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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Referendums are now all the rage

It is now getting to the stage when politicians, faced with a difficult situation in their own party or severe resistance in the Country, abandon the principles of representative democracy and their duty to offer leadership and opt for a referendum instead. In a few years there will be no need for Parliament at all, we will press a button on our interactive TV remote controls and the Prime Minister will have had the steer and the authority that he needs to take a decision.

The latest politician to jump on this bandwagon is Peter Hain. He now believes that 'the picture has "changed" in the wake of the Prime Minister's decision to stage a referendum on the European Constitution.' He apparently wants a referendum before any primary law making powers are given to the National Assembly. Previously, his view was that such a referendum should be held on a Scottish-style Parliament for Wales but stopped short of backing a public poll on primary law-making powers for the Assembly without tax-varying powers. Severe resistance amongst Welsh Labour MPs seems to have left him with little choice but to row back on that position.

The problem is at what stage does he hold this referendum? The Assembly gains more powers every time an Act of Parliament becomes law. The Richard Commission recommended a piecemeal transfer. Do we hold a referendum on each occasion? Referendums have their place but so do General Elections and the policy platform that Political Parties fight these elections on. The transfer of Primary Legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly is a natural evolution and does not amount to the fundamental constitutional shift portrayed by those seeking to protect their own position and powers. Tax varying powers are different. However, it seems that the political fix will hold sway.

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