Wales has an image problem. Or as Carwyn Jones, the country's first minister puts it “people always have another people who they want to do down.”
“The Irish were in that category at one point. Sometimes you get the feeling it’s our turn.”
The 44-year-old Labour politician has been Wales’ first minister since 2009. For the last two years, he’s been the party’s most senior politician after Gordon Brown’s Labour government were ousted from power.
Not that you’d know guess from the coverage in the papers though. Although Jones says he doesn’t mind at all that Ed Miliband gets more attention than him. “He’s bound to. He’s the leader of the opposition. That’s bound to happen.”
But with Scottish independence forcing itself onto the agenda this year, Jones says it’s time to make sure “the voice of Wales isn’t lost.”
“The reality is that devolution does affect the whole of the UK. Wales has a voice and has a view,” he says.
“Scotland is not that much bigger than Wales. It’s five million, we’re three million. So, it does attract a lot of attention.”
While Jones strongly backs the UK staying together - “I think the UK has a future but it must adapt its constitution - he thinks the union needs to change to stay together.
“We have to make sure that the conversation about what Britain will look like in the 21st century starts now, not after a referendum in Scotland. That’s why it’s important to float some ideas now about what those options might be.”
Sitting down for coffee with the Huffington Post UK, the Welsh Assembly leader isn’t short of ideas to make that happen.
The one likely to ruffle most feathers in Westminster? Codifying our unwritten constitution.
“We can’t expect the constitutional arrangements of the 19th century to last until the 21st. I think what we need is a bit of clarity in terms of who does what, in terms of how powers are transferred from Westminster to their devolved regions. This is the sort of work that should really be done by a commission of people looking at it in some detail.”
While he warns it shouldn’t “dominate” British politics, Jones still think it’s an issue that needs to be resolved. “I wouldn’t say people are talking about parliamentary sovereignty in the streets but it all comes down to in what respect is it right the UK parliament has the power to do whatever it likes?,” he asks.
So how would it work? “You can’t come up with an answer on the back of a fag packet but you do need to have some process,” he says. “It would have to be written by people who are constitutional experts.”
Jones hasn’t just been thinking about the constitution; he also has some interesting proposals for House of Lords reform, and perspective on the Westlothian question.
“The idea of English votes for English laws is an attractive one, but where does that leave for example UK ministers in the European council who are casting a vote on behalf of the UK.
“Why should the UK agriculture minister, who is in effect the agriculture minister for England, be casting a vote on behalf of the UK?”
Then there’s the House of Lords; Why not bake it based on geography, like in the US?
So, does he want a United States of Britain? “That’s one possibility. I don’t have a comprehensive package. But in the states you’ve got a lower house based on population, fine. But the upper house is based on geography. So why not, for example, have representation on an equal basis from different parts of the UK; Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and then you have a geographically based house and a house based on population, which I think is a good thing.”
For Jones, it’s about getting the balance right: “In the end of the day England is the largest country, it’s going to have the lion’s share of representation in the Commons. Why should that bind the upper house.”
Beyond constitutional issues, the first minister is focusing on setting a “robust example for the Labour party in the rest of Britain.” Jones feels the country’s record speaks for himself; He’s “more than happy” with what they’ve done on the NHS.
Cameron has criticised the Welsh government on NHS waiting times - and Jones’ officials have hit back, branding the Conservatives’ reorganisation as a "complete and utter shambles".
So what are his relations like with the UK government?: “There are bound to be tensions, it’s inevitable. But the reality is that I think there is an understanding, we do have to have a decent relationship. We’re not looking for a fight with the UK government.”
Still, they’d like to be consulted; Jones would have liked to have been asked before Cameron opted out of an EU treaty “on behalf of Britain” last December. “I’m not asking for a veto on it, it’s his responsibility I accept that. I think that the decision he took was the right decision - in many ways for the wrong reasons. From my point of view i was concern when he came back and started spending time with people who are very, very eurosceptic. MPs who would be in UKIP if they could get elected as MPs.”
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more