Y Barcud Oren #11

Can it really be party conference season already? In Wales it can, as Plaid pop off to Llandudno this weekend where no-one will notice them (so what’s new…) In any case, what self-respecting journalist is going to waste their time on things that are actually happening when there’s good speculatin’ to be had?

Leaving On A Rhoose Plane

The target of said speculation is of course Rhodri Morgan, whose stated retirement date (his 70th birthday) is now just over two weeks away. With departure supposedly imminent, the pretenders to the throne have crept back into the shadows to avoid the appearance of giving an extra shove on the way off the precipice (Jon Cruddas’ trip to Wales to essentially endorse Huw Lewis as the “properly lefty” candidate notwithstanding.)

Mind you, Rhodri couldn’t have done a better job fuelling the speculation if he’d tried. First there was the suggestion that he might stay on if something serious happened; swine flu was the hypothetical example, but once you’ve established the principle, there’s a whole world of debate about how serious something has to be to count as disqualifying. Then everyone worked out that there was a distinct difference between announcing you were standing down on a date and announcing that you would announce you were standing down on that date, and now you’re off to the races.

With Rhodri not answering questions (except about where he lived, and he couldn’t even get that right) the vacuum was soon filled by the speculators. Would he stay on because if he announced he was standing down in September his successor wouldn’t be in place until Christmas, by which time the Assembly budget would be sorted and the general election would be close enough to count as the necessary extraordinary event? And if he did go on schedule, how would he announce it if his birthday fell right in the middle of Labour Party Conference? The Plaid spin machine’s efforts in cliff-shoving did at least elicit the response they deserved from Rhodri, but with two weeks to go, the silence remains deafening.

Putting The Welsh Into Assembly

If the internal machinations of Llafur didn’t take your fancy, however, there was always that great Welsh favourite, a row about the language, to keep you occupied.

The proceedings of the Assembly are of course simultaneously translated to allow members to speak in either English or Welsh, although a fair majority of business is conducted in English. A verbatim translation is then made and the official Record of Proceedings has, since the Assembly was established, been published bilingually. Nevertheless, just before heading off to Senedd-by-the-Lakeside the Assembly Commission decided that the £250,000 annual cost of producing the full translation was excessive, particularly now that all Assembly proceedings are available online and that in future the Record for plenary sessions would follow the practice of the Record for committee sessions and be in English only.

Unsurprisingly, the Welsh Language Board was pretty scathing of the idea and announced that it was taking legal advice with a view to legal action. It was the Commission’s response, however, that raised the matter from tragedy to comedy. They argued that the Assembly’s language scheme (a legally-defined document under the Welsh Language Act 1993, breaches of which can be investigated by the Board) was the responsibility of the Assembly (ie, the legislative body) and not of the Assembly Commission (ie, the body the manages the day-to-day needs of the members like heat and light) and that the Board was not empowered to investigate because while the Commission was subject to the Act, the Assembly itself wasn’t. I’d break out my box of metaphors at this point, but Betsan Powys has already nicked them all

Clearly there was going to be political hell to pay and the backtracking started in earnest, with Chris Franks claiming he had opposed the plan from the beginning and was furious that the Commission’s records did not reflect that opposition. Which is fine, unless one of the other members of the Commission is, say, the Assembly’s leading blogger and instantly able to let all and sundry know that such protestations are a huge load of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Still, soon enough there was a cross-party motion denouncing the decision and a firm rebuttal of the Humphreyonics from the Welsh Language Board. And as the £250,000 of savings sails off into a sunset of lawyers fees, the saga wends its weary way onwards. Whither Llandudno…

* Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something. Y Barcud Oren means ‘The Orange Kite’.

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