Raising False Hopes

I was disappointed to read this news release on Plaid's website yesterday:

     October Referendum is only dependent on political will

While I fully shared the hope that we could hold the referendum on 28 October 2010, that timetable is all but impossible now.

It could be held then if the Electoral Commission changed their stance on requiring two weeks' notice and then eight weeks' work to properly test the question. But when I spoke to them in March, they said they had a statutory obligation to do this, and that even the work done by the All Wales Convention—who themselves used focus groups and the like to evaluate the understandability of the term "full lawmaking powers"—did not relieve them of that responsibility.

The ten week minimum Referendum Period required by the PPERA is another fixed constraint. Between the two there is only a very small window at the end of July and beginning of August in which the Referendum Order can be passed, as I explained in detail here.

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Dai Lloyd said in the news release that all that was required is for the Privy Council to delay its meeting scheduled for July. But that is only one small part of the equation. The Referendum Order needs to be passed—with its final wording, date and specified Referendum Period—by both the Commons and the Lords, and also by the Senedd. All three would have to reconvene during their respective summer recesses in order to pass it before it went to the Privy Council.

That requires very much more "political will" than anybody can reasonably expect them to have.

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At present were are witnessing a rather sordid display of mudthrowing by Peter Hain about a date that is now all but impossible to achieve. I would urge senior figures in Plaid not to get involved in this.

All that matters is that we get the referendum before or at the same time as Assembly election next year. We should be concentrating on what date can best serve the interests of democracy. To me, the one important thing is to do what we can to get a high turnout: that means definitely not holding the referendum in winter, and preferably doing it when the evenings are light.

My fear is that by holding out the unreasonable expectation that we can still get a referendum in October, we might be landed with one as close as possible to that as can be achieved, i.e. somewhere in the middle of winter. Bear in mind that it is the Secretary of State who controls the process. It is by no means clear whether she wants to see a Yes result, and the majority of Welsh Tory MPs will probably be campaigning for a No. The last thing we want is to be landed with a date that is likely to reduce the turnout and therefore make a No vote more likely. We need to step back and take a clearer view.

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I think we should with one voice stand out for the referendum to be held on 31 March 2011—the first light Thursday—and for the Assembly elections to be put back to 2 June, which is easily possible under the provisions of the GoWA 2006. It won't be the end of the world if the referendum is held on 3 or 10 March 2011, but I think the prize of a high turnout, for the sake of democratic participation rather than any particular result, is worth aiming for.

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1 comments:

Aled G J said...

I agree entirely with your points about an October referendum and the need for Plaid Cymru to step back from such calls. It's not just a a matter of pragmatics and acknowledging the constricted timetable, or rising above the tribal point scoring of Peter Hain and co: important though those elements are. It's also about respecting the electorate, and their right to see a proper campaign in place rather than a rushed fait accompli by the political class here in Wales. The electors could very well turn against the wishes of this political class if this referendum is perceived as a tool to play some political football.Plaid should now focus on playing their part in establishing a Yes campaign which can take the arguments for more power for Wales to every part of the country over the next 6 to 9 months.

As for the timing of the referendum, I think that holding it at the same time as the Assembly elections is still a strong runner. The arguments for more power can be placed in a real-time context which people can then link to specific policies which would have a real bearing on their lives. This specificity would be even more pressing in view of the fact that the Budget Cuts from Whitehall would be really starting to bite by May next year. Such an arrangement would also seriously inconvenience True Wales. They would love the referendum debate to be about abstract arguments about "More Politicians", "Waste" "Duplication of Services" and so on, which might well ring a bell with people in a non-election period. But aligned to a real election, where the other parties would be talking, not about abstracts, but about specific policies, such arguments would lose a lot of their clout. The Lib Dems and Tories' original fear was that they would be squeezed out if the referendum was held at the same date as the Assembly elections: but now that they are in power in London, that fear has surely dissipated?

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