Much focus on the powers of the National Assembly for Wales has been to discuss whether it should replicate the powers of the Scotland Parliament. Wales is a nation in its own right and should not be treated as Scotland’s younger cousin. Unlike Scotland, Wales has never had its own legal system and has more in common legally and economically with the English regions and culturally with other self-governing European regions.
The public debate has focused on whether Wales should have Primary Legislative Powers, with some exercising the view that without legislative autonomy then Wales cannot truly be self-governing. An Assembly with legislative autonomy would not provide the Welsh tax-payer with any greater value than is available at present.
In order to produce legislation to the œuality of a Westminster Bill, the Assembly would have to dedicate more time to debating such legislation, adversely affecting its currently responsibilities of delivering policy, which the First Minister has indicated is very time consuming in itself. In order to achieve a Bill at a reasonable standard that could stand up to scrutiny in a Court, the numbers of Assembly Members and specialised Civil Servants would have to increase and this is not a cost that should be considered acceptable for the sole purpose of giving Wales powers that are already available to it through the UK Parliament. Delivering value for money must be considered paramount in any decision to change the powers of the Assembly, as its existence can only be justified to the sceptical electorate in Wales if this is the case.
Despite having legislative autonomy, the Scotland Parliament is unable to effectively influence the macroeconomy, as it only has limited financial autonomy, such as income-based tax-varying powers and this is another reason why the Scotland model should not be held up as the ultimate goal for devolution in Wales.
Financial autonomy, which although more electoral attractive to parties seeking control of regional governments, does not give a government any significant influence over the economy, merely the ability to set its own budgets and overall direction. However, having financial controls are that part of the state organisation which determines to the largest extent the actual distribution of power between the separate state levels (Renzsch, 1991) meaning that the introduction of greater financial autonomy in Wales should be considered a significantly higher priority than legislative autonomy.
Fiscal autonomy gives a government greater controls in influencing the economy using demand- and supply-side methods. The Catalan Parliament has been able to effectively use its fiscal autonomy to influence both the macro- and micro-economies, which has led to significant social, economic and cultural benefits (Redondo-Bellén, 1998).
With the creation of regional Retail Price Indices (RPI) by the Treasury and monetary policy likely to handed over to the European Central Bank in the long-term, greater fiscal management at regional level is going to become more important. Membership of the Euro will deliver long-term economic benefits, particularly for exporters in Wales. However, the side-effects of a single interest rate needs to be managed at regional level as at any one time monetary union may benefit one of the British regions, whilst adversely affecting the prosperity of another.
Developing the role of the Assembly as a body of economic competence, as opposed to a legislative body as is the case with Scotland, would be to the greater advantage to the people of Wales who would benefit from a regional economic strategy that is tailored to the economic conditions and hopes of the nation.