Coming home from Torquay last Sunday, my mate and I did a detour to explore Cardiff. I haven’t been to the city since the 1980s and was keen to see how much it had changed.
It’s certainly done that. Cardiff Bay has a whole new waterfront, with the central shopping area festooned with construction cranes symbolic of a city going places (Bradford please take note). The Welsh Assembly which, in a moment of self-aggrandisement renamed itself as a ‘parliament’, lies at the heart of the Cardiff Bay development. Of the three devolved administrations, the Senedd has by far the last architectural appeal. Fronted by an enormous canopy on two steel poles, most of the building itself resembles one of those 1970s municipal swimming pools – all glass and metal. Like its counterpart in Edinburgh, the ugliness of the building perfectly complements the ugly and divisive politics that take place within. Stormont in Belfast, for all its erratic history, is at least a building anyone could take pride in.
That said, my issue isn’t with the appearance of the buildings housing these glorified regional councils, it’s the encouragement the entire system of devolution gives to the notion of demanding ever-more distinct policies from that pursued by the sovereign government in London. Then, having acquired those powers and refusing to use them, taking umbrage with Westminster as the perceived source of all resulting ills. If reports are correct, the new Ulster Unionist leader, Doug Beattie, seems to be going down the road of wanting more powers for the Northern Ireland Assembly – not least on issues to do with raising taxes.
For what purpose? To sit on those powers and not use them just like their Scottish counterparts did for years? To promote Northern Ireland as a distinct political entity? If so, how does that compute with the quote from the great Sir Edward Carson over a century ago?:
‘We see, as Irish Ministers saw in 1800, that there can be no permanent resting place between complete Union and total separation.’
Devolution hasn’t cemented the UK since its inception. Instead it has spawned a political culture based on grievance towards central government – even as the devolved areas continue to receive a far healthier share of public spending than the 84% of the UK population who live in England. I was rather hoping Beattie would have more nous than to follow this same tired and unappealing line of evolution. It seems I may have been wrong.
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