RWJ, the Tories and the Referendum

I have a great deal of respect for Richard Wyn Jones, and I'm certain that we both share the same enthusiasm for a successful "Yes" vote in the referendum on primary lawmaking powers. But I do want to take issue with him on what was reported as saying in the Western Mail

Assembly referendum could force issue for Tories

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, told a conference organised by the Institute of Welsh Affairs that he expects the required two-thirds majority vote to be passed by the Assembly in December next year.

Wales Online, 25 April 2009

The crucial issue is timing. He has said before that he regards 2012 as an ideal time to hold the referendum. Fair enough. I'm sure part of his reason for saying that is because of the likely make up of Westminster. It is almost certain that there will be a Tory government following the next election, and they are almost certain to pursue policies that the majority of people in Wales will not have voted for. In 2012 they will be in mid-term. Most governments are at their most unpopular in mid-term ... the honeymoon period will have worn off, but they won't want to put out their "sweetners" until closer to the next election.


So let's look at what happens if the first part of Dicw's scenario comes to pass. All three parties, Labour, the LDs and Plaid will come together to vote the referendum through in the Assembly with the required two-thirds majority. The reason will be simple. The Tory Secretary of State for Wales will be able to veto any requests for legislative power that the Assembly might make. On top of that, the Tories will be able to make life hard for the Assembly in other ways. Of course Labour could have done that too but they had no need to ... they could just have a quick word in Rhodri Morgan's ear and get the desired result without appearing to be heavy handed.

But what will the Tories do? I have no doubt whatsoever that they will say no to a referendum. Why on earth would they say yes? The Tories are certain to have their own ideas about what is good for Wales, and so they will do all they can to ensure that their policies are carried out in Wales. That means keeping as much control as possible at Westminster.

And to think that the Tories would repeal or amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 to allow us to move to Part 4 and the list of powers in Schedule 7 is, to put it bluntly, cloud cuckoo land thinking. They could do it in theory, but they won't do it in practice ... and Dicw knows it, why else would he say they would just "muddle on"?

The mistake he is making is to think that the Tories could be "forced by the Assembly to allow a referendum." There is no way the Assembly could force Westminster to do anything. The only pressure that we could influence would be to try and shame them into saying yes. But does that tactic work? Of course not ... they will be as impervious to being shamed into doing something as Labour were when people tried to shame them into granting a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.


Politics is about power. No political party will willingly give up power. The only way we in Wales get the referendum will be at the point when the party in power realizes that it is about to lose the next election. Labour must act while they are still in power. They must pass the legislation for the referendum before May 2010, although the date of the referendum itself will be later.

If Labour miss this chance we won't get the referendum for a long time. This Blair/Brown government will have been in power for 13 years. The Thatcher/Major government was in power for 18 years. So there is every possibility that the next Tory government will last for two or three terms.

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Anonymous said...

MH - congratulations on the blog - I find it a much easier medium to kseep updated than bulletin boards etc.

Regarding your thoughts above I am in full agreement with you - Conservatives will never allow the referendum so Labour have to act quickly to drive it through. There will sureley be blood on the carpet


MH said...

Thanks, Penddu.

I've been reticent about having a blog before now, partly because I preferred arguing in a forum where everyone had an equal opportunity to initiate subjects of discussion, and partly because the forum format groups discussions on each subject together ... which is good for long term developments.

But there's no reason why I can't have the best of both worlds.

Draig32 said...

Hmmm. Is it me MH or have you changed your mind on this issue? I thought you were of the opinion that the Tories wouldn't block a referendum?

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