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Friday, September 05, 2008

Can a referendum be won?

Martin Shipton follows up yesterday's Western Mail article in which Monmouth Tory MP, David Davies vowed to set up a cross-party 'No!' campaign to prevent more powers being devolved to the Welsh Assembly.

He includes a statement made on behalf of Labour and Plaid Ministers in which they play up splits in the Tory party and acknowledge that a 'Yes!' campaign will be needed, but when they are ready and not before. This is not a government that will tolerate free-thinking on the part of the Welsh political establishment or allow activists to go their own way.

The government's enthusiasm to control the whole process from start to end would make any dictator blush but it could also be the undoing of the 'Yes!' campaign. The danger of this approach is that their control-freakery will alienate key allies and leave Labour and Plaid Cymru isolated in an emasculated campaign. I cannot see a 'Yes!' campaign made up of mostly Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians appealing to wavering voters, particularly when Labour themselves will be divided and at a time when Plaid have rediscovered the 'I-word'.

More seriously, the success of any 'Yes!' campaign is threatened by the reaction of senior Tories to David Davies' outburst. Not only are the welsh Conservatives fatally divided on this issue but their most senior Welsh members are flaunting it as a virtue.

Glyn Davies writes on his blog that he supports full law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly in already devolved subject areas. He goes onto say however that he 'probably wouldn't join any cross-party Yes campaign'. Welsh Tory leader Nick Bourne goes further in distancing himself from David Davies, however he too is instinctively against a cross-party 'Yes!' campaign:

I think it important at the moment that we don’t indulge in cross-Party activities with the Labour Party (or for that matter other parties) on whatever issue as we should be focussing our attention on the general election and focussing our fire on the mess Labour has made of our country.

The question that has to be asked is are those Tories who say that they want more powers sincere in that belief? It is a valid question because the Welsh Conservatives have form on this.

They drafted their Assembly manifesto so as to make a non-Labour coalition government easier, including the commitment to a referendum and a nod to proportional representation for local government. However, when it came to the crunch and they were asked to vote to give the Assembly the powers to implement their own manifesto commitment on local government they bottled it and sat on their hands. Now they are backing away from any action that might give the Assembly the powers that they say it needs.

Let us be under no illusion, if we are to secure a 'Yes!' vote in a referendum we need the Tories. The 'Yes!' campaign must be genuinely cross party to balance out the opposition. We need the Tories help in winning over enough of their voters to secure a positive result and we need the strength of their arguments as converts to the cause to convince floating voters to come out and cast their ballot in the right way.

If the Tories are backing away from this commitment and if Labour and Plaid are determined to lock themselves in a dark room and pretend that it will all come good on the night, no matter what the evidence to the contrary, then I fear that a referendum cannot be won in the short-term.

Surely it is incumbent on all parties to act in the interests of Wales and put this posturing to one side so as to get together to plot a way forward. If they do not do so soon then I fear that this opportunity will be lost. Another may not present itself for some time.
I find this quite an odd post in many aspects. I fully agree with your views on the Tories it certainly does appear that they are backing away from any commitment and they were just paying lip service to the idea to steal some voters. However the One Wales Gov have created a convention to seek other peoples ideas and engage with all parties. How does that reflect that they wish to isolate themselves?
I don't see why not wanting to be part of some cross-party campaign should question my commitment to a law making Assembly. I don't think I've ever joined one of these sort of campaigns. I didn't join the No campaign in 1997 for example. I feel that I'm able to do more for a cause by saying what I think as an individual. I realise that you feel an organised campaign, backed up by a constitution perhaps is crucial, and it seems that you believe anyone who doesn't want to join in is not supportive of the cause - a sort of 'If you're not with us, you're against us' attitude. Peter, we all do things in our own way. You may criticise my tactics, but not my commitment.
Glyn: I do not question your personal commitment but I do think that the lack of engagement by the Welsh Tories in a 'Yes!' campaign makes its success less likely. Perhaps you should reflect on that.

Anon: The idea that the creation of a convention represents progress is laughable. It is displacement activity to prevent Labour having to implement its commitment and to save face for Ieuan Wyn Jones when that happens. I cannot see how anything it does will make a 'Yes' vote more likely. We have done a lot of listening and consulting in the immediate past, what is needed now is to persuade and campaign.
Peter I am not saying the convention is designed to make a Yes vote more likly. You say that Labour and Plaid are trying to isolate themselves. I simply ask the question of how you come to that assumption given they have created a convention spesifically to hear the views of all parties. That to me would suggest the opposite in terms of engaging with people?
What I in fact said was that Labour and Plaid are seeking to control the terms of the debate and that in doing so they are pushing other parties away. It is in that sense that they are isolating themselves. I cannot see how the convention will reverse that process. It is a talking shop that does not have the support of political party outside of the two in government.
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