Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, delivered the Annual Lecture of the Wales Governance Centre (Cardiff University) on Wednesday 6 December 2017 at the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay.
A full video of the lecture is available on YouTube or you can read the transcript below….
It gives me great pleasure to be with you this evening and I’m grateful to you, the Wales Governance Centre, for the invitation and opportunity to deliver this lecture as another term and indeed another year draws to a close.
The past few months have not been easy, to say the very least. The sadness which struck the Assembly in light of Carl Sargeant’s death has been accompanied by a whole range of emotions, questions and reactions which will no doubt continue for many months to come. And throughout it all, as Llywydd, it has been my duty to ensure that our Assembly treats Carl’s family with the respect they deserve, and that our Members have been able to mark the passing of a close colleague with the dignity expected of our national democratic legislature.
I have no doubt that our small, but perfectly formed circular chamber provides strength to our politicians – both at times of scrutiny when they want to challenge, to confront or to remonstrate, or on those rare occasions, when we want to unite – sometimes in defiance, but also to express grief and pride. It is during these times that I am most proud to be the Llywydd – when our democratic institution becomes a focal point for a collective national expression. And it’s during the difficult times, that the Assembly demonstrates true resilience and endurance.
For me, a member of the Assembly’s class of ’99, old enough to recall the disappointment of ’79, this resilience continues to be a remarkable phenomenon. For some here this evening it is what they have always known and have come to accept and expect of us.
The Brett and Wil Generation
There are some young, first year politics students in the audience this evening who have made quite an impression on me over recent weeks – you may have seen Geneva, Aisha, Brett and Wil on the Sunday Politics Show recently, speaking eloquently about how we can make politics and the political environment in Wales better for the next generation. This is the generation which is ready and waiting to take on the baton into the middle part of this century – if not before.
Brett and Wil had already secured a starring role on television a few weeks earlier when they rushed over, with great excitement, to the Welsh Government’s Office in Cathays Park after hearing there was a reshuffle underway. They declared this on Twitter – I think I may have retweeted one of them – only to be interviewed later by ITV Wales. And it was during a discussion with reporter Rob Osborne, they revealed that remarkably they had no memory of any time at all when Jane Hutt was not a government Minister.
Listening to them speak, I started thinking about their ages, which I have since confirmed, and I worked out that I was campaigning as a candidate in the first ever election to the National Assembly for Wales when each one of these students – or political pundits as I’m sure they’d now like to be known – was born, between July 1998 and February 1999.
As one of those considered to be the ‘young intake’ of that first National Assembly, it is a sobering fact when you realise that you have been an elected Member throughout the lifetime of an entire new generation. To take it a step further, Wil, who is from Aberystwyth, has never ever had another constituency AM apart from Elin Jones. And long may that be the case!
This is the generation that considers Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones as household names. Brett tells a funny story of how he once went on holiday in a caravan on the same site as Rhodri Morgan. To him it was a perfectly natural, ordinary thing to camp in a grassy field next to the leader of your nation’s government.
For Brett, Wil, Aisha and Geneva – this is the Wales they know, this is who we are. The National Assembly is as much a part of this nation’s identity as Calon Lan, Parc y Scarlets or Gareth Bale.
There are now three generations of Welsh devolutionists – the fighters, the founders and the future:
- The fighters are those who spent most of their lives battling for self-government, only to succeed and then pass it on to the next generation
- The founders are those of us who have had the duty to enshrine the Assembly’s place and status in the nation’s psyche and to solidify the foundations upon which it has been built
- And then there’s the future, the next generation – those who want to run with it and make it thrive. And I’m not just talking about our future politicians. This applies to our future leaders in other areas too who contribute to the politics of Wales outside the elected arena: the academics, the economists, the policy makers, the statisticians, the psephologists, and the commentators. For these people – indeed for all the people of Wales, whether they are interested in politics or not – we have a duty to strengthen the core of our democratic institution.