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Friday, October 23, 2009

Another 'yes' vote?

As the date for the publication of the All Wales Convention report on the powers of the Welsh Assembly draws nearer then speculation grows stronger as to what it will say. This morning's Western Mail is convinced that there will be a very clear recommendation to hold a referendum as early as next autumn and that the Convention will suggest that a 'yes' vote is likely.

I have no reason to doubt that suggestion and nor would I want to, but it does leave very little time to get an effective all-party 'yes' campaign up-and-running and no matter how much we might want to dismiss his views, there are always the doubts of the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain to take into account.

Mr. Hain matters because for a referendum to take place we need to get the approval of Parliament. If he stands in the way of a unanimous vote of the Assembly to go ahead with a plebiscite then it will not happen and the million pounds or so that have been spent on Sir Emyr Jones Parry's talking shop will have been poured down the drain.

I have argued from the beginning that the Convention was a displacement exercise designed to kick difficult decisions into the long grass so as to avoid internal party divisions, principally within the Labour Party. Now that it is due to report it seems that nothing has been resolved on that front and that a rearguard action is already being fought to prevent open splits.

The problem is that whilst Sir Emyr Jones Parry has been touring Wales sharing curries with people, any opportunity that was there to actually go out and convince people of the case to utilise the full powers offered by the Government of Wales Act 2006 has been missed.

Political campaigns, as was proved in 2007, are dynamic entities and differ considerably from the sort of snapshots of opinion taken by the Convention. Small and often subtle events can change the public mood and no matter where you start from, if you do not make your case effectively then you will lose.

That is why a 'yes' campaign was always more important than a Convention, and why two years or more has been wasted on this expensive delaying tactic. Of course the publication of the report will give the media and the chattering classes something to talk about but where it matters, in the pubs, supermarkets and post offices, it will fly by unnoticed.

In one respect Peter Hain is right, we are no nearer winning a referendum now than we were in 2007, simply because we have not even tried to convince people to vote for the outcome we all desire. That should not stop us calling the vote for a years time, but it does underline how much work still has to be done and how close the outcome is actually going to be.
A note from the 'real' world. Most people don't know (or I suspect, care) about the Convention. I attended it's visit to Swansea - a damp squib as regards participation (usual suspects) and an empty public gallery - except press when local politicians spoke. My gut feel is that the time frame mentioned would return a 'NO' vote - perhaps that would suit some at Westminster(???) - people don't know enough about the Assembly and what it does at present - and asking for more powers in that environment is begging a 'NO' vote. Many people get their 'news' from the TV (Westminster politics), national press (Westminster politics) and local press (Local Council politics) - leaving the Assembley in a PR limbo.
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