The A of the Bang

I'm delighted that the motion asking for a referendum on primary lawmaking powers was passed yesterday, and even more delighted that it was passed unanimously. No one against it, no abstentions. Who could ask for a more positive signal?

I had hoped this would happen, and I want to express particular thanks to both the Tory and LibDem groups in the Assembly for putting aside their very real, and still unresolved, concerns about the date of the referendum ... as well as for some excellent contributions in the debate.



However it is important to realize that yesterday's vote was only a small step in the process, and that we still don't know for sure whether we will get the referendum, when it will be held, or what the wording of the question will be.

The next stage is simple: Carwyn Jones has to write to Peter Hain to let him know the result of the vote yesterday ... not that he needs to be told. Due process must be followed, of course, but how quickly things now happen will be a clear sign of whether the Labour Party want to get this referendum sorted so that they can concentrate on the upcoming Westminster elections (I only hope they don't forget the "minor" matter of all the ongoing aspects of government in both the Assembly and Westminster) or whether they just want to go through the motions.

Yesterday's statement by Peter Hain was interesting:

Carwyn and I have been working very closely together over the past two months to make progress on this issue. I fully support the First Minister's approach and now look forward to receiving his letter so I can begin the necessary preparatory work to take this forward. In the meantime, as Carwyn and I have said jointly, we both agree that the priority in the coming months will be the General Election, the outcome which will be so important for Wales. We must secure economic recovery for Wales, not choke it off with hasty cuts to Government spending.

The first thing is that Peter Hain hardly needs to wait for a letter before he gets on with his job of drafting the Referendum Order to be laid before Westminster. The issues are quite straightforward, and the only thing which will require any external input is the Electoral Commission's opinion on the wording of the question. However they can't give their formal opinion until they know for sure what Peter Hain is going to put into the draft RO.

In reality, we know that the Electoral Commission are already on the ball. Nick Bourne mentioned before Christmas that he had been approached for his (or the Tory group's) opinion on the wording of the question, and it is inconceivable that other parties would not have been asked the same question. Therefore ideas have been well aired for some time, and it is only a question of choosing what seems to be the best option. We don't need to make too big a deal about it, because the precise form of the question will have absolutely no effect on what will happen if we get a Yes vote. What we will get after we vote Yes is already set out in detail in the GoWA 2006. There is no room for other options.


What strikes me is that the wording of Hain's statement is very deliberately ambiguous. It could mean that Carwyn Jones is going to take the full 14 days before sending the letter, so as to mean that Peter Hain can sit on his hands and do nothing in the full knowledge that the 120 day period he has before he needs to respond will extend past the Westminster election. So we will see if the essence of the "very close working" between Jones and Hain a few months ago was, to paraphrase:

I know you don't want this referendum, Peter. But I've got Plaid on my back, and I have to make it look as if I'm serious about it. So I must put it to the Assembly. But if I make it vague enough, the LibDems and Tories might just throw a wobbly and get us out of it ... then we can then blame it all on them. Plus, if I just string everything out by a week or so here and a couple of weeks there, by the time it gets to your desk you will have time to ignore it without actually being seen to have rejected it. That'll mean you can still make out that you're in favour of more devolution.

Of course it might not be that way at all. The First Minister's letter could go off today, and Hain could lay the draft Referendum Order before Parliament on Monday. Only time will tell, so the A of the Bang is:


I would say this: if the intention really is to get on and fight the Westminster election, then the simplest way to do it is to get everything about the referendum sorted as quickly as possible. While there are still unresolved matters, people are going to have to spend time and effort trying to get them resolved.

Look how quickly Labour is moving to get a referendum on the Alternative Vote for Westminster ... and in particular how prominent and proactive Peter Hain has been in the process so far. There is no reason why he should not move just as quickly to set this one up before the Westminster election is called.

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Anonymous said...

I have another concern about the timing of the referendum - that is the proposed referendum on AV. I suspect that Labour might want to hold both on the same day which is going to confuse a lot of people


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