Friday, 5 September 2008

The referendum that never was

Still on the subject of the highly unlikely referendum on further powers, I find myself – somewhat unusually – in agreement to some extent with both Peter Black and Glyn Davies. (Well, there’s a first time for everything - but it is only a partial agreement!)

Glyn Davies says that “…I believe there to be no longer any intention to hold such a referendum before 2011”. If he hadn’t included the words "no longer", I’d be able to agree with this statement 100%; but I simply don’t believe that Labour ever had any intention of holding a referendum before 2011, so there is no change in the position, in my view.

Peter Black suggests “if Labour and Plaid are determined to lock themselves in a dark room and pretend that it will all come good on the night, no matter what the evidence to the contrary, then I fear that a referendum cannot be won in the short-term”. I cannot but agree with these sentiments as well. There will be no ‘yes’ vote without a campaign to persuade people of its merits, and it really does appear as if both the One Wales partners are studiously avoiding the issue completely.

Welsh Ramblings seems to suggest that this is not complacency, it is a deliberate ploy by Labour and Plaid to wait until the Tories declare their hand more openly. He also suggests that secret talks are already under way. I suspect that this is no more than wishful thinking on his part, I’m afraid.

This is where I think the four parties actually are on the issue:

The Tories will only decide what position to adopt when Cameron has decided what will play best for them in order to win the General Election. He will leave it as late as he can, as he has done with all policy issues, because he's trying not to say anything firm on any topic. Their position then will depend on what Cameron sees as most likely to maximise the Tory vote in England, knowing that he can’t win in Wales whatever he says. It is almost certain that, whatever a small number of them might be saying now, the party will end up opposing further powers in the immediate future. Bourne and Co. at the Assembly will make their excuses, but they’ll end up following Cameron’s line.

Labour will do everything that they can to avoid holding a referendum at all, since it will inevitably cause them major problems with their own unity. They invented the Convention, and they invented it to give them a reason to postpone a referendum indefinitely, not as a means to holding it. They want – and I think can now reasonably expect – the Convention to say that there is no overwhelming appetite for further progress. And for them, the best way of achieving that result is to let the nay-sayers campaign openly whilst remaining silent themselves, and allowing - nay encouraging, as Glyn and Edna Mopbucket suggest - the Convention to take as long as possible, whilst doing as little as possible.

Plaid’s members believe that there is a commitment to holding a referendum before 2011, but the leadership know it isn’t going to happen; the Convention was just a convenient cover to enable them to get their hands on some of the levers of power. The leaders therefore need the same result from the Convention as Labour, but can’t and won’t admit it. Don’t expect them to initiate a yes campaign any time soon.

The Lib Dems are largely irrelevant, on this as on everything else. They would join a cross-party yes campaign if there was one, but are not about to go out on a limb and start a campaign all by themselves.

The outcome of all the posturing and manoeuvring will be that there will be no referendum for several years to come, but there will be no announcement of that fact until Labour and Plaid are happy that they’ve done enough (or rather deliberately done nothing for long enough) to ensure that the vote cannot be won, making it a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Where do the interests of Wales come in all this? Don’t ask irrelevant questions.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Blue on blue

It has hardly come as a surprise to anyone that David Davies MP has decided to set up a ‘cross-party’ campaign against further devolution to Wales. Nor should it come as any surprise to anyone that he is planning to base his campaign on dishonestly equating devolution and independence and on the equally dishonest notion that Wales is inevitably and permanently stuck in a state of poverty which only handouts from our rich English neighbours can alleviate.

Dishonest it may be – and we should not expect less of him, given his previous form – but there is plenty of historical evidence that simple dishonest messages can work. It’s a trick which should not be underestimated.

The leader of the Tories in the Assembly – a man who has the same exalted status in the party apparently as their leader on Cardiff City Council – has issued a pretty mild public rebuke. Reading between the lines, however, he is considerably less exercised about whether what Davies says is right or wrong for Wales than about whether Davies might actually try and co-operate with the devil incarnate, aka members of the Labour Party. He manages to avoid expressing his view on the substance at all, dismissing it as a topic for another day.

Some, such as Guerrilla Welsh Fare, seem to be assuming that, when it comes to the referendum, the Tory group in the Assembly at least will join the ‘yes’ campaign, and that Davies is out of step. I’m far from convinced. It’s no accident that the Tories have yet to respond to the Lord Roberts review of their policy. It could mean one of two things in my view. Either Cameron really thinks that the issue is so unimportant that he doesn’t need to take a position of any sort; or else he wants to keep his options open.

I tend to the latter view. I think that, if Cameron believes that taking an anti-further powers (or even anti-Assembly) stance will boost his chances of getting to Downing Street, then he will not hesitate for a moment. This is no great issue of principle to him (what is?), it’s just part of a game where there is only one prize of any importance. And, if he does decide to follow that track, the rest of his party in Wales will be expected to follow his lead. Oh, I’m sure they’ll find some sort of fudge (“the time isn’t right”, “we need a wider review”), but I am convinced that we will find the Conservative Party in Wales throwing its weight behind the ‘no’ campaign sooner or later.

The whole basis of Davies’ proposed campaign may be utterly dishonest; but at least he’s honest in stating where he really stands on the issue, unlike most of his party who are still waiting to be told what they think.