THE Welsh Government’s cabinet room normally has picturesque views of Cardiff Bay but today the rain is thrashing down on the windows.

Dull weather is a common feature of Wales, after all, along with song, rugby and other symbols in the marketing playbook. But in more recent times so is the more substantive issue of devolution.

On a wet morning in the capital, this week the first minister sought to reverse a decades-long scandal: the airbrushing of Jim Griffiths, the founding father of a nation’s young democracy, from Welsh public life.

A bust of the first secretary of state for Wales now overlooks the hall of the Senedd.

Unlike other appearances, for our interview the First Minister is relaxed. He enters from his private office, wearing a woolly jumper and beaming when I hand him two gifts. One is a biography of Griffiths by D Ben Rees; the other a book with essays from J Beverley Smith and the subject himself on his life in politics.

I ask why it has taken so long to recognise the contribution of a leader the South Wales Evening Post described as an “elder statesman” after his death in 1975.

“I think that's a really good question,” the First Minister says, sitting at the head of the cabinet table: “And it’s hard to find the answer… given the significance of his political career. Not just in the Welsh context, but as one of the genuine architects of the welfare state.”

READ MORE: Bust of Jim Griffiths, first Welsh Secretary, unveiled at Senedd

We both agreed that Griffiths’ career deserved to be “better, more prominently recognised,” but I point out the fault of the Labour party who for so long worshipped the celebrity appeal of Aneurin Bevan over the understated man from Betws: “Well, I think that is probably part of the explanation, isn't it?”

Yet in the end, it is Jim Griffiths who has arguably won the day on establishing Labour’s identity and political direction in Wales.

The party – now formally distinct as Welsh Labour – has become synonymous with cradling Welsh nationhood (including an embrace of the language) in a way that is far from the bitter internal debates of the entire twentieth century. And the First Minister recognises this struggle, too.

“If you look back over the longer run of the Labour party's sometimes difficult discussions in relation to Welsh identity and a Welsh political persona, [Griffiths] represented a very continuous thread of those people who were both the product of industrial Wales… [and] at the same time, very much associated with a Welsh cultural, linguistic identity.”

In that way, Drakeford points out, Griffiths was a “rare figure” reflecting a multi-faceted picture of the nation – something other political giants, like Bevan, struggled to do.

The National Wales: Mark Drakeford with The National's chief political commentator Theo Davies-Lewis.Mark Drakeford with The National's chief political commentator Theo Davies-Lewis.

Griffiths is celebrated for many achievements but his appointment as the first Welsh secretary often trumps them all, the first concrete step to devolution in terms of the creation of a substantial political office.

With the advent of the National Assembly in 1999, an institution which Griffiths championed later in his life, the Welsh Office struggled for relevance after collecting powers decades after 1964.

Today rebranded as the ‘UK Government in Wales’, led by a Conservative MP who only seems to enjoy commenting on the nature of the devolved process to much fanfare, what would Griffiths have thought of his beloved office’s role in politics today?

The First Minister is diplomatic – he deflects, at first, stating it is “impossible for me to say” – perhaps because Simon Hart will be at the event unveiling Griffiths’ bust later that day.

But he acknowledges that over the last ten years, the role of secretary of state “has become more to represent the UK government in Wales, rather than the interests of Wales at a UK level.”

READ MORE: The Simon Hart interview: ‘Drakeford’s unionism is independence by another name’

I push him further. Surely Griffiths would have recoiled at the Welsh Office being used to attack the democratically elected leader of Wales and measures such as the expansion of the Senedd.

“Yeah, I think he was certainly not expecting for it to have developed in that way,” he concedes: “As I say, I think the fundamental part of the shift there is he would [have] regarded the Welsh Office’s essential job to represent Welsh interests in Westminster. And to be a voice for Wales and to make sure that Welsh interests were always understood in other parts of Whitehall.”

Many of Drakeford's own backbenchers, passionate advocates of devolution, now see the Wales Office as a relic of the past; a department which, as alluded to by the First Minister, contributes little positive to political life.

Sitting with Drakeford at his cabinet table, red dragon in the corner and the bilingual ‘First Minister of Wales’ plaque on the wall, it is hard to disagree. Alas, on this day of all days, it pains me to ask: should we scrap the Wales Office altogether?

“I myself have long believed that the days of an individual territorial secretary of state for each of the nations is over,” Drakeford states.

“That will be my own personal view. I've said that in times when there’s been Labour secretaries of state. It’s not a partisan point in a political sense.”

He points out that a single government ministry and a separate minister for all the four nations has been mooted as an idea before. And, he adds: “the case for that is pretty strong.”

READ MORE: Dafydd Iwan: The fight for the Welsh language is our life

Leaders of Wales have often found themselves battling for years to make the case for their beloved cause: the rights of the language through to a devolved parliament.

The First Minister faces his own challenge to do so in the context of proposals for a bigger Senedd, which has led to accusations that this new “proportional” system is not so equal to all parties.

Like Griffiths, who argued over several decades before he managed to secure a pledge to establish a Welsh Office in a Labour manifesto, Drakeford now finds himself trying to convince politicians and the public of another step forward in the story for self-government.

“I think it's a continual conversation you have to have with people,” the First Minister says: “The idea that there's only one direction for devolution, I think, is a dangerous one.

"You've got to always be in discussion with people about the case for the changes that you are proposing. You think: Jim Griffiths becomes a secretary of state in 1964. While he is still in parliament, the Kilbrandon Commission is established. So, within less than a decade, that charter development is being overtaken by further debates and further possibilities. And Kilbrandon, of course, proposed a parliament for Wales with 100 members in it back then. So, in some ways, we're still engaged in some of that debate.”

The big difference, Drakeford points out, is that the debate now is not about whether to have the Senedd but how you make it “properly effective.” He is bold about his intentions: “Give it the numbers of people and the structures that it needs to discharge what is a very, very different set of responsibilities to the ones that were originally envisaged 25 years ago.”

It’s a heavy responsibility, I suggest, one that Jim Griffiths was aware of when following in the footsteps of liberals, socialists and nationalists that came before him. The First Minister – the heir to this devolution tradition – feels the burden on his shoulders.

“I've always thought about Welsh politics in that slightly more eclectic way. The faultline in Welsh politics is between those parties that regard themselves as broadly left of centre and the one party in Wales that regards itself as to the right of centre…The key thing for my party is always to make sure that we are safeguarding that boundary, rather than allowing other boundaries to emerge.”

As in Griffiths’ time, the First Minister sees a “broad coalition of interests” across the nation; there are “people who have broadly progressive views on social and economic matters, and those people whose views are of a different sort which have never commanded a majority.”

READ MORE: Theo Davies-Lewis interviews Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price

As politicians and the public look at the bust of Jim Griffiths, it should be a reminder of how far Wales has come on its journey to self-governance.

Griffiths became secretary of state in his seventies; it was a culmination of at least half a century of arguing to get to that point.

“So what we're marking today is not just the fifty odd years since the Wales Office was established,” Drakeford says: “But the 100 years and more that have led to where we are today. Surely any member of the Senedd who's interested in the political journey of Wales would want to know more about it and to understand the significance of some other contributions to it.”

What is in no doubt is that Griffiths would be enthralled with the direction of travel the current leader of Labour in Wales is taking the party and the nation. He would marvel at the cabinet office, the sign on the next door room which reads ‘First Minister’s Office.'

Later, at the ceremony, surrounded by some greats of modern Wales such as Lord Morris of Aberavon, the former Carmarthen MP Gwynoro Jones quipped it was a gathering of the “last of the devolutionists.”

Funny, but not quite true.

In Drakeford, Adam Price et al, the devolutionists are growing ever stronger, more powerful and popular than ever before – guarding the inheritance they have been left, and guiding Wales further along a path Jim Griffiths was astute enough to find in the first place.

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