Clear and decisive

This is what Emyr Jones Parry had to say on the Politics Show today:

     

I was very pleasantly surprised, not least because of what he said at the end, when he made it clear that the referendum would not give the Assembly "full" lawmaking powers.

This had been one of the things that particularly concerned me about the the way the All Wales Convention chose to present the options. As I wrote in this post back in April:

... another point that I would take issue with is the AWC's reference to "full" law making powers. Even their most basic statement of the choice involved says:

Options for devolution

The options are either to retain the current powers or to move towards full law making powers, which would require a referendum.

AWC Website

To use the term "full" implies that voting "Yes" in the referendum would give the Assembly the ability to legislate on any matter it chooses, but that is very far from being the case. In the first instance it would only give the Assembly the power to legislate in the twenty areas for which it already has devolved administrative responsibility, but (and more importantly) even within those twenty areas there is a huge raft of exceptions and exclusions set out in Schedule 7 of the GoWA 2006.

In my opinion it would be better to use the more accurate term "primary" law making powers (within limits already agreed with Westminster) rather than "full" law making powers.

So although Cymru Yfory has rightly pointed to the AWC using language to imply that the status quo is delivering more than it actually does, it also seems to be using language to imply that what we will get if we vote "Yes" in the referendum is more far reaching than it actually is.

I'm delighted that the AWC has now taken this on board (although I've just checked their website, and the reference to "full" lawmaking powers is still there). However I did think it was a bit rich for Sir Emyr to pick Felicity Evans up for using the term, since most journalists and other commentators would naturally use the same terminology the AWC had itself used up until now.

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As to the substance of the report, I'm now very optimistic about it. Sir Emyr said we would be surprised by the extent of the recommendations and decisiveness of what it has to say. I don't think I will be. To me it was always obvious that any group of people who took time to research the issues in detail was only ever likely to come to one conclusion. After all, they are largely going over the same ground that was covered by the Richard Commission before them. In terms of good governance, it is beyond any reasonable argument that the National Assembly should be able to legislate in those areas for which it already has executive responsibility.

The only questions were whether the people of Wales understood the issues clearly enough to make a decision on it, and whether the politicians were willing to let us vote on it.

     • On the first, Sir Emyr has confirmed that the research into public
     opinion shows a "very clear trend", which can only mean that the
     margin in favour is continuing to increase.

     • On the second, the only way its recommendations can be "decisive"
     is by saying that we need to set up the referendum now, rather than
     leave it until later.

So I have no doubt what the report's recommendations will be ... but it will be up to the politicians (and particularly Labour politicians) to decide whether they accept them or not. They will have six months to get the referendum through the Assembly and both Houses of Parliament. They can't afford to take any risks by leaving it until after the general election. At present things are entirely in Labour's own hands, they would be prize fools to leave any part of the process for the Tories to vote through.

Once a date has been set—any time in Autumn 2010 or Spring 2011 will be perfect—it would be almost impossible for an incoming Tory government to stop the referendum taking place.

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4 comments:

Glyn Davies said...

I usually refer to the referendum being about the transfer of full powers in those policy areas that were currently devolved under the 2006 Act. Its not easy to find the words that convey what is involved. I find that most people seem to think that the referendum will involve the extention of policy areas, and are surprised when I explain that this is not so. There's a danger that the distinctions will be lost in any debate preceding a vote though.

Penddu said...

I am also optimistic about the recommendations and about the outcome of any eventual vote. What I am not optimistic about is the ability of Peter Hain & Cheryl Gillan to deleiver anything.....

MH said...

Glyn, that form of words hadn't crossed my mind before, but it seems as good a way of putting it as any.

I fully agree with you about what people "seem to think" this referendum is about. All I can say is that it's up to us to keep explaining what it actually means as clearly as we can to those that are prepared to listen to us.

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You did mention your reticence to join a Yes campaign a few months ago, yet I still hope you would reconsider, especially if the referendum were to be held in Autumn 2010 or early Spring 2011 (February or March) so as not to clash with either May election. This is a constitutional rather than party political issue, and it would help if the Yes supporters from all parties could present a united front on it.

However what I fear is that people, particularly in Labour, will give up trying to explain the constitutional issue and will instead campaign on a "vote Yes in order to protect us from the Tories in Westminster" platform. And the political reality is that it is up to Labour to decide whether we have a referendum or not, because we need Labour AMs for the two-thirds majority in the Assembly and Labour MPs for the simple majority in Westminster.

Indeed I have to say that I think it will be easier to win the vote on that basis. Easier in the sense that some people will be persuaded by one, and others will be persuaded by the other. From my end of the political spectrum BOTH are true, of course. But for you and other pro-devolution Tories it is understandably different.

MH said...

Penddu, I think Peter Hain will be able to deliver, but he represents the group in Labour that is most likely to want to fight the referendum on a "to protect us from the Tories" platform. And it is this fear that will bring most Welsh Labour MPs round to letting us have the referendum.

As I've said before, I don't think the Tories will deliver, which is why it is so important that we get it through Westminster before the general election. There are pro-devolution Tories, but there just as many, probably more, who are either lukewarm or completely against it.

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