Huw Owen continues his series of interviews quizzing upcoming politicians on their particular interests and their views on the state of Welsh Politics
Russell George is the Conservative AM for Montgomeryshire. He was born in Welshpool in 1974’ and was brought up and attended school in Montgomeryshire. Apart from 3 years when he attended university in Birmingham, achieving a BA(Hons) degree in Information and Media Studies, he has lived in Montgomeryshire all his life. He owns a business in Newtown town centre, and is well known for being a committed campaigner who is aware of the local issues. In terms of his political background, he has served as a Powys County Councillor, representing Newtown Central. He was elected to the Assembly in the most recent election, in 2011. Russell’s political interests include transport, the protection of the Welsh environment, local government and community regeneration. As the Spokesperson for the Welsh Conservatives for the Environment, he is known for his constant calls on the Welsh Government to review its Renewable Energy Policy and its controversial Technical Advice Note 8 (TAN8).
Russell’s personal interests include keeping healthy and often attends the local gym. He is an active member of Hope Community Church in Newtown and as such, has been involved in many projects that support the community.
So Russell, not many of my readers may know the differences between the Conservatives and the Central Party: can you tell me how the Welsh Conservatives differ from the other parties, and the UK Central party?
Well, the Welsh Conservatives are a separate party from the central party. There is also the Assembly Group, which is again a separate entity to the main party and the Welsh Party. This allows us to make policies that differ from the central party in Government in Westminster. This means that the Welsh Conservatives can be a more policy diverse party from the Central Party. The best way to sum it up I suppose is ‘same values, different policy.’
So on the back of that, what do you see as the biggest issue or issues in Welsh politics at the current time?
As far as I can see it, the biggest issue is devolution. Scotland has their independence referendum coming up next year, and Wales has to respond to that. Wales needs to formulate plans in order to move forward off the back of both outcomes in 2014. Then, there is the question of more powers: do we devolve deeper along the lines suggested by the First Minister and the Silk Commission, or do we take a different route? Whichever we choose, it is clear to me that Walesneeds to make local decisions. We need to take decisions in both Cardiff Bay and in councils across Wales, and this locality is the one of the biggest things for me.
Welsh politics is clearly evolving separately from that in England and Scotland, so where do you see Welsh politics being in 10 years’ time?
I may have answered this question with my previous answer! But just to reiterate, Wales needs to look at the result from Scotland and respond appropriately. We need more local decision making, and whether that is in Cardiff Bay or in local councils remains to be seen.
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?
There certainly is some adjustment necessary. I think we should honestly look at a federal UK, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland still in the UK. Westminster would have responsibility for the major issues, things like defence, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland having responsibility for other issues. This would mean having powers similar to what we have now, but some additions for all three nations. A federal system, like Germany or the USA seems to be the natural progression for me, with all four nations of the UK linked by a central government in Westminster.
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?
I think that Wales shouldn’t really look to develop a bigger voice in the EU as a stand-alone nation, or region, and that Wales should look to benefit from the EU in the same way that the UK does. In my opinion, there are more negatives than positives to an expanding EU, and Wales would be better off staying as part of the UK delegation, as Wales will have a better chance of not being drowned out by other similar nations and more voices. I admit that going it alone with regard to the EU could lead to better strategy but Wales would be better served as part of the UK.
So, for my final question, with regards 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 obviously very important, but is it important in terms of Welsh politics solely? Not in my opinion. However, the Welsh language is a very important culturally. I’ve become more patriotic towards Wales as I’ve grown older and the more patriotic I become, the more I see the language as a massive cultural device that can help Wales preserve what is a very distinct and unique culture, one that needs preserving. This is indicated to me by the fact that UK organisations are opening Welsh branches, with a focus on serving Wales in both Welsh and English. Therefore, I think Welsh is massively important culturally, but not solely in terms of politics.
Huw is an alumnus of Aberystwyth University, and an analyst and researcher of Welsh politics. He tweets as @HuwOwen12