A date’s been set, and it looks as if that wily operator Cheryl Gillan the Secretary of States, whose call it is, agrees. So the civil partnership agreed between the political parties in the Assembly will begin.
A ’˜yes’ campaign organised by all the political parties in the Assembly will be teeing off when the last putt of the Ryder cup is holed.
Unlike last time, none of Wales’s main political parties will be urging a ’˜no’ vote. All will be singing from the same hymn book on this.
Even the Conservatives, who were part of the ’˜no’ campaign last time are free to campaign as they wish. However, the Conservative Members of the Assembly are all likely to be prominent in the ’˜yes’ campaign.
Welsh Conservative leader, Nick Bourne, a leading member of the ’˜no’ campaign last time, has had a Damascus type conversion, seen the error of his previous ways, and is now poised with all the enthusiasm of the newly converted, to actively campaign for a stronger devolved institution in Cardiff Bay.
Although no one can question Carwyn Jones’s devolution credentials and he claims that ‘Welsh Labour is proud of our commitment to devolution. We delivered a referendum to establish the Assembly back in 1999 and in 2006 we created the legislation which has paved the way for today’s announcement. A positive outcome for the referendum will mean the Assembly can make laws for the people of Wales more efficiently and in a more cost effective manner.’
However, many within his party may not be as enthusiastic about the onward march of devolution. Some are unreconstructed unionists. This small rump may actively oppose a ’˜yes’ vote. They live in the forlorn hope that a win for the ’˜no’ camp will seriously de-rail devolution. A lost referendum may provide the springboard to a campaign that could eventually lead to the scrapping of the Assembly itself.
The setting of the date of the referendum before the end of this Assembly term vindicates Plaid Cymru leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones’s, political stance. He could have been the First Minister of a rainbow coalition of Conservatives, Plaid and Liberal Democrats but instead he chose to get into bed with Labour.
He calculated that only Labour could deliver the required two thirds vote of assembly members required to trigger a referendum on more powers.
As he said, ‘This is an important and symbolic step in the process of arranging the referendum and it clearly signals that the countdown to the vote is well underway. I’m proud that Plaid in government has realised this hugely important commitment to bring about this referendum. The current system is slow, cumbersome, and highly bureaucratic and it needs to be changed. We’re committed to taking action to bring about real change and real improvements.’
According to recent opinion polls the ’˜yes’ vote are likely to have a majority. But people tend to punish politicians if they are unhappy. The question is will they use the referendum on devolution as a vehicle for their dissatisfaction. Because dissatisfied they surely will be, when the comprehensive spending review cuts bite.