Back in 2012, the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones stated: "It isn't simply a matter of more devolution or less devolution - there should be an open debate about how the UK itself might function more responsively to the needs of its constituent parts." What the First Minister said back at that time is quite ironic to what we see now in the UK, with the process of devolution increasing for Scotland and no constitutional convention apparent after last year's referendum. But, the calls from Carwyn Jones all those years ago seem to have fallen on deaf ears, or the calls were too quiet in the first place. It reflects how, in Wales, our politicians are wavering, not only with the constitutional matters that are important for the next generation, but with political enfranchisement and opportunities for our young people which are vital to the success of Wales in the future.
It is only fair to remark that the constitution is probably the one inevitable thing that will affect the next generation of leaders, as the state of the constitution may be left to the next generation of leaders to sort out. The constitutional convention called for by Carwyn Jones has miserably failed. It is almost as if Westminster ignored his concerns, with his "blame London for everything" strategy distancing the connection with Number 10. Former Deputy Prime-Minister Nick Clegg remarked in 2012: "My view has been for some time now that Carwyn Jones and his colleagues have alighted on a very simple political strategy which is do very little and blame a lot. I think people are starting to tire of the endless finger-pointing from Labour in Cardiff. They want things to happen." And Nick Clegg is right (which is something which isn't always said), because Carwyn Jones repeatedly has blamed London for our economic woes, which then immediately creates a disparity between the leaders that decide the rate of devolution and the settlement for Wales.
As well as this, let us look far north to the politically charged SNP, whose 56 MPs are currently braving the conventions of the house and are now considered the only real opposition to the Tories austerity package. Those 56 MPs are in the Commons largely because of its leader, Nicola Sturgeon. Her dynamic connection with people and versatility as a modern politician sends shivers down David Cameron's spine, something that Carwyn Jones & Wales' other politicians do not do. And because of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland have a fuller constitutional deal, which allows them to shape their own futures, while we in Wales are likely to hear more of the "blame London for everything" from Carwyn Jones. From a young person's perspective in Wales, what we need are leaders that work with Westminster to secure a constitutional deal that allows the UK constitutional tide to ease for the benefit of future leaders.
On the other hand, Wales' leaders now have specifically segregated young people from political activity and enfranchisement in the first place. In 2015 alone, 70,000 young people voted for their Scottish Youth Parliament representative in the SYP's elections and hundreds of thousands vote in the UK-wide UK Youth Parliament. However, it should not be called the 'UK' youth parliament, as there are no members from Wales and there is no youth parliament in Wales in the first place. The stark fact is that Wales is the only country in the UK & the EU without a youth democratic system which enfranchises and engages people in politics. Carwyn Jones rejected a youth parliament concept I proposed by replying: "If we truly want to engage with thousands of children and young people we need to consider innovative and accessible models that inform and engage through a variety of methods and offer a choice." What I suggest to the First Minister is to look at the statistics I have referred to in this article regarding youth parliaments, but also the positive views of the Electoral Reform Society, Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Lib Dems and other political parties on youth parliaments before hastily rejecting ideas that can nurture the future leaders of Wales. As well as this, The Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, said that lowering the voting age for next year's Welsh Assembly elections were "too ambitious". I suggest to Mr Crabb that he reads over Professor Laura McAllister's 'The Great Welsh Confidence Trick', in which the CEO of Sport Wales and Professor at Liverpool University referred to the declining ambition of Welsh leaders - which is seriously bordering embarrassing in Mr Crabb's case, due to the fact that Scotland will have votes-at-16 in their elections in 2016. McAllister continued by saying: "Gwyn Alf Williams famously asked: "when was Wales?". In the recent General Election, one could be forgiven for asking: "where was Wales?"" Wales was not on the agenda in this election, and for all the talk of giving young people more of a say in politics, the Wales Office and the Welsh Government have yet again failed.
However, away from politics, young people don't have the platform that other young people do to succeed academically. One only has to look on the Guardian 2016 university rankings and see the shambolic state of Welsh universities. Trinity Saint David placed at 117 out of 119, South Wales at 113, Aberystwyth at 110 - the sight isn't a prosperous one. Cardiff stands at a respectable 27 for 2016 and is still the only Russell Group University in Wales. I must emphasise the fact, as many will know, that universities are not defined by their overall ranking, as we can see with Cardiff's journalism being the best in the UK. But, the point I make is that overall, Wales' universities aren't attracting the best and brightest students in our country because they're not good enough. However, our leaders in the Assembly will attempt to combat this by scrapping the subsidy the Welsh Government gives to students who leave Wales. Welsh students pay £3,685 of the tuition fees, with the Welsh Government paying the rest. By scrapping this, the political elite in Cardiff Bay hope to attract Welsh students to the universities within our country (the ones that waver miserably in the rankings). The scrapping of the subsidy is unfair on young people who want to go somewhere they believe they can succeed. Of course, many can understand why the Government consider this method - to get more people to Welsh universities. In spite of this, instead of trapping our future leaders in institutes too weak to facilitate their ambition, the Welsh Government has a duty to work with university Chancellor's across Wales to build better universities.
To give future leaders an opportunity to become those leaders, the current crop of Welsh leaders must do many things. They must first stand up the constitutional tide approaching, securing a fair settlement for Wales, as well as making sure that they are more ambitious and enfranchise young people into politics - which is the area of life that can change a country for the better. They must also work on our universities and other educational outlets, to allow young people to get the best opportunities in Wales and elsewhere. Young people now are our leaders tomorrow, which is why politicians must act, and decisively do so.Suggest a correction