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Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to run several articles by respected commentators concerning their predictions and aspirations for 2011 regarding the particular field they work in. As the Yes Campaign for Wales to have law making powers in devolved areas launched last night, it seems appropriate to write about my own predictions and hopes concerning constitutional change.
Constitutional issues have always been seen as an issue solely for political geeks, and have thus historically been marginalised as a minor concern. However with several major constitutional changes introduced by the previous government, and more to be introduced by the coalition, the British constitution has undergone and is undergoing a big transformation. In a way the constitution is playing catch up to changes in the political culture. There has also been a major shift from a two party system towards a multi-party system where at least 6 political parties are capable of winning seats in the various parliaments and assemblies, and the expenses scandals and growth of online forms of political commentary have –for better or for worse – ended the traditional deference shown towards MPs and elected representatives.
Constitutional issues are also important because they decide the rules of the political game. Often those rules favour the interests of those who designed them, and those who have been involved in political campaigning from the perspective of social justice have sometimes felt that the system is against them. It has been described as like a rugby or football team having to constantly play away and uphill, occasionally you may score a goal or even win a match, but the odds are against you.
So the changes that have occurred over the last 10 years have been broadly welcomed, and some of the changes planned to occur are increasingly initiated on all sides of the political spectrum. However on some major or controversial constitutional issues referenda are still required. Hence this year will see referenda on moving to AV as well as the welsh referendum.
In 2011, regardless of the result of either of the referenda, constitutional changes will occur. Many will be minor changes broadly welcomed across the spectrum, such as publishing more details of government and local authority spending online, others will be major changes pushed through more controversially such as reducing the number of MPs in Westminster with re-drawn boundaries. My prediction is this that Wales will vote Yes to greater responsibility, but unfortunately the lack of enthusiasm for AV even amongst supporters of electoral reform will see the No campaign victorious.
But predictions are not the same as hopes, and my hopes are that both referenda are won by the yes campaigns, who run positive messages throughout. Furthermore the process of de-centralisation continues with devolved institutions created in England, media pluralism becomes wider with Murdoch’s bid to control Sky blocked, and libel laws are reformed more liberally. Basically that the political game takes place on a more level playing field, has a greater number of participants and becomes more enjoyable for those who play it.