Les rendez-vous constitutionnels
“Etre à nouveau une nation..?”
Devolution & the elections of the Scottish Parliament and
the National Assembly for Wales
Tuesday 2 June 1999
The British Council France
A public debate chaired by Professor Robert Hazell
Director of The Constitution Unit
With the participation of Rt. Hon Dafydd Wigley PC MP AM
Leader, Plaid Cymru
Governance of Scotland Forum
HSD Ernst & Young, France
Foreword John Tod, Director, The British Council France
In 1997 the UK embarked upon a major programme of constitutional reform which to date
comprises over a dozen individual bills. Power has been reapportioned outwards to the component
nations and regions of the UK, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Proportional representation
has been introduced for Scottish, Welsh and European elections and is being considered as a
feasible model for Westminster elections. London will elect a mayor and other cities may well follow,
the European Convention of Human Rights has been signed, the House of Commons is removing
hereditary peers from the House of Lords and calling for plans to revise the role and structure of
Parliament’s second chamber. The construction of this new constitutional settlement involves many
key elements that have been common features of the French constitutional landscape for some
The British Council’s programme of Rendez-Vous Constitutionnels has been conceived as a
response to each major step in the reform programme with the main objective of providing a forum
which is responsive to the significant parallels in the constitutional experiences of France and the
UK. Organised as a series of evening debates, these timely events are structured to encourage a
reciprocal exchange between policy actors, commentators and public in France and the UK which
also serves as a window on important aspects of modern governance in our respective countries.
Les Rendez-Vous Constitutionnels break from traditional lectures using a style of debate pioneered
by the BBC “Question Time” programmes bringing invited audiences into the thrust of discussion,
deciding the issues for debate. Each session is chaired by an expert commentator on constitutional
reform with panels of high profile actors from the reform process including representatives of the
constitutional experience in France.
We were delighted to present Être à nouveau une nation..? as the first Rendez-Vous Constitutionnel
at the British Council, in June 1999. This event came just two weeks after the election of the first
Scottish Parliament in 300 years and the first ever National Assembly for Wales. These elections
signalled an important shift in the way the UK is governed, devolving power from central
government and hopefully, closer to ordinary people.
It was with great pleasure that we received Dafydd Wigley MP, MA, Leader of Plaid Cymru,
Eberhard Bort from the Governance in Scotland Forum, who graciously stepped in at the last
moment to take the place of George Reid, presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament and Anthony
Lacoudre, a first hand French observer of the Scottish and Welsh elections. Under the expert
direction of our chair, Professor Robert Hazell from the Constitution Unit, the debate tackled a range
of up to the minute concerns and ideas which we have drawn together for you in this abridged
transcription. In the spirit of Les Rendez-Vous Constitutionnels this account is intended to give a
flavour of the constitutional reform programme in the UK and encourage the development of an
appetite for civil society and modern governance.
John Tod – November 1999
Professor Robert Hazell
Thank you to the audience for coming tonight. As John explained, the format of tonight’s debate is
essentially that of a discussion between two groups of experts: those here on the panel and those
amongst you in the audience. You will know that the UK is embarking on what we might describe as
a huge constitutional experiment. We have a lot to learn from other countries and I hope that this
discussion will bring out ideas regarding some of the structures which are just emerging now in the
UK but which you have experienced in France for some time. I also hope that most of tonight’s
debate will be about the future of the UK and where these constitutional changes are going to lead
I am going to start, if I may, with two short pieces of history and I hope the experts amongst you will
forgive me for making these rather basic and simplistic. The first is a question which people often
ask me: “Why doesn’t the UK have a written constitution?”
The answer is, that it is not wholly unwritten, it is just not written in a single codified document. We
cannot say that we do not know how to write a constitution because over the last fifty years, with the
end of empire, the UK has actually written constitutions for about fifty other countries. Although
these countries are now members of the British Commonwealth they exercise independence
through constitutions which were originally written for them in London. Why is it though, that the UK
has never actually got around to writing a constitution for itself?
Well, if you think about the circumstances which led other countries to write a constitution, either for
the first time or as a revised settlement, they can be grouped into one of four events. The first is
revolution. This was the origin of one of the first, and greatest constitutions: the French Constitution
of 1789. The second event is defeat in war, from which emerged the German and Italian
constitutions in post-war Europe. The third, concerns a grant of independence, from which ex-
colonial dependencies acquired written constitutions on gaining their independence from the
colonial power. The final circumstance can be seen as a complete collapse of government authority
and can be illustrated by the recent examples in the Soviet Union under Mr Gorbachev and those in
post-apartheid South Africa. As an island off mainland Europe, the UK has in effect experienced
only two of these four events in the last thousand years.
By international standards we have had an extraordinarily peaceful history. During the course of the
last thousand years we have only been defeated once in war, by the French in the Norman
conquest of 1066. And we have had only one revolution, in the 17th century when King Charles I
and the Royalists were defeated by the Parliamentarian forces under Cromwell. However, this
revolution came a century too early to have produced a written constitution. The first written
constitutions, the French and the American, referred to 18th century ideas like the separation of
powers, advanced in France by Montesquieu and in the UK by John Locke, and to ideas about the
rights of man, spoken of in France by Rousseau and in the UK by Tom Paine. I would suggest that if
revolution in the UK had occurred in the eighteenth century like France, the UK may well have also
had a written constitution.
The second very basic piece of history which underlies the theme of tonight’s debate, “To be a
nation again…?” is quite simply, that the UK is a nation-state composed of four nations. The
process of devolution which informs this debate is actually about the UK rediscovering the separate
nations which make it up. These nations joined the Union at different times and under different
terms. Wales joined with England back in the middle ages, Scotland joined the Union with England
and Wales in 1707 and Ireland formally joined the Union surprisingly late in 1800, although the Irish
had been ruled by the English for centuries before that. The Irish Act of Union was something that
the people of Ireland never accepted. Continuing troubles and rebellions eventually led to the
separation of the Irish Free State in 1920. However, in the six Northern Irish counties of the
Province of Ulster, the majority of the Protestant population wanted to remain part of the Union and
this is the reason why Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of
Ireland, in the South, is not.
Although for most of our recent history, the UK has been governed as a unitary state, as a result of
these four component nations: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the UK is, in fact, a
multi-national nation-state. The separate identities of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have
been largely suppressed in our system of government, and in my opinion this became very evident
to many of the people in the United Kingdom during the Prime-Ministership of Mrs Thatcher, who
was in every sense a very English and a very dominant Prime Minister. I think that it is also partly in
reaction to her very strong and centralist style of government that devolution has now emerged.
To start the devolution story and to explain both how devolution emerged in Wales and how it is
most likely to develop I will present our first speaker, Dafydd Wigley, leader of Plaid Cymru and one
of the most prominent politicians in Wales.
Thank you very much, and my thanks to the British Council for organising this event.
I passed the Assemblée Nationale building on the way here today, and I thought to myself: “Ah,
we’ve now got one of those too!” Our National Assembly building may not yet be quite as big or as
impressive as the French National Assembly, but there are a number of common threads of
comparison, principally that of our identity as a nation.
Wales has always regarded itself as a nation and many people in France already consider Wales as
a nation on the rugby pitches or football fields. But Wales has never, as a nation, exercised
democratic control over any aspect of its national life in modern times. Over the last few decades
the government of Wales has been predominately administrative. The Welsh Office has been
responsible for the administration and executive policy decisions on matters such as health,
education, roads, housing, town and country planning, and agriculture. It has been answerable to a
Secretary of State, who is a member of the UK cabinet but is not obliged to be an elected Welsh
Member of Parliament. Indeed, the last four Secretaries of State for Wales who held office during
the Conservative period of government were not elected MPs from Wales. Consequently, Wales
has had a “Governor General” government, where the “Governor General” made policy for Wales
irrespective of the political wishes of the Welsh people. This idea is perhaps best understood if I
point out that ever since there has been a popular vote from the 1860s onwards, Wales has never
returned a majority of conservative MPs. Indeed, at the last General Election of May 1997, not one
single Conservative was elected in Wales.
I should explain that Wales is a left-of-centre country. As I have been introduced as the leader of
Plaid Cymru, I should also clarify that the “nationalist” description of my party can be misleading.
We are a socialist, left-of-centre party who believes in self-government for Wales and Wales as a
national unit in its own right within a United Europe. We don’t use the term “independent” because
we don’t believe any country is independent of another, certainly within the European Union, to
which we are very committed. The changes which are taking place in Wales, including the creation
of a national assembly, have for the first time allowed us to elect a body of sixty people on the all
Wales level. We have powers to take executive and administrative decisions previously taken by
Secretaries of State and we have a secondary legislative competence involving the power to make
orders within the framework of basic laws laid down by Westminster. However, as we do not have
tax-raising powers, the finances of the National Assembly for Wales, which are between £7,000 -
£8,000 million per year, continue to be allocated centrally from the exchequer in London in the form
of block grants. Despite increasing pressures to establish informal links, Wales does not have a
direct constitutional link to the European Union. My party sees the role of Europe as being very
important and considers that the ability of a nation state, as well as a national region, to influence
Europe, is very important indeed.
Finally in this brief introduction, I would like to outline the political balance of the National Assembly
of Wales. It is a 60-seat electoral body in which 40 seats are elected by the “first-past-the-post”
electoral system and the remaining 20 are allocated through regional lists decided by proportional
representation. Of these 60 seats, Labour have 28, Plaid Cymru have 17, the Conservatives have 9
and the Liberal Democrats, 6. This makes for a very interesting political balance since there is no
overall political control. There is scope to create an agenda which results in greater political
autonomy for Wales and a greater ability to take decisions for ourselves, and also to develop a
profile for Wales within Europe.
We are living in a very interesting time in the UK and this has been particularly true since 1st May
1997 when the Labour landslide victory of Tony Blair set this constitutional experiment in motion.
Since then we have seen things happening very quickly, particularly when we consider the
thousand years of British history that were sketched out for us by Robert Hazell. If we want to
explain these events in terms of a historical framework, there seem to be two explanations on offer.
The first seems to parallel the Irish experience of Union briefly presented by Robert in his
introduction. When we think about why there was this “marriage of convenience” where England
sort of persuades Scotland to give up the Auld Alliance with France and enter into Union in 1707,
we have to remember that Scotland retains independence over the principal institutions of Scottish
civil society when it eventually “marries” England and so, like Ireland in 1800, it never fully
embraces the Union.
I think the second historical framework which could explain current events lies in the failed
referenda of 1979 in Wales and in Scotland. These failed to give home rule, while devolution
legislation sailed through in Scotland and passed through acceptably in Wales in 1997. Why? Well, I
think that, as Robert said, eighteen years of Thatcher government highlighted problems. Some
commentators dubbed Margaret Thatcher the “midwife” of the Scottish Parliament, and say that it
would never have come into being without her as a catalyst. Broadly, the Thatcher catalyst
highlighted the problem of having administrative devolution and a separate legal system without a
legislative chamber. Although the institutions of civil society in Scotland exercised administrative
devolution and a separate legal system, these were effectively directed and controlled through the
Scottish Office, by governments in London who, between 1979 and 1997 did not return a working
majority of MPs in Scotland. Like Wales, on 1 May 1997 Scotland did not return a single
Conservative to Westminster. During the previous ten years of Conservative rule, out of the 72
Scottish MPs at Westminster, only an average of 10 seats were held by the Conservatives. Notably
all other parties were either advocating devolution or “independence in Europe.” It is easy to
imagine the crisis of legitimacy which the Scottish Office suffered during these ten years of
democratic deficit and how it led more or less directly to the election result in 1997, the referendum,
and to the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.
This new Parliament consists of 129 seats: 56 Labour, 35 Scottish National Party, 18 Conservative
(notably, the Conservatives did not return a single directly elected MSP through the first-past-the-
post system and obtained this result through the proportional representation system where their
percentage of the vote was redistributed across the party list), 17 Liberal Democrats, 2 smaller
parties which include the first ever Green representative in Britain and a member of the Socialist
Alliance, as well as a Labour renegade who was no longer wanted by New Labour.
Conformément à ce qui a été prévu, je m’exprimerai en français. En 1997, j’ai eu la chance de faire
partie des quelques juristes que le British Council envoie séjourner pendant 6 mois au Royaume-
Uni. Cette expérience m’a d’abord permis de suivre des événements politiques majeurs, tels que la
chute du gouvernement conservateur, la campagne électorale et les premiers mois de l’alternance
travailliste. Elle m’a permis ensuite de me familiariser avec un thème essentiel du scrutin de mai
1997, porté par Tony Blair, à savoir la réforme des institutions, la décentralisation et la création d’un
Parlement en Ecosse.
Ma première réaction en tant qu’observateur français est d’établir un parallèle entre les socialistes
français et britanniques qui, dès leur arrivée au pouvoir en 1981 et 1997, ont instauré ou modernisé
la décentralisation. En effet, la première oeuvre législative effectuée au début du mois de mai 1997
par le gouvernement travailliste n’est autre que le projet de loi portant organisation des référundums
au Pays de Galles et en Ecosse.
La seconde observation que l’on peut formuler réside dans la comparaison entre les institutions
mises en place par Tony Blair et la décentralisation telle qu’on la connaît en France. Les travaux
élaborés par les constitutionnalistes proches des travaillistes dans la perspective des élections de
1997, aboutissent à un schéma très original de nature asymétrique. En effet, si ce schéma prône
l’instauration d’une assemblée législative en Ecosse et en Irlande du Nord (ainsi que la création
d’une assemblée de type administratif au Pays de Galles, se rapprochant des Conseils régionaux
en France), il ne prévoit aucune institution propre à l’Angleterre. Pour l’observateur français, il est
interéssant de noter que l’assemblée galloise trouve son équivalent outre-Manche avec les 24
conseils régionaux. De la même façon, le Parlement d’Edimbourg ressemble aux assemblées
législatives dont sont dotés les TOM (Polynésie française, Nouvelle Calédonie.)
Afin de mieux poser les enjeux du débat, il convient enfin d’énoncer les importantes difficultés que
soulève la réforme de la constitution britannique. La première difficulté dont j’ai été témoin le mois
dernier, c’est l’instauration de la représentation proportionnelle. Ce mode de scrutin est pour le
moins révolutionnaire en Grande-Bretagne puisque toutes les élections précédentes, qu’elles soient
locales, nationales ou européennes, s’étaient déroulées au scrutin majoritaire à un tour. Ce procédé
permettait de dégager des majorités mammouth, en assurant une sur-représentation au parti
victorieux. Le gouvernement de Tony Blair, désireux de rompre avec les mécanismes majoritaires,
a vu dans l’élection des nouvelles assemblées écossaise, galloise et irlandaise du nord, l’occasion
de mettre en place la proportionnelle. En réalité, à l’exception de l’Irlande du Nord, il s’agit d’une
représentation proportionnelle partielle puisqu’un certain nombre de députés continuent à être élus
au scrutin majoritaire. Ces éléctions ont néanmoins abouti à un fait nouveau car on est désormais
en présence d’un gouvernement de consensus au Pays de Galles qui pèsera sur l’avenir politique
du pays. Aussi, en l’absence de majorité claire au Parlement écossais, le parti travailliste s’est vu
contraint de former une coalition avec le parti libéral-démocrate, arrivé dernier aux élections. Même
s’ils ont bénéficié du nouveau mode de scrutin, les conservateurs n’ont pas manqué de critiquer un
système électoral qui tend à donner trop de pouvoir aux partis.
La deuxième difficulté réside dans les répercussions politiques et institutionnelles de la présente
réforme. Quelles seront les prochaines étapes du processus et quid de l’Angleterre ? A mes
yeux, l’extension naturelle de ce processus de dévolution en Grande-Bretagne, sera de doter
l’Angleterre de sa propre assemblée. Même si à ce jour, la demande se fait encore rare, ce
phénomène semble, à terme, inéluctable. La création d’une assemblée anglaise n’ira pas sans
poser de sérieux problèmes de compétences. On imagine mal que cette institution ait moins de
prérogatives que le Parlement écossais, alors même que l’Angleterre représente 85% de la
population britannique. Ainsi, le système institutionnel pourrait aboutir à une organisation de
type fédéral. Cette hypothèse se trouve confortée par les débats actuels relatifs à la réforme de
la Chambre des Lords. Certains prévoient en effet de transformer l’actuelle Chambre Haute en
une chambre représentative des régions. Additionné à la nouvelle Cour constitutionnelle, ce
nouvel ensemble institutionnel s’apparenterait finalement à une fédération.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
How do you judge the success of the National Assembly for Wales in the next five to ten
I think the first challenge for the National Assembly in Wales is to win the confidence of the
people. The result of the referendum was very tight but since then it has been very encouraging
to hear people who voted against or who abstained during the referendum, now saying “well it’s
happened, the Assembly is here and we have to make a success of it.”
The approach to politics in Wales will be different from the Westminster model because the
Assembly has to carry people with it and this means that the consensus approach is important
both within the chamber and amongst Welsh people. The Welsh also have to build up a greater
self-confidence so that we can take responsibility and show greater leadership ourselves. We
are no longer in a position to be eternally complaining that London hasn’t done this or the other,
and we have got to start doing things for ourselves. At the end of the day, this is the only way
we will achieve the best government for Wales. What I mean, by “best government” is one
which will enable us to develop a quality of life and a standard of living which gives a better
prospect for young people to stay in their own country, so that they can look forward to a life as
Welsh people living in Wales.
In constitutional terms, I certainly think that within the next ten years we will have the same full
legislative functions as the Scottish Parliament including the financial powers which are
necessary for us to behave responsibly. I hope that we will also create our own direct links with
the European Union. But there is a challenge in so doing, because we have to decide on a
model of the European Union which is relevant to small, historic nations like Wales or Catalonia.
I believe that Europe has to adjust in order to achieve this balance and has to find a congruent
theme and suitable place for small nations like ours within its structure. As I see it, this may
involve looking towards the creation of a second chamber of the European Parliament.
I presume that the creation of the Scottish Parliament was supposed to have diffused
nationalism. Does the panel think there is a danger that the Scottish Parliament will
actually strengthen national consciousness and stimulate separation?
This is of course the fundamental question which is currently being asked abroad, but we are
also looking at it in Scotland. There is a straightforward difference between the many camps in
Scotland who have been competing for the lead role in government. On the one hand you have
the SNP who campaigned in the run up to the referendum on a “Yes/Yes” ticket: “Yes” to tax
varying powers and “Yes” to the parliament. Their motive was to ensure that Parliament and its
success would be a stepping stone towards independence in Europe. The SNP argued that if
confidence could be built upon the successes of the Scottish Parliament, this in turn could allow
Scotland to become independent within Europe, and break away and become independent from
the rest of Britain.
On the other hand there are the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who campaigned on
the same “Yes/Yes” ticket during the referendum but with a different logic, which followed the
thinking of the late Labour leader, John Smith. He thought home rule in Edinburgh is the settled
rule of the Scottish people and would actually strengthen the Union with Britain and argued that
“when Scotland is confident and happy that the Parliament is working for them and Scottish
affairs are being ruled from Edinburgh instead of London, what motive could people have for
wanting to move yet further along the road to independence?”. The Conservatives were the only
party who campaigned on a “No/No” ticket during the 1997 referendum. However since then,
they have begun to move away from that position and have started to argue with a similar logic
to John Smith: that they are needed in Scotland and want the Parliament to work in order to
prevent Scotland moving any further down the “slippery slope” to independence. To a certain
extent the Conservative party can therefore be seen to have joined with Labour and the Liberal
Democrats as the “Unionist” parties in Scotland.
In order to further answer this question, I should also go back into the history of the Union. The
difference between Wales and Scotland is that Scotland has always been independent to a
certain degree, and the country has always had a strong national consciousness. The Union left
Scotland with its own institutions: the Kirk – the church, education, its own legal system and
local government, which to some extent have always guaranteed a separate Scottish civil
society. Yet, when we think about the lives of citizens during the eighteenth, nineteenth and
even into the twentieth centuries, with the all-providing welfare state, the Union worked very well
in spite of this difference for quite a while.
There are, none the less, still imponderabilities about the way that Holyrood and Westminster
will co-exist and co-operate, particularly in light of the European dimension. When, in 2004/5,
Slovenia and Estonia (which are even smaller countries than Scotland or Wales), become full
members of the European Union, Scotland and Wales, on the other hand, might perhaps be
denied a chance of fully participating in European governance, then the relationship between
Westminster and the component nations of the UK will undoubtedly be called into question.
If, in line with the policy of the Scottish National Party, there is a referendum in Scotland on the
independence question, I think the Scots will probably be aware of four factors: trade, defence,
money, and sentiment. I mention trade, because access to markets was one of the principal
reasons why Scotland joined the Union with England in 1707. Of course Scotland no longer
needs the Union either in Europe or internationally in order to have access to world markets
which are now guaranteed through the World Trade Organisation and the European Union. The
defence factor is of special importance in the event of a SNP government, since their policy is to
leave NATO. The third factor, money, is an issue because Scotland currently benefits from
considerably higher levels of public expenditure than the rest of the UK. Although this is less
than in Northern Ireland, public expenditure per capita in Scotland remains some twenty five
percent higher than in England. Finally, I think the factor of sentiment is important because it is
so difficult to predict and is capable of swinging things either way. Centuries of migration and
intermarriage have forged close personal ties which must count for something. An enormous
amount will depend upon how the new governments in Edinburgh and London behave towards
each other, and how issues are handled by politicians from all sides of the political divide.
Ultimately, I think that the question of confidence will be one of the deciding factors for
independence, including the question of business confidence. At present the business
community in Scotland is strongly opposed to independence, but don’t let us forget that
business was opposed to devolution too.
Les travaillistes ont répondu au nationalisme écossais en leur proposant une assemblée
législative. Ils espéraient évidemment contenir leurs revendications. Néanmoins, cette initiative
pourrait, à terme, avoir de lourdes conséquences. Le SNP a d’ailleurs vu ses scores électoraux
s’améliorer sensiblement: il est passé de 10% en 1997 à près de 30% au dernier scrutin. Je ne
sais pas si c’est exactement le résultat que recherchaient les travaillistes. A titre d’anecdote, il y
a beaucoup de littérature aux Etats-Unis et en Grande-Bretagne sur la question de
l’indépendance de l’Ecosse. Un numéro du NY Times Magazine au titre évocateur “The end of
prison” présente, par exemple, une photo de la reine Victoria en larmes.
Dans quelle mesure les évolutions constitutionnelles récentes peuvent-elles constituer
un vecteur de modernisation pour la plus vieille démocratie du monde?
La décentralisation effective et la mise en place de la proportionnelle sont autant de
vertus qui ouvrent de nouvelles perspectives à la démocratisation du système politique
britannique. Pensez-vous que ces évolutions lui permettent de trouver un second souffle
et de se moderniser?
La question de la réforme constitutionnelle crée des clivages au sein de la scène politique
britannique. Le courant réformateur est néanmoins très majoritaire au Royaume-Uni puisque les
libéraux démocrates entendent également réformer la constitution. Ainsi, les libéraux-
démocrates, comme ils l’ont écrit dans leur manifeste, souhaitent l’instauration d’une fédération.
Et, si les travaillistes n’ont rien dit sur la monarchie et la fédération, il reste que la
décentralisation qu’ils ont mis en place constitue un pas vers un système fédéral.
Je voudrais faire une analogie même si cet exemple présente des différences. J’ai eu la chance
d’habiter quelques années à Prague, donc je connais un peu la Tchécoslovaquie. La
République tchécoslovaque a été un Etat unitaire de 1918 à 1968. En 1960, a été créée une
assemblée pour la Slovaquie dotée de pouvoirs législatifs, un peu comme le Parlement
écossais aujourd’hui. Ainsi coexistaient un Parlement tchécoslovaque et une assemblée
slovaque, sans assemblée pour la Tchéquie, comme aujourd’hui pour l’Angleterre. Puis, en
1968, la Tchécoslovaquie devint une fédération, et ce, jusqu’en 1993, où émergent deux entités
étatiques indépendantes. Même s’il est difficile de tirer des conclusions définitives de cette
analogie, en raison des spécificités historiques et idéologiques, je ne suis pas sûr en tout cas,
que l’asymétrie mise en place au Royaume-Uni constitue une modernisation extraordinaire.
C’est uniquement un point de vue personnel, d’ailleurs la grande majorité des Britanniques
pense que c’est formidable.
La dernière chose que je voudrais dire, c’est que je ne suis pas sûr que les Britanniques, et en
particulier les Anglais, soient fascinés par toutes ces réformes de la constitution. Je ne suis pas
certain que tout le monde ait voté New-Labour en 1997 pour obtenir un changement de la
chambre des Lords et la transparence administrative. A mon avis, ces réformes sont
certainement pour le gouvernement une façon de montrer qu’il est très actif.
I see that you can be both a Member of the Welsh Assembly and of the Westminster
Parliament but can you explain whether this is just a transitional structure of
The structures of government at Westminster have always been transitional. They have
changed all down the ages and they change gradually.
John Hume and Ian Paisley have shown in Northern Ireland that it is possible to be a Member of
both the Parliament in Westminster and the European Parliament. Yet while there is no legal
impediment to holding a dual mandate like this it is a matter which is decided by the directives of
the different political parties. Before the recent elections in Scotland and Wales the parties
agreed that Members of Parliament who stood for election to the National Assembly and
Scottish Parliament could remain MPs for Westminster until the next general election. Indeed,
even after the next general election there is nothing in practice which will prevent them from
remaining members of both legislatures thereafter. Personally I have severe doubts as to
whether it is possible to do both jobs and if I were a government minister, I certainly would not
be capable of doing both tasks. Therefore neither I nor any of my colleagues in Plaid Cymru
who sit in the Welsh Assembly will stand for Westminster at the next election.
Could you perhaps explain a little about the cumul des mandats in France? When you say there
is a growing debate here, are there any doubts about whether it is possible to do both jobs in
Member of Audience
In France local government mandates can be held in common with senate mandates. Sitting
MPs in the French Parliament are also capable of holding the office of Mayor in a large city and
this latter example of the cumul des mandats is the subject of increasing public criticism. Those
individuals who exercise a dual mandate are very powerful indeed as they have access to an
important local base which serves as a springboard into influential positions within the
Assemblée Nationale or the Sénat. This issue is the subject of much current debate in France
as the Jospin government is trying to abolish the privilege. As yet, we are not sure if Parliament
will vote for reform.
As I have explained, we can see similar issues to this arising in the Welsh and Scottish contexts
but there is also another, equally intriguing question relevant to this which concerns
representation and accountability in Wales and Scotland.
The Speaker of the Scottish Parliament and the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for
Wales are both Life Peers and members of the House of Lords. While a hereditary peer can
resign his/her title, a life peer cannot and because of this we can see that there needs to be
provision which authorises the existence of dual mandates. I believe that the basic question
underlying this idea is also whether it is possible to serve two masters and in my opinion, it is
very difficult. From a Unionist point of view, it could be possible to accept this idea with the
argument for a certain degree of overlapping in government, on the condition that there is a
popular will to see greater co-operation in place of polarisation between different parties.
A ce sujet, un élément important mérite d’être abordé: qu’en est-il du rôle d’un MP et un
représentant d’une circonscription écossaise à Westminster?
Cette question reste en suspens car, dès lors que le Parlement écossais est instauré,
Westminster ne votera plus de lois applicables en Ecosse. Pourquoi aurait-on 72 ou 56
représentants écossais qui pourront voter des lois anglaises et galloises, alors même qu’ils ne
représentent que des circonscriptions écossaises? Cette situation est d’autant plus dérangeante
que l’inverse n’est pas vrai, puisqu’aucun député anglais ne pourra exercer ses prérogatives à
Malgré tout, le Royaume-Uni subsiste et la présence de représentants écossais à Westminster
s’avère donc nécessaire à l’adoption de lois relevant du pouvoir central, comme les dispositions
en matière fiscale. Le métier de député issu d’une circonscription écossaise va s’en trouver
What are the similarities between the Scottish experience and that of New Caledonia –
There are obvious similarities – questions of self government, national identity, etc. But I would
argue that there are more differences than similarities, principally because of the language
factor. Indeed I would say that because of this, Wales and Catalonia are closer to Quebec than
Scotland because their national languages serve as significant cultural markers. In Scotland
there is only a small community of Gaelic speakers, so language cannot be considered as such
an important factor.
Unlike Quebec, Scotland is situated within the context of a greater, politically integrating
European Union, and this has the effect of blurring boundaries between separatism and
autonomy. Independence for Scotland would mean independence in Europe and, as Alex
Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party says, one of the first things he would do in power
would be to create a British Association. There is a lesson to be learnt from referenda and in
Scotland a referendum on independence looms on the horizon should the SNP gain a majority.
If the SNP were to come to power and hold a referendum which proved to be inconclusive,
would it then campaign for another? After the referenda of 1979 and 1997 and unrelenting
constitutional pressure, I honestly think people in Scotland want to get back to real politics. I met
up recently with Alan Massie, a Scottish journalist, who told me, referring to the “never-end-um”
in Quebec, that “if Scotland had a choice between the Quebec and the Catalonian experience it
would choose Catalonia,” and I think this sums things up. The current feeling in Scotland seems
to be “We have the parliament now, let’s make the parliament work for us and not go on about
an independence which might or might not come to us in time.”
Finally, I should also stress that in the SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections, the
referendum for independence featured as the last item on their list of priorities, therefore, in my
opinion, referenda for independence in Wales and in Scotland are certainly not on the cards at
As I said in my introductory remarks, Plaid Cymru have never used the term independence. The
reason for this is that we don’t believe that any country in the modern world can be entirely
independent from others. Within a united Europe we want to see appropriate functions being
decided at appropriate levels.
Firstly, assuming that Europe remains and develops the prospects for Wales and Scotland
within its evolving structure, then the future for our nations are somewhat different to the
prospects for an independent Quebec because of the formal nature of structural arrangements
in the European Union. Moreover, if the EU develops its common foreign and defence policy
then the definition of “independence” for all European nations and member states will be called
Secondly, although it is possible that after the next election, the SNP in Scotland and Plaid
Cymru in Wales will be the largest parties within our respective Parliament and Assembly, it is
by no means assured that this will give a mandate for independence in Scotland or for self
government for Wales. The electorate may feel confident in voting for the SNP in Scotland and
Plaid Cymru in Wales but they will exercise this vote in the knowledge that they also have a
safety valve in the form of a referendum through which they can vote against independence if
they don’t want it. At this point in time
we have not reached this stage in Wales, and we will take things as they come.
Could the panel explain something about “The West Lothian Question?”
For those of you who are not familiar with the term West Lothian Question, it is a short hand
reference to a parliamentary question in the 1970s which was repeatedly asked by the Member
of Parliament for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell. He asked, “After the establishment of a Scottish
Parliament, why should a Scottish Member of Parliament at Westminster be able to vote on
laws that only apply to England, whereas English MPs will not be able to vote on laws that apply
only to Scotland?”
This question remains as relevant as ever and to a large extent, unanswered. It reflects a
situation which is a product of unbalanced constitutional development and of constitutional
asymmetry. As Robert has already explained, we don’t have a fully federal structure of
government in the UK where functions are clearly devolved to federal units and without it there
is bound to be imbalance. The most notable example of this problem of constitutional
equilibrium arose in the context of the Stormont government for Northern Ireland following the
1922 settlement where the issue of imbalance was resolved by reducing the number of MPs
representing Northern Ireland in Westminster from something like 20 to 12. With the abolition of
Stormont, this quota of seats increased to 17 but the Stormont example still serves to show that
there is a means to ensure some sort of rough and ready justice through reducing the number of
MPs. The alternative solution relies upon the self-denying ordonnance of Scottish, Welsh and
Northern Irish MPs not to vote on matters which concern England alone. Obviously, in this latter
situation there is scope for even larger political problems where governments with small
majorities might well be dependent upon the votes of their Scottish and Welsh members in order
to carry legislation. Indeed this situation has occurred in the past and without the support of
Scottish and Welsh MPs, threatens to render such minority governments incapable of carrying
out their mandates in the context of England. As you see, there are huge issues we still need to
confront regarding constitutional balance and they represent difficulties which will surely come
to the surface in coming years.
Do you see the same degree of constitutional imbalance arising for Wales, as for
Yes, although in Scotland the imbalance will be more accentuated because the Scottish
Parliament has the right to make primary as well as secondary legislation.
In Wales the question of imbalance arises with regard to executive decisions and particularly
those concerning expenditure but also through matters concerning secondary legislation. An
example of this might be the precedents which might arise from the abolition of charges for
dental and eye checks. These will be abolished in Wales but retained in England and the
question will therefore be whether Welsh MPs at Westminster should have the right to vote on
the issue as secondary legislation in the House of Commons in England.
Quelles sont les différences fondamentales entre la décentralisation française et la
Même si aux termes de l’article 72 de notre actuelle Constitution, “les collectivités territoriales
de la République sont gouvernées par des assemblées élues…”, la décentralisation en France -
à l’exception des TOM - reste limitée à une décentralisation administrative, du type de celle
instaurée au Pays de Galles. Aussi, les lois applicables sur l’intégralité du territoire français
(Métropole) sont adoptées par le Parlement à Paris; autrement dit, la décentralisation écossaise
va bien au delà de la décentralisation telle qu’on la connaît en France (“Mainland”).
On the basis of the less than satisfactory opinion poll results for the Labour Party, in the
run up to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections, does the panel
anticipate that the Labour party will go ahead with plans to introduce a measure of
Proportional Representation (PR) for Westminster elections as has been recommended
in the Jenkins report?
Dafydd, do you think that Proportional Representation for Westminster elections is now more or
Well, the tendency in Westminster amongst MPs is against PR. However, I personally believe in
Proportional Representation because I believe in sovereignty coming upwards from the people
and that any Assembly or Parliament should exist to reflect the balance of the wishes of the
people. I do not believe that a system is democratic if it is expected to produce a working
majority at every election, regardless of whether the result is representative of the views of the
In my opinion, if people have a range of views which do not coalesce into a total majority around
one party, then it is as much the fault of the political parties as it is the fault of the people. More
specifically though, when we think about the Jenkins report, we should be aware that feeling
within the Parliamentary Labour Party remains fairly strongly against PR. As I see things there is
perhaps a 2:1 or 3:1 majority of Labour MPs who are against PR. There are several reasons for
this, but in my opinion Labour Party members have looked at models in New Zealand and
experiences in Scotland and Wales and are naturally worried about the electoral repercussions.
At the Welsh Assembly elections Labour failed to get elected in first-past-the-post seats for
places like the Rhondda Valley which have always been at the heart of Labour’s stronghold in
Wales. I think it would be equally true to say that the fear of a swing to the SNP or Plaid Cymru
in first-past-the-post seats would make Labour hesitate before moving away from PR in Wales
or Scotland. While these are salient points, other political considerations like the basis of reform
for the House of Lords, will finally decide whether proportional representation is introduced at
On verra bien si finalement la Chambre des Lords sera composée de membres élus ou non. Si
c’est le cas, le scrutin qui sera retenu sera très certainement proportionnel, si bien qu’en l’état,
la Chambre des Lords deviendra plus représentative que la Chambre des Communes, ce qui
risque de provoquer des tensions entre les deux assemblées.
Funnily enough, I believe that there is a likelihood that the Conservative party will move
towards advocating something akin to a full federal system for the UK before long because they
believe that this will provide the checks and balances which do not presently exist either in
Scotland or in Wales. This would be a great irony because the Conservative Party has
traditionally opposed a written constitution and federation on a European level but nevertheless
it may well be that they are the party who are the most tempted by it in the context of
Westminster. If this is the case the House of Lords will almost certainly be the unit which is used
to provide a federal balance mirroring the German model. So in the UK it is feasible that the
upper chamber will be reformed to become representative of nations and regions.
I will add just two things to that, firstly regarding PR and secondly, federal constitutions.
After Labour’s general election victory on 1 May 1997, many people said that they would not
honour their promise to introduce PR. As the first-past-the-post system had just laid a golden
egg for the Labour Party in the form of a landslide majority, why would they bother changing it?
Well, when we consider PR, we should remember that the Labour party actually did introduce it
for the Welsh and Scottish elections in spite of the threat it represented to their healthy
majorities in these areas.
Although the level of PR which was agreed in the Scottish Constitutional Convention was not
quite the same as that used in other European states and represented an approximation
towards proportionality, rather than full proportionality, it was none the less a clear signal that
the Labour Party were prepared to give away their absolute majority. The majority in the next
Westminster Parliament could be smaller, and there is even a possibility that the Labour Party is
voted out of office at the next Scottish Parliament election. On the other hand, people remember
the consequences of huge government majorities based on 35% and 40% of the vote, produced
by the first-past-the-post system during the last Conservative government and also how the
Greens won 74.5% of the vote in the European elections of five years ago without securing a
single seat. Representation of this kind is not democratic.
Federalism is often seen, in Britain, as a centralising concept, a rigid strait jacket. In Europe,
federalism is seen as decentralising, a bedfellow of regionalism. And it has been remarked that
the most dynamic and flexible element of, for instance, the German constitution has been
federalism! In Britain any move towards federalism will always be uneven, asymmetrical, either
involving England (which is disproportionately large, compared with Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland), or the English regions which would create a federal “mix” of regions and
nations, similar in a way to the Spanish model.
On the question of federalism I would also briefly like to point out that while reform of the House
of Lords may indeed produce some sort of federal chamber for regional representation, there is
already another federal institution in existence waiting to make use of its full powers. This is the
Council of the Isles, which is envisaged on the basis of the Belfast Agreement of last year.
Does the panel think that the House of Lords should be replaced by an elected chamber
or a senate?
Quite clearly there is more than one debate going on and these consider many different models
of reform for the House of Lords. One model suggests direct, or at least partly direct elections
under the PR system to the Lords. Another model suggests the possibility of representation
from regions and there is yet another potential structure which would bring together the aspects
of both of these models and prescribes full proportionality worked out on a regional basis.
Before you go any further Dafydd, I am going to draw a line under that as Lords Reform and the
French experience are other subjects which will be discussed in a future Rendez-Vous
Does the panel share the opinion that adding extra layers of government is related to the
rise, at best, of budgetary waste, and at worst, budgetary sleaze?
There is no doubt that pockets of sleaze and corruption exist within our present model of
government. They exist primarily within local government where there are often many benefits
to be reaped from what is sometimes one party rule. Subsequently, I think that whatever we
decide in the National Assembly for Wales or in the Scottish Parliament there will be a need to
look at mechanisms which can check sleaze and corruption within local government in Wales,
Scotland and England. In order to do this it is vital to ensure effective opposition within local
government which can challenge governing groups at every level.
There is also another equally important issue which should be considered here and which is as
crucial to good government as the eradication of sleaze and corruption. This is the duplication
of functions which must be avoided before we can ensure that all Welsh or all Scottish decisions
which are decided democratically in the National Assembly and in the Scottish Parliament are
not duplicated at Westminster. In Wales there is considerable danger of duplication because of
our devolved powers to decide secondary and not primary legislation such as education or
health. I feel strongly that this danger will be one of the greatest contributing factors towards
evolution of the National Assembly for Wales towards the Scottish model in the coming years.
What role does the panel see for the mooted Council of the Isles within the devolution
As I said, the Council of the Isles is based on last year’s Good Friday Agreement. Some say
that it was only a sop for the Unionists which would provide another link between the
government of Northern Ireland and the UK, but it was actually a concept which was mooted
also by people like John Hume. It is, per se, a very flimsy concept which looks at questions of
“all island” dimensions, like transport and infrastructure.
It is a body which was conceived to bring together the devolved governments of the UK with the
UK government in Westminster and the Irish government in Dublin and therefore it actually goes
beyond the geographical scope and practice of the United Kingdom. Since it is based upon an
international treaty, the Council has given the governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern
Ireland an international role without itself constituting an element of the devolution framework.
Although the structure has yet to be put into full use it is important to remember that because it
originates from an international treaty, it cannot be easily dissolved.
There are at present a considerable number of consultations on the remit of the Council of the
Isles or the “British-Irish Council.” The Council, if and when it is set up, will meet on a regular
basis at Ministerial and Prime Ministerial levels. There is therefore little doubt about the potential
which exists for developing the Council into a body responsible for co-ordinating positions on
European legislation on behalf of the network of devolved regions. In practice, however, no one
really knows how this will work and, despite considerable goodwill in Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland, it remains doubtful as to whether the UK government really wants to develop
the potential and give the Council an important role.
As a Member of Parliament for North West Wales, there are many issues on a day to day basis
which require me to have a strong relationship with the Irish Republic. There are questions
about sea crossings, pollution in the Irish Sea, tourism, fishing and even European issues like
the Inter-Reg programme which links the Republic of Ireland and the West of Wales. Therefore,
as far as I am concerned the Council of the Isles would be a pragmatic way of bringing us
There is another level of importance for the Council. That is the need to look ahead to the way
that government relationships will evolve, and that there are many areas of common interest
which will remain between the people in the different regions and nations of the UK. If Scotland
gets full independence and Wales becomes self governing within Europe there will always be a
“British reality” and a new relationship will develop between the people living in the British Isles,
It is, after all, impossible and undesirable to wipe away a thousand years of history. When
Norway gained independence from Sweden there was a mood to get some sort of Nordic
Council and basis for Scandinavian co-operation. Within the new government relationships in
Britain there could be a need for similar bodies which are able to co-operate and bring people
together. It is possible that the Council of the Isles is an embryonic approach to thinking about
these new relationships in the coming century and in my opinion it may well be a seed which will
Eberhard Bort is Associate Director of the International Institute of Social Sciences and a
member of the Governance in Scotland Forum. During the Scottish Parliament elections
Eberhard Bort briefed print and electronic media on behalf of the Scottish and Foreign Offices
and participated in a number of public conferences organised by the Governance in Scotland
Forum, the Centre for Scottish Public Policy in Glasgow and a range of organisations in Wales
and Germany. Since 1995 he has been working on an ESRC funded research project on ‘The
Internal and External Frontiers of the European Union’ and recent publications include editing
with Malcolm Anderson, Boundaries and Identities : The Eastern Frontier of the European
Union, (1996); Schengen and EU enlargement, (1997); The Borders and the Waverley Route,
(1999); and with Neil Evans, Networking Europe: Essays on Regionalism and Social
Professor Robert Hazell founded the Constitution Unit at University College London (UCL) in
1995. He is Director of the Constitution Unit’s independent inquiry into the implementation of
constitutional reform in the UK, which is now widely acclaimed as a leading authority on the
Constitutional Reform programme. Previously Director of the Nuffield Foundation, Robert Hazell
began his career as a barrister but spent most of his working life as a civil servant in the Home
Office until leaving Whitehall in 1989. He is Professor of Government and the Constitution at the
School of Public Policy at UCL and earlier this year published: Constitutional Futures: A history
of the next ten years. (1999)
Anthony Lacoudre is a solicitor in the international tax department of HSD Ernst and Young.
From 1993-1995 he practised law in Prague and in 1997 he successfully applied to the British
Council’s European Young Lawyers Scheme spending six months in Edinburgh learning
Scottish legal practice. In May 1999 he was selected by the British Council to take part in an
International Seminar on constitutional change during the Scottish Parliament and Welsh
Assembly elections. This involved shadowing candidates and reflecting on the structure and
results of the elections with an international group of individuals. Anthony Lacoudre has written
widely on aspects of constitutional change in the UK with articles in Les Petites Affiches, Le
Figaro and Les Echos. He also lectures in international taxation law at the economics faculty of
the Université Paris Dauphine.
Rt. Hon Dafydd Wigley PC MP AM has been President of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist
Party, from 1981-1984 and since 1991. Previously an industrial economist working for Hoover,
Ford and Mars he was elected as Member of Parliament for Caernarfon in 1974. On 6 May
1999 Dafydd Wigley was elected Member of the National Assembly for Wales representing the
Caernarfon constituency and now leads the second largest party of the National Assembly for
Wales. He has also been a member of the National Committee for Electoral Reform since its
creation in 1981. Publications include: A Democratic Wales in a United Europe (1995) and A
Real Choice for Wales (1996).