Tuesday 6 October 2009

Cameron's 'Council of the Nations'

Political party conferences are designed primarily for generating publicity and 'momentum', especially at the moment in Britain, where the current set of party conferences will be the last before next year's Westminster election. Much of the content is designed to add to the atmosphere of success, dynamism, and most importantly electability of the parties. Hence specific semi-promises should be seen in that light – they are tasters, not hard policy.

David Cameron's plan for a 'Council of the Nations', revealed to BBC Wales at the Tory party conference, should be seen in that light – it is little more than a half-baked plan, designed to mollify the voters of Wales and Scotland who see the Tories as basically English.

Cameron's plan would involve 'an annual "council of the nations" meeting involving the UK's first ministers and the prime minister'. The meeting would bring 'the leading politicians in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland together with the prime minister, would discuss "issues about how we keep the family of the UK together"'.

In those two simple sentences we see how little thought has gone into Cameron's plan – or perhaps, how despite some thought, Northern Ireland just isn't on Cameron's radar.

Firstly because Northern Ireland does not have just a First Minister, it has co-equal First and Deputy First Ministers, who cannot operate independently. You get two for the price of one, so to speak – an invitation to one is an invitation to both.

Secondly, and far more importantly, the Deputy First Minister (and perhaps the future First Minister) is dedicated to precisely the opposite of Cameron's agenda – Sinn Féin want to split the UK right down the Irish Sea, and most certainly do not want to "keep the family of the UK together".

So if these meetings are designed to 'keep the family of the UK together', then Sinn Féin will not play along, and if the Deputy First Minister does not go, then the First Minster cannot go, at least not in an official capacity. Cameron's 'Council of the Nations' is clearly not part of the structures set up in the Good Friday Agreement, or its St Andrews extension, where the role and powers of the Northern Irish FM and DFM are set out (and formalised in the implementing legislation). The Ministerial Code, which forms part of that implementing legislation, requires all ministers, including the FM: "to observe the joint nature of the offices of First Minister and deputy First Minister".

So unless Cameron intends to change the St Andrews Agreement and the Ministerial Code to include a requirement by the FM and DFM to attend meetings of his 'Council of the Nations', it will remain merely a piece of party conference fluff, to be forgotten within a short time.


Anonymous said...

Of course, Scotland's First Minister (and Deputy First Minister) are in the SNP, and hardly likely to want to discuss how to "keep the UK together" with Cameron either!

So I can't see this council having too many productive meetings.

Watcher said...

Maybe it will be confined to those who support The UK - keep the vermin out...

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts. What about a U.K. version of the U.S. senate? Each 'country' sends five elected members to this second body and it has powers roughly equal to the house of commons. It would give Wales, Scotland, etc the regional balance in London that a simple 'rep by pop' parliament just can't do. Alternatively perhaps the time has come to just dissolve the U.K. Do a Czech-style 'velvet divorce'.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. I thought at first "yeah, yeah, but to say first ministers and deputy first ministers is a bit long-winded"

Then the role of the deputy hit me and I started to laugh. And then I read the first comment.

I'm going to pour myself a whisky (no whiskey in the house).


Anonymous said...

dont forget the goverment has the absolute power to abolish or change the structure of the assemblies.first and formost there should be a majority rule in all assemblies and with a first minister. its gonna fall apart next year anyway the whole lot becuase they dont work and have no real power.
simple as this sinn fein should never be in goverment. they are mostly convicted terrorists.