BBC BLOGS - Betsan's Blog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Itches and speeches

Betsan Powys | 06:48 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Last night Gordon Brown was in the conference hall rehearsing the speech he hopes will get him rather more marks from party activists than David Miliband's apparently intentionally under-played six out of ten. But Plaid have already given him full marks for a speech he gave in Belfast last week - one that contained these lines:

"It's time to complete devolution ...

For there is something more vital at stake for your entire society - that only the completion of devolution can deliver.

How can you, as an Assembly, address common criminality, low-level crime and youth disorder when you are responsible for only some of the lever for change? When you have responsibility for education and health and social development but have to rely on Westminster for policing and justice?

The people of Northern Ireland look to you to deal with these matters because to them they are important. Full devolution is the way to deliver better services, tailored to the needs of all communities, regardless of the politics. Is is the best way for you to serve them. "

He's talking 'over there' of course and not 'over here'. All the same what happens over there will inevitably impact on us over here - an argument I've heard the man who was Secretary of State over there and is now Secretary of State over here make in the past. So what does Paul Murphy make of it? Devolution doesn't come in one size fits all he says, his argument clear despite a 6am start. Devolution in Northern Ireland is based on 'a tailor-made agreement' after all.

But what do WE make of devolution?

I'll approach yesterday's Assembly commissioned opinion poll with caution and not just because it's described in the press release as one "of the most comprehensive surveys undertaken in Wales to gauge public understanding of the Principality's political landscape".

'Principality'? I thought we'd stopped using that 'over here'.

I approach with caution because I'm no expert on polls. But look back over a sequence of opinion polls over the last decade or so and support for a full law making parliament has remained stubbornly static below forty per cent - around 39 per cent at the beginning of the decade, followed by a dip and then a gradual rise back to the 39 per cent level in this week's poll.

Since 2001 there's been little movement so is it fair to ask this: when is one man's gradual increase in appreciation of devolution another's virtual flat-lining?

And when Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones read yesterday's figures, what did they see? A Wales that is about to - or steadfastly refusing to - scratch its seven year itch?

What would be the "comfort zone" needed for them to agree to press the red button on a referendum? Opinion 70-30 in favour of full powers? 65-35? My colleagues in Cardiff will ask Mr Morgan and Mr Jones at this morning's lobby briefing - don't hold your breath.

But one government backbencher with a good hotline to the centre says that there may be no need to wait for the kind of decisive shift in opinion that's seemed so elusive over the last few years. The thinking goes, apparently, that the positive turnout will far exceed those who would rush to the polling station to try and block further powers and that means that the current 50-50ish split actually means we're a lot nearer the trigger point than it might otherwise seem.

But remember 1997. What nearly derailed the whole devolution project in Wales was the big turnout against. Would so many noes would turn out now that the principle of devolution is well established? That remains to be seen and there certainly won't be a "scrap the whole shooting match" option on the paper.

But there remains that very gradual increase/virtual flat-lining - take your pick - in public support.

While the First Minister and his Deputy remain stubbornly opposed to the setting up of a cheerleading Yes campaign to get things moving, the Chair of Plaid Cymru, John Dixon is acutely aware of the need to see just that movement.

While he says those who are cautious on a referendum are wrong and that there's stronger support than many think, he also has this to say: "The question of when to trigger the referendum is, of course, a matter of political judgement, and that judgement needs to be based first and foremost on an assessment of the public mood. But assessing the public mood is to a large extent a subjective rather than an entirely objective process. It certainly isn't just about counting numbers on a particular question. Opinion polls can help to inform that judgement, but they should never be allowed to become the determinant. There is otherwise a risk that we wait until the polls show that the argument has been clearly won before we start to present the case; and I don't understand how anyone would ever expect to decisively win any argument without putting the case."

Has David TC Davies' intervention on a No campaign spooked some people? Are they concerned there could be more of the same on the way?

But enough of seven year itches. The feel-good music blaring from the speakers in the conference hall is a reminder enough that Gordon Brown has just seven hours to hone that speech.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.