Welsh Assembly Elections 2016 – a nine month alarm call

It’s just gone 10pm on the 5th August 2015, and I’ve just finished listening to an excerpt of an interview with Michael Sheen on BBC Wales, in which he challenged us, in Wales, to believe in ourselves.

In exactly nine months time, the ballot boxes will have been taken from polling stations across Wales, and counting will have begun, in what I think, is Wales’ most important election since devolution.

The world is in a state of flux; changes are happening around us that only history will recognise as being so volatile, and in the new world that emerges, I’m convinced that the nimbler will come out on the winning side. Arguably small is the new big – and we’re small, so here’s our opportunity.

Here’s a first stab at my manifesto wish-list – admittedly it’s really only a list of questions, but a list that I think is important:

Education – how can we truly help our children thrive in a world where jobs as we know them are likely not to exist. The Donaldson report merely scratches the surface. Take a listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s view on the matter in his TED talk – there really is another way, and we in Wales, could be pioneers. Education fails too many at the moment – if things don’t change dramatically, it’ll fail a whole lot more.

Health – much of the debate around the NHS at the General Election in May centred on the differentials between Welsh & English management of the service. Why on earth are we concerned with what happens over the border. If they’re different it’s because their health priorities are different to ours. Let’s build the best NHS for the Nation of Wales, and let’s start by concerning ourselves with improving health at the community level, and focusing as much with the social causes of health problems, as we do the medical interventions that are unfortunately often too late, and therefore hugely expensive. Remember, small is the new big…

Government – how can the role of government be simplified. This will take a brave politician or two to deliver, but it needs to do much, much more with less, much less. This debate is often characterised as taking tough choices – but I’m less convinced. For example, as a civil society it is wrong that so many Welsh people live in abject poverty – poverty blights communities, it curtails futures, and it kills. Our social safety net must catch people, and at a level that doesn’t make them feel worthless. This must be our priority, but many of the answers lie in strengthening our communities – and you know what; we in Wales get this. We may have hidden it a little bit in recent years, but scratch the surface and it’s there. From a cost perspective government is often delivered cheaper, when it’s delivered locally. We can do more, with less, and we, I think, can do more with less better than anyone else.

Economy & Enterprise – Wales’ economy has bumbled along at the bottom of the UK (& European) economic league tables for far too long, and yet we still continue to do the same old, same old, and expect a different result. There’s a highly developed echo chamber in Cardiff Bay & Cathays Park that believes the PRollocks they themselves are spouting. This is an area, Governments should simply jump on their horse and get out of Dodge… Businesses don’t need to be ‘Mamby-Pambied’, they need to be able to fail if they’re not good enough, get finance when they convince the financier, engage the professional help they believe they need, and employ the people they think are right for the business. Also, let’s back ourselves. Let’s not focus on bringing inward investors in to the Country to the detriment of local businesses – because the local businesses will keep the wealth they create local. Inward investors will grab their money, travel over the Severn Bridge, jump on a plane in Heathrow and count the spoils in some far flung tax haven.

Community & Hiraeth – instead of championing the community values that exist within our tight-knit communities, we seem hell-bent of trying to be something else. Those readers with children are likely to be familiar with this refrain “be the best YOU; because you’ll never be the best someone else.” So if we hold the values of family, community, social cohesion in high regard, let’s make them the central part of our Country. Silicon Valley already exists; putting an ‘s’ on the end of Valley won’t make it so. Let’s be the best Wales. Nobody can beat us at that.

Sustainability – the Earth’s resources continue to be under pressure, so let’s be bold and develop ways to be the World Leaders in Water, Food Education & Renewable Energy.

Nation-building – whilst we rely on the Barnett formula to keep the Welsh economy alive, we’ll stay poor. This payment mechanism was always meant to be transitory, but instead of devising a replacement, let’s start a medium term conversation about how we end our dependency. A healthy relationship can’t survive when one party relies on the other so completely, surely?

This wish-list isn’t exhaustive – and I accept its not policy prescriptive, but I think it goes some way to answering Michael’s challenge, whilst also recognising the changing world we live in.

If no political party is capable of believing in us; the people of Wales, they’re not worthy of our votes. They’ve got nine months to convince us otherwise. Or more accurately, they’ve got until the close of nominations…….

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