Year 2000 No.25, February 11, 2000

Crisis in the Welsh Assembly

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Crisis in the Welsh Assembly

US Imperialism Discusses Closer Arms Industry Links

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Crisis in the Welsh Assembly

The crisis in the Welsh Assembly is an indication of the failure of the old arrangements which the government imposed on the political processes and institutions of the devolved body.

It may well be that a factor in the resignation of Alun Michael as Welsh First Secretary on February 9, just prior to losing a vote of no confidence, was the fact that he was seen as Tony Blair’s man. But this could be said to be a symptom of the fundamental flaw in the way the Welsh Assembly is constituted, which is that sovereignty resides at Westminster and not with the Welsh people. As such, the crisis cannot be resolved by the replacement of one First Secretary by another, or by a coalition government. In addition, that the Assembly is being run on the old model of a party or a coalition of parties in power and a party or coalition of parties in opposition is exacerbating the crisis. First of all, this model presupposes a two-party system, where an equilibrium is maintained of one party in power and another in opposition, which at election time may undergo turn and turn about. The essence of this system is as a mechanism to keep the people away from political power.

In the Welsh Assembly, as well as in the Scottish Parliament, the conception derived from the Westminster model or traditions is coming into conflict with a different and more modern conception, which is that of a people being sovereign, of a nation determining its own destiny. One reason the crisis has come to a head in Wales at this stage rather than in Scotland is that the amount of power that has been devolved to the West Assembly is correspondingly less than to the Scottish Parliament. Strictly speaking, the conception of devolution, which is that upheld by Tony Blair and Westminster, is one of making arrangements which bolster the status quo. It is to roll over, or delegate, powers from central to regional or local government, while maintaining authority at the centre. As such it is to underpin the present set-up of the British state while giving the people of Scotland and of Wales "more say" in their affairs. However, the conception which is being espoused by the peoples of Wales and Scotland is that of self-government, which views devolution as a step towards the people themselves exercising sovereignty. An opportunity was missed with the setting up of the Welsh and Scottish bodies to institute modern arrangements, to give effect to modern definitions of where political power lies and to enable the people themselves to participate in government.

What should the future be for the Welsh Assembly? It must be one where the national aspirations of the Welsh people for sovereignty are recognised. Welsh workers should fight that they are the ones who have the solution, that there should be a modern sovereign state of Wales, in which it is the people, not the political parties, who select the candidates to be elected to the Assembly, and that they should not allow divisions to be imposed on Party lines.

As far as the issue of the hundreds of millions of pounds of grants from Westminster that could trigger grants from the European Union is concerned, a number of points can be made. One is that the economic backwardness of Wales itself stems from the subjugation of that country by the English bourgeoisie. However, the Welsh people cannot look to the Europe of the monopolies to solve their problems. On the basis that Wales, Scotland and England, as well as a reunified Irish nation, should each establish modern sovereign states, a free and equal union in one British state with three governments is one clear way forward in order to build a self-reliant and harmonious British economy. Only if the workers in Wales, Scotland and England also take up the project of constituting themselves as the nation can this solution make headway.

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International News:

US Imperialism Discusses Closer Arms Industry Links

The United States is discussing ways to links its arms industry more closely with those of Britain, Australia, France, Germany and other European countries, the US Defence Department said on Tuesday.

"We're talking to the Australians ... the Dutch ... the French ... the Germans. And eventually we'll be talking to the Swedes," James Bodner, a deputy under-secretary for policy, told a Pentagon news briefing. The bilateral discussions are meant to pave the way for expanded military co-operation and technology transfers, notably to facilitate inter-operability on the battlefield, he said.

In the first of what the Pentagon hopes will be a string of such pacts, the United States and Britain agreed on February 5 to a set of "principles" that could lead to more joint ventures and link-ups between the US and British arms industries. Britain and the US already co-operate extensively on such matters. US arms monopolies such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and TRW have significant operations in Britain while British companies such as BAe, Rolls Royce and Smiths Industries have sizeable operations in the United States. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Minister, and US Defence Secretary William Cohen signed the "Declaration of Principles for Defence Equipment and Industrial Cooperation" during the international security conference in Munich, Germany.

The Pentagon has been concerned about the continued financial troubles of two of the biggest US arms contractors, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The two companies, along with Boeing, emerged as the Pentagon's biggest suppliers by far after a wave of mergers in the 1990s. Bodner said the Pentagon was seeking to facilitate the transfer of technology "to and from those with whom we expect to conduct military operations in the future."

The issue of the military gap between the United States and its partners in the aggressive NATO military alliance was highlighted during the 78-day air campaign to bomb Yugoslavia in March to June last year. Bodner said the Pentagon had been investing "far more than our allies combined" in weapons purchases and research and development. Since 1997, the Pentagon's procurement budget has grown from $42 billion to a proposed $60 billion for fiscal 2001, a 32 percent increase in real terms.

Bodner said the first agreement was struck with Britain because of historically close ties that made it "easier to come to agreement." "We hope that our discussions with other countries will also be fruitful," he said. "The form in which they will produce results may differ."

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