The last few weeks have shown just how fluid national identity has become in Wales. Before 1997, being Welsh could include any number of qualifications: speaking the Cymric tongue; marvelling in rolling hills and mountain peaks; deep roots in an industrial or rural community; passing or kicking an egg-shaped ball; even staring in awe at sermons given high above at the pulpit.

Your meaning of Wales is likely different to mine, and I like to think we have become increasingly comfortable in embracing our nation all the same.

There are pillars of nationhood that unite us all. Like it or not, the most obvious has been the advent of devolution. Partial self-government gave a new political dimension to our national DNA, whether you voted for the institution in Cardiff Bay or loathe its existence.

Most see it favourably: over time the tentative people in this western corner of Europe have become accustomed to the notion of running their own affairs, slowly then surely calling for law-making powers for what has become the Senedd. Some dreamers now want to go even further.

6,721 votes was all that it took twenty-four years ago to recast the idea of Wales into the twenty-first century, with thanks to the sound people of Carmarthenshire. Six elections for the Welsh Assembly-cum-Parliament later, and here we are.

We will shortly enter a new term for a relatively strong although far from perfect modern parliament; one that will be governed by an administration which leads a country that has never been at such a crossroad. A deadly pandemic, a calamitous economic situation, and constitutional chaos threatens to shake the foundations of Wales to the core.

How do we deliver a green recovery? What about solving the housing crisis? Do we want independence? Why so/not? Is there any sense to leave the electoral system unreformed when it is so obviously flawed?

Could we consider devolving further powers to Cardiff? Time for a UBI? Can we really solve child poverty with the Senedd? Is Cymraeg 2050 realistic? M4 relief road? Will Transport for Wales carriages ever be upgraded from Soviet-era copies?

You catch my drift. These are just some of the questions that the new First Minister will have to grapple with, and urgently. Of course there are a plethora of other issues that you will want to be addressed, depending on what you value in Wales. It is your Wales and your Welsh Government, after all; I can only hope that you went out to vote to try and make it so.

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COVID-19, alongside everything else it has done to shake the framework of global politics, demonstrated to those disconnected from Welsh devolution that it is a system of governance alive and kicking. And thank goodness for that!

However as we turn to the sixth Senedd term now is the time when our politicians and the entire project of devolution will be tested and challenged like never before. And rightly so.

In the context of British politics, for so long Cardiff Bay looked like the quiet relative in an otherwise ever-argumentative and volatile family. A global pandemic – and the breakdown of UK intergovernmental relations – has meant that for the first time in the last twenty years the levers of devolved power have been used with great significance to reflect the distinctiveness of Wales to the rest of Britain.

This is a welcome addition to our national life too, according to the public who speak to the pollsters at least.

But the great revolution in Welsh politics over the last twelve months is only the start of the next phase of our national story. Our leaders have yet to even reach the gates of the Bastille in the Bay; there is so much potential in the institution left to harness; and much more to do to communicate with the wider public the value of our still-relatively infant political system.

Our goal, in short, should be to secure devolution as a positive mainstay of everyday consciousness in Wales. No easy goal and some complacent patriots will say it has already been achieved.

Spending time in Llanelli before polling day, it is still apparent that there is disillusion with Cardiff Bay. (If us Turks think like that just an hour from the nucleus of Welsh power, imagine how the poor souls in Mid or North Wales feel).

It’s not all about geographic proximity to the Siambr either: there are likely plenty of communities of all creeds and colours – some a stone throw away from where politicians debate – that feel let down by an institution that has not necessarily brought them better prospects, equality, and fairness in Welsh society.

Let us tackle our areas of devolved competence head on. There is opportunity to continue building on strong momentum in policy areas such as education, where a new curriculum will remind the next generation of the value of law-making in Wales.

The Welsh NHS has coped heroically throughout the pandemic but there are historic problems with waiting times and health boards. That isn’t good enough; hence it was used as ammunition by devo-sceptics in the election campaign as evidence that devolution fails us.

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No doubt that the next administration – whatever its final make-up –  will tussle with Downing Street too. The process of centralisation threatens to jeopardise roles and responsibilities when it comes to economic development and investment in infrastructure post-Brexit. These are arguably the two most crucial areas where delivery is key.

If people feel that the Senedd has no tangible impact on their job prospects or living standards – and so far it seems that the public see it this way – the rising tide of Abolish will no doubt subsume other communities who feel they are being forgotten.

In that light the next few years are also a case of communication. There will be policy that isn’t necessarily sexy – from farming to transport, environment to culture – that will pass the floor of the Senedd but fail to register with the wider public.

We have been so poor in shining a light on ‘successes’ when there are many. The next government must use its machinery to take its work and its ministers out to the public far and wide: a new campaign to keep people educated and informed of its work, and also to clarify the role of the Senedd compared to our government.

Opposition will be crucial too. A bit of excitement all round is needed, of course. The journalist Kevin Maguire once said that the-then Assembly was “boring as hell”. Alas, it is.

Is it too much to ask politicians of all colours to grab the institution and each other by their lapels to bring a bit of Johnsonian or Corbynite flavour to Wales? That will make people stand up and listen.

All of this is so crucial because the pandemic has been an inflection point. Wales is divided – pushing in different directions on the constitutional question to a worrying extent – and there is no prospect of a sudden change in our political structure anytime soon.

The Senedd and the Welsh Government are here to stay, but its credibility and in turn its longevity is by no means fixed.

The next Welsh Government and crop of politicians face the greatest opportunities and challenges of any who have walked before them. To save, revive and deliver Welsh devolution; by policy and through a unique and credible public relations exercise. We cannot go on as we have done for the last 22 years. For Wales’s sake.

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