Labour try to divide the Yes vote

What do the recent announcements by Peter Hain, Paul Murphy and now Hywel Francis have in common?

Each one of them is deliberately misrepresenting what this referendum is about and, instead of concentrating on the issue at hand, trying to turn the referendum into the first part of Labour's campaign for the Assembly elections in May.

•  Peter Hain's claim was that voting Yes would transform the Welsh economy. But voting Yes will do no such thing, because the lawmaking powers we will get when we vote Yes specifically will not give Wales any fiscal or economic powers.

•  Paul Murphy claimed that voting Yes had nothing to do with the procedural intricacies of lawmaking in Wales. But the referendum is only about the way the Assembly will be able to make laws and nothing else.

•  Now we have Hywel Francis claiming that voting Yes will deliver a blow against the cuts being imposed by the ConDem government in Westminster. But voting Yes will not save us from a single penny of the cuts that have been made by them, nor the deeper cuts that are going to be made by them over the next few years.

So what would explain their actions? At one level it's very simple: they have decided that people in Wales simply aren't capable of understanding the issue at hand, and are therefore trying to make out that the referendum is about something they think people in Wales will understand. That doesn't say much about their respect for people in Wales, and it makes what they are trying to do no different from what True Wales have been trying to do when they claim that this referendum is about increased taxes, more politicians, or the "slippery slope to independence".

But there's more to it than that. It is clear that each of them is using this referendum as an opportunity to attack the Tories, but both Paul Murphy and Hywel Francis have now introduced a rather sinister sub-text. Paul Murphy criticized the Yes campaign because, as an all-party group, it had what he called "the problem" of not being able to attack the Tories in the way he would like; and Hywel Francis claimed that the Yes campaign was:

making it more difficult to mobilise a full-blooded anti-Tory campaign

So it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they are putting two fingers up at the careful work of the Yes for Wales campaign.


Now these three men are certainly being unscrupulous, but they are not stupid. They are quite sincere in wanting a Yes vote now, even though the only reason they've changed their minds is because they realized Labour was going to lose power at Westminster. They thought things were fine ... so long as they were in government there.

So would they put a Yes vote in danger by undermining the Yes for Wales campaign in this way? I don't think so. I think they have calculated that the margin in favour of a Yes vote—at least 20% in nearly all the polls—is such that they can afford to undermine cross party support for a Yes vote. So they reckon it probably won't matter if they alienate Tory and LibDem supporters so much that they vote No or, more likely, stay at home ... so long as they get a few Labour supporters who would otherwise stay at home out to vote.

As I see it, they realize that although a good many of their supporters do understand what this referendum is about, and will vote on the issue at hand, there are others who simply don't understand and who therefore see no point in voting in the referendum. They want to persuade these people that the referendum is, to all intents and purposes, just another party political election in which Labour is on one side and the Tories on the other. By getting people to vote Yes for Labour's reasons they hope that the referendum campaign will trundle on and seamlessly morph into Labour's campaign for the Assembly elections in May.


The big question is how the rest of us should react to this tactic. I think we shouldn't ... or at least not yet. In the immortal words of Huw Lewis, we should "Let Labour be Labour." We simply need to point out what they're doing and why they're doing it, but should not let ourselves be distracted from explaining why it is important for us to be able to make laws in those areas that are already devolved to Wales. If we stick to the job at hand, we will not alienate those from other parties who support a Yes vote.

Nor, I suggest, should we in Plaid react with anger to the sort of personal attacks that Labour have just made on Ieuan Wyn Jones. It's all part of the same strategy, in all probability orchestrated by the same elements in the Labour Party at Westminster. They want to turn what should be the campaign for a Yes vote in March into the early skirmishes of the campaign for the Assembly elections in May.

We can afford to wait a few weeks. Right now we need to keep fighting an inclusive, uniting campaign for a Yes vote; for the sake of Wales, and for the sake of people of all political persuasions in Wales. But after that—though maybe allowing a day or two for the hangover from the celebration party on 4 March to wear off—we can turn our attention to campaigning for the Assembly elections ... and do it with a clear conscience.

Bookmark and Share


Gwilym ap Llew said...

I fear that not all Plaid Cymru voters will vote "Yes". Plaid Cymru is rather good at being a protest party, saying "No" and not as good as a party of government, as we have seen.

Anonymous said...

I think it's best to ignore the tactics of some Labour members and concentrate on the issue at hand - the referendum.

I'm sure IWJ has received a lot of flack but as Grangetown Jack notes, there were big problem in that department when he arrived. IWJ should have let it slide off his back.

In any case - that's all party political issues for the election in May.

The important thing now is that the four parties (yes, GapLl, includng Plaid) campaign in a spirit of cooperation and good faith in one another for the Referendum.

I hope IWJ, Carwyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan are sitting down today to make sure things are on track from their side. It's this kind of stupid squabble which loses elections ... and that was the point of the trick in the first place.

Anonymous said...

How are the 'matters' already devolved now going to work?.
I've heard rumblings that the Assembly, may actually lose some power, where "wide" matters were devolved under the Fields.

Jac o' the North, said...

These attitudes show Labour's deep-seated ambivalence towards devolution, visible as early as 1997. Once Tony Blair won his election voices within the party argued that Wales no longer needed devolution because Labour was in power in London.

Then again, taking an anti-Tory stance might increase the Labour Yes vote by outflanking the True Wales anti-Plaid, "slippery slope", rhetoric. For let's be honest - is there much Tory support to lose?

No matter what the Tory AMs or MPs like Glyn Davies might say about voting Yes, Tory voters were never going to turn out in substantial numbers to vote Yes.

Hen Ferchetan said...

Anon - the exact same matters will be devolved after a Yes vote as there are now.

Anonymous said...

"Right now we need to keep fighting an inclusive, uniting campaign for a Yes vote; for the sake of Wales, and for the sake of people of all political persuasions in Wales".

you are spot on with regards to that point Syniadau! Nothing should be allowed to distract us from the task at hand - winning on march 4th.

But i have to say if the comments of paul murphy and hywel francis encourage a few more welsh labour voters to come out and vote yes i have no problem with that - as the votes of welsh labour voters will be crucial to winning this referendum.

Leigh Richards

Unknown said...

I agree - now is not the time to be bickering amongst ourselves. Some of the Labour old guard appear to have made a calculation that as the YES is won (which it is not!) they can afford to indulge in the sort of nasty politics that the Assembly has proved is not necessary - civilised intelligent debate taking the place of 'YA BOO'.

Last dying twitches of a dying breed, I hope!

MH said...

Anon 12:01, HF is quite right (thanks HF, and it would be good to see you blogging again, I miss Amlwch to Magor) but I can understand where the "rumblings" you heard came from. There are a few instances where an LCO gave the Assembly greater legislative powers under Schedule 5 (the current list of lawmaking areas) than are listed in Schedule 7 (the new list of lawmaking areas after a Yes vote). This is discussed in the All Wales Convention's Report, starting at section 3.10.33. But in reality it isn't much of a problem, because we now know that Schedule 7 will be modified to reflect any instances where broader powers have already been given under Schedule 5.


Jac and Leigh, on a practical level you might well be right that there are fewer Tories to alienate than there are Labour supporters to win over. And it's equally true that stoking up the anti-Tory rhetoric is a sure-fire way of getting Labour supporters out to vote.

We can also look back to the last referendum, when Labour got people out to vote by saying "Tony Blair knows best; vote Yes because that's what he wants." On one level it's just laziness. Rather than put the case for voting Yes on its merits, these MPs find it easier to motivate their supporters in the same way as they have done in every election in the past. But that's no excuse for telling lies. The end does not justify the means.

And Siônnyn might be right that it has a lot to do with the differences between politics in Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

Post a Comment