure as it stood, believing that the establishment of the first national governing body since Glyndwr's parliament was a crucial first step ahead.

Compared with the old order, we still believe that the establishment of the Assembly has been a huge improvement in the way Wales is governed. It is fair to recognise that the Assembly has achieved some important things, the most important being unmasking the truth about the way in which the UK government has been dealing with European money. For years money earmarked for Wales has been going to the Treasury's coffers while European projects were funded at the cost of our public services. The way in which a share of Objective 1, 2, and 3 money has been won is down to the fact that we now have a more open system of government. For the first time government in Wales has had to account for its actions.

The Assembly has also made a notable contribution to the development of a separate policy for Wales in transport, Post 16 Education, and the Arts and Culture, and has stimulated new enthusiasm and awareness.

It is also true that it could achieve more if it used its current powers to the utmost, and if it showed more vision than the present administration has done so far.

However, the National Assembly's first two years have brought out the basic deficiencies in the 1998 Government of Wales Act. Apart from the lack of powers to tackle the problems of Wales there is also constant confusion about what those powers are.

Those who try to work within the system have to wrestle constantly with one difficulty after the other, and constitutional experts warn that what we have is a model of government that is essentially flawed.

It is clear that it was the need for compromise between Labour devolutionists and anti-devolutionists that was mainly responsible for the nature of the Act, rather than the needs of Wales.

It needs to be remembered that what the 1998 Government of Wales Act did was transfer the functions of the Secretary of State for Wales to the Assembly.

Historically the purpose of these functions was to implement the will of the government of the day in London rather than the will of the people of Wales.

It is no surprise therefore that the Assembly's powers are seriously inappropriate for drawing up and implementing a specific agenda for Wales.

Another major problem is that the Westminster Government fails to act in the spirit of devolution, with some departments drafting legislation that reduces the powers of the Assembly, or refusing to make any provision for our needs.

Experience over the last two years has strengthened our conviction that Wales must proceed urgently to gain powers similar to those of Scotland.

A Legislative Parliament - the only answer

The Scotland Act is far more logical than the Government of Wales Act. It is far simpler as it establishes full legislative powers for the areas that are devolved, and also keeps the door open for further devolution in future.

So that the Assembly can operate seriously to create change in Wales, powers similar to those of Scotland are essential. We utterly reject the "walk-before-you-run" argument: the current system prevents the Assembly from even walking properly.

There is also another good reason why the change should happen during the next parliament. The powers must be in place in good time before the next Tory government in London - as is bound to happen sooner or later. Unless we have full legislative powers, Wales will at that time be defenceless against policies that are even more right wing than what we have seen to date.

That then is why Plaid Members of Parliament will introduce a bill in the next parliament to establish a legislative parliament. We go into greater detail about the measure we shall be offering in Section 4 (i), where we set out clearly our constitutional agenda for the next five years. Every vote we get will help to bring pressure to bear on the government to move towards such a legislative parliament.

Wales in Europe

Hand in hand with the need for a legislative parliament is the need to strengthen Wales's status and influence within the European Union. Since its early days, the Party of Wales, and before that some of the forerunners of the national movement such as Emrys ap Iwan, have declared in favour of European unity and for creating closer links between Wales and the countries of mainland Europe.

We still believe that it is important that Wales should develop close links with the other regions, nation-regions and member states of Europe.

This, of course, includes the other countries of Britain, and we are keen that Wales should play a leading role in the Council of the Isles. We certainly have an important contribution to make in helping to promote the peace process in Ireland, and to strengthen economic and cultural links with the Republic.

We regard the evolution and growth of the European Union as an opportunity for Wales.

We see the enlargement of the European Union as essential to promote peace, democracy and stability. However, whilst the Nice Treaty removes the technical barriers to the accession of twelve new member states, it does not improve the EU's capacity to work democratically and efficiently. If the challenges facing the EU are to be tackled, there has to be a wide-ranging debate on the future constitution of Europe with civil society and elected bodies at all levels. This must address all the major questions of democracy, including the partnership and separation of powers between the different tiers of government in the EU, and the openness of the European institutions. We do not accept that European unity must mean over centralisation and the implementation of uniform policies that are inappropriate for a large variety of regions and circumstances. At the same time we have to press ceaselessly for the principle of subsidiarity to become a precise policy and a practical reality.

While we can not accuse the present government of being as negative as the Tories in their attitude to the European Union, there is still evident unease concerning Britain's relationship with Europe.

This partly reflects a failure on the part of the British Establishment to recognise the reality of the nation state's limited role in today's world. Globalisation in itself has weakened the powers of the nation state; the growth of large multinational companies has made necessary the development of multi-national systems to control them.

States must learn to see the notion of shared sovereignty as an opportunity rather than a threat. The creation of a single market of necessity involves greater integration, such as with regional policy and monetary union.

Wales' best opportunity for national development lies within such a framework. Rather than seeing the reduction of the traditional member state's power as a threat, we should take advantage of such a process as an opportunity to increase Wales' status and that of other stateless national regions within Europe.

There are other good reasons for our support for European unity. The EU has led the way on equal opportunities, environmental, consumer and social policy. Its support for the protection of workers' rights is particularly relevant just now. The Welsh workforce have lost out badly as a result of the UK's New Labour government's refusal to implement European legislation in this area.

In addition, European union offers an opportunity to reduce military dependence on the US. As the economic and political power of the EU has increased over time, expectations have risen about Europe's capability to act decisively and quickly in crisis situations. Through its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) the EU can play an important role in conflict-prevention and crisis-management. It could also be an opportunity to promote conventional and nuclear disarmament and control the flow of arms. Plaid Cymru is totally opposed to the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction. We believe thet the CFSP can be used to pursue the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the EU

Further national growth

The presumption that decisions should be taken in Wales unless there is sufficient reason for them to be taken on a wider level is a central principle in the Party of Wales's vision. This is in accord with our complete support for the European Union's principle of subsidiarity.

We want to see Wales play a full part in the development of the new Europe of the 21st century. As a party which wants to ensure the best for Wales, we want to see continuing growth in the status of our country, realising at the same time that the precise form of full national status in future will depend very much on the way in which Europe develops.

Our vision for the future of Europe includes strengthening democratic control over the future of our continent. We demand that legislative rights be transferred to a bicameral Parliament - one of which will be directly elected and the other indirectly by regions and nation-regions which have their own parliaments or assemblies.

Such reforms are being discussed in the run-up to the next Inter-governmental Conference in 2004. In the meantime the Party of Wales will be pressing for the second chamber to be based on the regions and nation-regions of Europe rather than on the member-states alone - as is favoured by the British government. In discussing the future of Europe, it is crucial that nation-regions like Wales, Scotland, Euskadi and Catalunya be able to play their part side-by-side with small states such as Ireland and the Scandinavian countries.

This is the kind of framework in which we see the best opportunity for Wales to move towards full national status. However we recognise that developments are not currently moving in this direction. We must therefore keep open the option of applying for full member-state status in the European Union. Such a far-reaching step as this would be subject to the agreement of the people of Wales in a referendum. We are completely committed to the principle that it is the people of Wales who should be able to determine the place of their nation in the new Europe. For us, sovereignty belongs to the people, and not to any state.

Over the past months we have been consulting amongst our members about the kind of constitutional aims we should seek in the face of the changes that are occurring in Britain and Europe. It is our intention to broaden the discussion through out Welsh society.

Many important choices will face the people of Wales in future, for instance about issues such as the relationship between the countries of the islands of Britain, what kind of organisational pattern should express it, and the relationship between them and the rest of Europe.

In the meantime, at least over the next parliamentary term, the most important task will be to get the best possible deal for Wales, together with the greatest measure of freedom, within the present framework.

To this end, we are the keen to build a national coalition to include all who want to press for a better deal for Wales over the coming years. There is no doubt that the most effective first step towards realising this is a strong vote for Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, in the coming election.

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