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.