From the Senedd: Rhodri Glyn Thomas


by Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM

There was a lively debate in the Senedd this week on the downgrading of services in our district general hospitals across Wales, with a particular focus on Bronglais, Aberystwyth. About 1,000 protestors came to the steps of the Senedd to express their concern – a definite sign that any political institution has deserved its place is the presence of people protesting outside that institution. But the debate continued within the Senedd. Plaid Cymru argued that the Hywel Dda Health Board had an agenda of downgrading, and the First Minister responded by accusing Plaid Cymru members of scaremongering. I wonder whether the Labour Member for Llanelli is scaremongering in this picture?

Another accusation made by the First Minister was that Plaid Cymru members ignored medical opinion. It is interesting to note that 50 of the 60 doctors working at Ysbyty Bronglais have signed a letter stating that they have lost all confidence in the Hywel Dda Health Board. But apparently the First Minister does not count this as medical opinion.

On Wednesday afternoon, I had an opportunity, in the absence of David Melding, to preside during the debates. In addition to keeping order, the Presiding Officer has the power to decide when Members speak, and more importantly, when to wind up their contributions. Oddly enough, it appears that contributing to the discussion and keeping an eye on the clock is beyond the ability of several members.

On Thursday morning, the BBC published a St David’s Day opinion poll showing that 64% of the population of Wales favoured giving the National Assembly for Wales tax-raising powers. Only 7% of the population favoured independence, with the percentage rising to 12% should Scotland choose to go down that route. Statistics can be interpreted in different ways, but it appears to me that this poll suggests that devolution in Wales engenders its own dynamic. There is no turning back, and Wales does not necessarily follow exactly in Scotland’s footsteps. At last, a sign of civic maturity in the new Wales!

On March 1st, the Welsh Government launched a new Welsh Language strategy. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with strategies. But looking at this particular one, there appears to be nothing new about it either. At least the Government does seem to want to convince us that it is serious about the need to promote the language. Time will tell. On the same date, Nominet launched its application to establish a bilingual .cymru .wales. domain name. Research showed that the majority of users consulted favoured .cymru and the majority of business favoured .wales. The encouraging message was that the vast majority favoured one or the other rather than a British domain name or one which designated no nationhood. A further sign of the growth of Welsh citizenship.

The week began for me with the visit of the Petitions Committee to Carmarthenshire. A petition had been presented regarding noise from turbines at a windfarm in Alltwalis. The petitioners’ complaint was similar to that of the Bronglais protesters, namely that the Welsh Government was not listening to them. There are undoubtedly technical problems at the Alltwalis windfarm which affects the quality of life of some of the residents. It would be a shame if the deficiencies of the Statkraft company led to a polarisation of opinion on renewable energy and doubts about climate change.

The message of the week to the Welsh Government, therefore, is that a willingness to listen is a sign of strength rather than weakness. And while the National Assembly for Wales gains in strength and confidence as an institution, the same is not necessarily true of the Welsh Government – well, not for the protesters of Bronglais and the residents of Alltwalis, at least.