The Music of Democracy

Choosing the right music is one of the most important elements in staging a party. It will be the soundtrack of the night which will set the tempo for conversation and associated larks.

The music which has pumped through the Assembly since 1999 has been a bolero piece which reached a climax in March when the electorate voted by a thumping majority to invest the institution with bold new powers in devolved areas.

If Devolution: The Ballet is ever staged at the Wales Millennium Centre it will be the story of how a little-loved Assembly survived a shaky start, a spat of scandals, and yet was eventually grasped close by a nation which understood its potential to change life for the better.

But few things grab the attention of people at a party so much as the moment when the music suddenly stops.

The newly elected Assembly Members who arrive in Cardiff will have to decide on a new soundtrack.

What is the grand narrative of the next Assembly going to be? The idea of a referendum slowly won support in all parties over the last four years and members campaigned with remarkable discipline towards this goal.

But what – if anything – will be the ambition which can unite AMs of different stripes in the half-decade which lies ahead?

People of different parties support reform of the way the Assembly is funded and many will make a strong case for the creation of a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction. Important though these individual issues may be, they are unlikely to animate either the nation or its politicians with a new sense of purpose.

But AMs may be inspired to focus on one area where there is a real need for change and where success will deliver quantifiable results.

The sobering scale of the under-performance of Welsh children in reading, maths and science was demonstrated in December’s Pisa results. Not only did Wales rank behind the other UK nations, it was below international competitors such as China and South Korea.

The ambition for Wales to be a small but clever country is a great one but turning it into reality will require the bravest of leadership.

In identifying what holds back our children in school, it is likely we will also discover what holds them back in life, what dilutes their confidence, their ambition, their happiness.

This extra-long five-year Assembly term lessens the pressure to scramble for a quick-fix solution in time for the next election. This is an epic mission which deserves an Ennio Morricone soundtrack that, we hope, will culminate in the sounds of celebration.

A Thursday column

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