Stay Alert, That’s Devolved, Save Lives

Liberal Democrats know that a clear and consistent message is the most effective, that’s why we deliver so many leaflets when campaigning. These same principles of clarity and consistency apply now in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. We are inundated with news and updates about what financial support is available, the state of our hospitals and care homes, the social distancing measures, and what is and is not open. All of the governments across the UK are holding regular press briefings, in addition to social media, to communicate these changes to people. However, it is the media from whom people are learning of these changes, and therefore it is incredibly frustrating and even dangerous when they get devolution wrong.

A strong and independent media is central to our democracy, and we are rightfully concerned about efforts to undermine that. Journalism is essential for keeping the people informed of the actions of governments, allowing them to be held accountable. If we truly believe that the media is an important tool of democratic accountability, we must be prepared to accept that we are already failing as after 20 years of devolution the British press still consistently makes mistakes about actions taken by governments and where they apply.

Devolution is written off by some as a niche topic of the political elite, wrapped up in bureaucracy and process, with little impact on people’s daily lives. However, in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, it is the devolved governments that have the greatest impact on people’s livelihoods, with powers on education, health, housing, local government, justice and policing (except for Wales), and most crucially at the moment, the coronavirus lockdown.

Coronavirus has highlighted the fundamental lack of understanding of devolution across the media, with announcements by the UK government being reported as UK wide measures, when in fact they only affect England. Whilst not a new thing, this is a particular problem for Wales which has a less distinctive and diverse media bubble than Scotland, exacerbated by the general decline in print media.

In the last week, we’ve seen the official Welsh Government twitter account, replying to news articles about schools reopening for everyone, pointing out that schools in Wales are remaining closed for statutory provision, and that any change will be announced by Kirsty Williams MS. This latest intervention, and greater divergence between the UK and Welsh and Scottish government policy on matters such as when schools reopen for the majority of pupils and the “Stay Home, Save Lives” slogan, has led to clearer reporting about the different decisions being made by some parts of the media (although it is still far from being consistently correct, although some media figures still openly relish in their ignorance towards devolved government). The media should respect devolved decision-making as a constant, not just when different governments take different paths.

Accurate reporting won’t stop all the confusion, especially when even after 20 years of devolution, public awareness of devolution in Wales is shamefully low, but it can be the first step. The UK Government’s shift from “Stay Home to Stay Alert” produces a real challenge not only to the media but to devolved governments in how they respond. The UK Government is far from blameless in all this. The daily press briefings need to be clearer about when measures apply only to England and the UK government should recognise that a truly UK wide approach is not a one-sided arrangement. Confusion risks lives, and everyone needs to step up.

Maybe after this we can discuss the devolution of broadcasting and what measures can be taken to better support news journalism, but for now, maybe once the media works out devolution, they can also learn the difference between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Parliament.

* Chloe Hutchinson is the current Chair of Welsh Young Liberals and a candidate for the Welsh Parliament. She is also a team member of @ThatsDevolved.

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5 Comments

  • Mike Norman 11th May '20 - 8:01pm

    Da iawn Chloe. Of course there is a lot of misinformation from people who should know better. Up next in different approaches: priority need and homelessness…

  • Why not put the blame where it lies, with the U.K. Government. From the way they are behaving they are confused about devolution as they are about everything else.

  • Chris Perry 12th May '20 - 9:13am

    THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE RIGHT TIME:
    Just waiting for the Government to congratulate themselves on the “lock down” corresponding with the peak! Of course it did: the “lock down” is intended to reduce the spread and whenever it was implemented it would have corresponded with the peak. The earlier they had “locked down” the lower the peak would have been and the fewer the deaths. Viz New Zealand.

  • Having lived and worked in Wales for 20 years I know exactly what you mean. Government Ministers would come to the Welsh Office and still refer to being in England and not Wales or even Great Britain.

    Wales, of course, is a Principality and it’s flag does not appear in the Union Jack of the U.K.!

    It should not have been possible in the 2016 referendum for one or more Countries to impose their will on others and should have required a majority in each of the four Home Nations or the status quo prevail.

    Clearly the British Government did not consult the devolved administrations on its latest corona virus measures. And the BBC shows it’s identity bias when reporting on sporting events involving England and the other Home Nations.

  • Gwyn Williams 12th May '20 - 10:36am

    @Chris Perry

    “Wales, of course, is a Principality and it’s flag does not appear in the Union Jack of the U.K.!”
    Legally, Wales ceased to be a Principality in 1535 with the Tudor Laws in Wales. In the 21st Century the problem is the UK’s asymmetric devolution settlement. Covid-19 is a test of that settlement. Viruses do not respect any country’s borders. Nearly one third of the population of England and Wales live within 50 miles of the border between England and Wales. This weekend with different rules applying either side of the border we will see the reality of devolution. There is no physical border apparatus between England and Wales. It will be entirely up to the individual to decide what they do. Will those from England who choose to ignore the rules in Wales be prosecuted? This weekend could be a key test for devolution.

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