Huw Owen continues his series of interviews quizzing upcoming politicians on their particular interests and their views on the state of Welsh Politics.
Originally from West Wales, Labour AM for Cardiff West Mark Drakeford moved to Cardiff more than 30 years ago, settling in the Pontcanna area of the City. A former probation officer, youth justice worker and Barnardo’s project leader in Ely and Caerau, he is currently Professor of Social Policy and Applied Social Sciences at Cardiff University, and has also taught previously at Swansea University. Mark’s interests are very diverse, and include topics such as rail travel, biodiversity and the Welsh language.
In the 1980s and 1990s Mark was a Labour Councillor on South Glamorgan County Council, specialising in education issues, including Welsh-medium education. Between 2000 and 2010 he worked as the Cabinet’s health and social policy adviser at the Welsh Government. It was this political background, and an understanding of the complex and diverse issues in Welsh politics, that made me tag Mark Drakeford as the perfect candidate from Welsh Labour for an interview.
So Mark, not many of our readers may know the differences between Welsh Labour and the Central Party: can you tell me how Welsh Labour differs from the other parties, and the UK Central party?
Well, first off, there is a de facto constitutional difference. Although Welsh Labour is part of the main UK party, Carwyn Jones is the de facto leader of the Party, and the party in the Assembly is similar to the UK parliamentary party. However, despite this, there is a large difference. Welsh Labour organise their own constituency groups and parties, right from the candidate to the volunteers who help the party. Welsh Labour also holds its own conference, separate from the national party, although members are free to attend both!
The main difference however comes in policy. Welsh Labour is free to set its own policy, sometimes differing from that of the central party. This is probably due to the fact that Welsh Labour has always been more to the left of the spectrum than the central party. This is attributable to the history and economy of Wales, with Labour growing up in the industrial areas in the Valleys and the North of the country. We also have a greater ability to respond to the people’s wishes here in Wales, as we are a smaller organization, allowing us more scope to change policy constituency by constituency.
So on the back of that, what do you see as the biggest issue or issues in Welsh politics at the current time?
As I see it, there is only one main issue in Welsh politics at the current time, and that is the economy. Austerity policies that are bad for the UK as a whole are disastrous for Wales, as the country has struggled to recover from other downturns in certain industries. I feel that the austerity policies have trapped the UK economy, particularly in Wales, and have led to a stagnation of growth that really restricts the ability of this country to regenerate and provide jobs. I feel it is the job of the Assembly to try and rectify this as best we can, as, without the Assembly, we may struggle to bounce back from the economic difficulties.
Welsh politics is clearly evolving separately from that in England and Scotland, so where do you see Welsh politics being in 10 years’ time?
Welsh politics is evolving as you say, and, as far as I see it, there could be no end to devolution. The First Minister recently referred to the devolution of criminal justice powers, and there is constant debate about the devolution of tax powers as well. These are good, achievable goals that could see Wales gaining, and benefitting more from, the devolution of these powers. I feel there is a need for wider and broader responsibilities, certainly in tax areas and possibly in criminal justice as suggested by the First Minister.
We can also look at the example of Scotland. They’ve flourished under devolution, and have similar powers to those being called for in Wales. This is an avenue that has to be explored, particularly with the Scottish Independence vote coming up in 2014. As a country, we must look to investigate our options in the wake of the result, be it positive or negative.
In terms of the further devolution of powers to Wales, do you feel that Welsh MP’s should be barred from voting on purely English (if there is such a thing) issues?
It’s a complicated question. Is there such a thing a solely English issue? Anything that is passed in England has a direct effect on Wales: for example, anything passed in Parliament to do with the NHS will affect constituencies on both sides of the border. English people using Welsh services will have a different experience to Welsh people using English services. There will always be some effect. Would stopping Welsh MP’s voting on these issues change this? It wouldn’t, so there has to be some sort of compromise. With devolution, there is a possibility that the UK will evolve into a federal state, with Parliament having control over things like defence, and the regions will control most other things. The problem is, we have to be careful about picking a system, as British politics has evolved differently from states such as Germany and the USA. If anything is to change, it must happen the British way, that is to say organically.
With more devolution seemingly on the horizon, how important is it that Wales plays a role in the EU, and does the country need to start building its own profile within the EU?
With Wales, there is a consensus on the need for a voice in Europe; unlike in Scotland, where there was, and still is, some debate on the issue, especially in regard to the upcoming independence vote. An active and distinct voice for Wales in Europe is very important. We need to make sure we get a fair deal in Europe, and developing a voice within the EU is exactly the way to do that. In regard to the upcoming Scottish independence vote, if they and subsequently Catalonia leave the UK and Spain respectively, it will have a profound effect on the EU. It will enable smaller nations to have their say more effectively and could see Wales having to change the way it deals with the EU. In this regard, an independent voice is very important.
So, for my final question, with regard to the EU and the potential for further devolution of powers to Wales, how important do you think the Welsh language is to the future of Welsh politics?
The Welsh language is a hugely important asset to Wales. It plays a role in culture and economics. The diversity of the country is very attractive to businesses, and the language plays a huge part in that. However, the same may not be said of politics and the language. In terms of safeguarding our cultural and economic heritage, then politics has a role, as, without it, Wales would be lost. However, language may not play the role in politics that some say it can and does. What cannot be disputed however is the importance of the language in terms of Wales’ economic and cultural development.