Ukip has proposed a radical overhaul of the Welsh assembly and its governance, including pledges to make St David’s Day a bank holiday, and training firefighters to double as paramedics.
In its manifesto for next month’s Welsh assembly elections, the party also said it wanted to bring back grammar schools and axe funds for climate change projects, using the money saved to abolish the Severn bridge road tolls.
Ukip has been on the fringes of previous election campaigns but is predicted to win around eight seats this time, which would fundamentally change the makeup of the 60-seat assembly. The former Conservative MPs Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless are standing, ensuring that the party remains in the headlines.
Ukip believes it can take votes from all the established Welsh parties and chose a theatre in a traditional Labour stronghold – Newport in south-east Wales – to launch its manifesto, which is entitled Raising the Dragon.
Some of the most striking pledges are changes to how the assembly operates. Ukip said that as Welsh MPs could now be excluded from debating England-only matters they should use their extra free time to work at the Welsh assembly, scrutinising bills.
It also said it would devolve power away from Cardiff to local authorities and dismantle the government’s cabinet system, which it said put “too much power in the hands of too few people”.
On health – a key issue in the campaign – Ukip said it would launch a full-scale independent inquiry into NHS services throughout Wales. As well as bringing in grammar schools, education pledges included the introduction of the study of French, German, Spanish or Italian in the first year of primary school.
Ukip said it was committed to ensuring Welsh was a living language but that it would ensure efforts to promote bilingualism between English and Welsh acted as “a springboard for learning other languages, not as an alternative”.
The party said there was no such thing as a “Wales-wide economy” as the economies of south and north Wales had closer ties with the adjoining regions of England than with each other. Ukip claimed it would bolster links between south Wales and Bristol and the M4 corridor to London and forge connections between north Wales and the English “northern powerhouse”.
There is no immigration section in the 49-page manifesto. But it does call for local homes for local people, explaining: “Ukip will encourage moves by local authorities to prioritise people with strong local connections when making housing allocations.”
Nigel Farage said: “Yes we do believe in Wales. We believe in a Wales that is part of a Britain that is independent and self-governing.”
This article was written by Steven Morris, for theguardian.com on Friday 15th April 2016 14.37 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010