Although he was barely visible at today’s Royal opening of the fourth National Assembly, the former Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis Thomas must have felt a glow of pride at today’s ceremony.
He’s always attached great importance to winning Royal approval for devolution, which has not always been apparent. At the first opening in 1999, the Queen made repeated references to “this country” in a way that made it clear that she was referring to the United Kingdom.
Lord Elis Thomas always has regarded Prince Charles as the true friend of the political project in Cardiff Bay. His Royal Highness certainly obliged back in 2006, when he promptly referred to the new Assembly building as the Senedd, over-riding objections from MPs that the Welsh word for parliament was not an appropriate name for somewhere that did not even enjoy full law-making powers in the areas for which it is responsible.
But today, the Queen drove home the message that thanks to the referendum in March, the Assembly is now a legislature, responsible for Acts which she will sign into law.
“The Assembly has earned itself a well-deserved reputation for diligence and competence,” she said in her speech to the Senedd chamber.
“You are now entrusted with the authority to make laws in all matters contained within the 20 subjects devolved to the Assembly and, for the first time, you will be passing Assembly Acts.”
And, the Queen came down on Cardiff Bay’s side by referring to the “Welsh Government”, even if in law it is still the Welsh Assembly Government because of objections from Whitehall that ministers in London govern Wales, too.
In his reply, Carwyn Jones felt that these were messages well worth repeating:
“Today represents an important new beginning both for the National Assembly and the Welsh Government. We begin this term with an enhanced set of powers conferred on us following the referendum in March”.
There was not quite a full turn out in the chamber. Not just because of the seats left vacant by the disqualification of the two Lib Dem AMs, who must wait at least another week to learn their fate.
Four Plaid Cymru AMs boycotted the ceremony because of their republican beliefs – Leanne Wood, Llŷr Huws Gruffydd, Lindsay Whittle and Bethan Jenkins. Also absent was Ieuan Wyn Jones, who we were told had simply decided to extend his half-term break after the exertions of the referendum and election campaigns.
It’s hard to believe that Ieuan Wyn will join the republican wing of his party when he steps down as leader, but perhaps easier to see his absence as a sign that he really has had enough and will be gone from front line politics sooner rather than later.
Jocelyn Davies took his place. She had not dressed up for the occasion but seemed to enjoy several minutes of animated conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh. He’s also the Earl of Merioneth, as Dafydd El never fails to remind us.