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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.


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  • 1. At 10:40am on 23 Sep 2008, BLUESNIK wrote:

    4ward 2 WRLD SCLSM.


    Vote Rosa Luxemburg. (Spartacus North)


    SAy NO to MIliband (Not Ralf.. the idiot sons)

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  • 2. At 11:44am on 23 Sep 2008, expolgareththomas wrote:

    I think its unrealistic for the polls ever to shift much from these figures. They certainly won't shift sufficiently to give the Yes Camp a margin of comfort and reasonable confidence of victory. To that extent a decision to call a referendum will be both a leap in the dark and an act of faith unless of course either Labour or the Conservatives decouple themselves from the committment to hold a referendum. That scenario is possible once the present system has been in place for a good few years

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  • 3. At 7:19pm on 23 Sep 2008, John Henry wrote:

    I think we should recognise the importance of the tiny minority, 10%, of the Senedd survey who continue to wish for independence in the face of overwhelming rejection.

    With such a small minority 80 years in the making, it is time the majority reached out to mend the "great cultural wrongs" felt by Plaid supporters. It is time that the majority countered every Plaid negative with either positive action or irrefutable reasoning, it is time that independence becomes irrelevant to the future of all the people of Wales.

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  • 4. At 9:54pm on 23 Sep 2008, dylanrees88 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 5. At 11:57am on 24 Sep 2008, brynt41 wrote:

    'Devolution in Northern Ireland is based on 'a tailor-made agreement' after all.'

    Same here. Unfortunately we aren't able to choose the tailor. I voted 'No' in 1979, not because I was against devolution, but because the proposed assembly was so pathetic. No more than a talking shop. The 1997 creation was little better. The Government of Wales Act is a dog's dinner.

    It would be demeaning to have to ask the neighbours for permission to buy a three piece suite, or to decide which brand of tv we watch. But that is exactly what the Assembly has to do. This is what the New Labour tailor has 'given' us. A straitjacket.

    The difference between 1979 and 1997 was 17 years of Tory government - David Hunt, Peter Walker and John Redwood appointed to preside over Wales. That is what persuaded Ron Davies and others to support devolution. Hatred and fear of the tories, not love of the principle of devolution. At heart Labour has been and is a centrist party. Blair and Brown have shown it is still the case.

    We are likely to be in for another extended period of Tory government. Will that prospect tend to silence the opposition in the Labour party to legislative devolution in Wales? It did in 1997. Murphy and his ilk will be responsible for sentencing Wales to a decade or more of misery, if they oppose a legislative parliament.

    The Scots might also have a bearing. They might well exit the UK. I hope they do, because it will be to their benefit. The effects on the remaining rump are difficult to predict, but there will be effects. One of the most likely is the creation of an English Parliament, something that many there already want. If that is the case, then a Parliament for Wales will be a certainty, referendum or not.

    Northern Ireland has had a Parliament for most of its history, and its inevitable that law and order and justice won't be devolved to its Assembly which will become a Parliament again in due course.

    The prospects for a Welsh Parliament on Scottish lines are good, in my opinion. Independence is another matter. Scottish independence might provide the spur for us to go for it, especially when Scotland is seen to prosper.

    Plaid needs an inspiring, charismatic and able leader too, who can take on the failed unionists and show them up for what they are, and how little they have done for Wales. Not a difficult task, when its been run by the likes of Blair and Brown.

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  • 6. At 12:15pm on 24 Sep 2008, Old_Miwl wrote:

    Perhaps we should also recognise the ‘tiny minority’ (15%) who want to go back to pre-devolution days in the face of overwhelming rejection.
    With such a small majority 700 years in the making, it is time the majority of us (around 85% who want at least the level of control we have now over our own affairs in Wales) reached out to mend the “great cultural wrongs” felt by anti-devolutionists. Its time that the great majority countered every anti-devolution negative with either positive action or irrefutable reasoning. It is time that the idea of a unitary British state becomes irrelevant to the people of Wales.

    See what I did there? Clever eh? Its amazing how the argument works both ways depending on how you read the statistics.

    The number in favour of independence is usually between 10-15% and there is a crossover with the full parliament option. Long term I favour independence but in the short term I’d support a full parliament. This is neither based or an irrational dislike of our neighbours nor ‘great cultural wrongs’. It’s based on my belief as Wales as a nation which is no less able to govern itself than any other. There is no less logic in that argument than there is in those who believe in Britain as a nation with distinctive regions. We simply disagree.

    Now of course jumps out the argument of the slippery slope. ‘Look! The Nationalists only want a parliament in the short term but this is the slippery slope to independence’. Well, er, no. It’s more like the climb up the mountain to independence. I know that I’d like to go to the summit but the Assembly was simply getting off the bus and a parliament is only walking to the friendly café 500yards from the bus stop. If the people of Wales like the tea and buns there, or the view from any of the picnic sites on the way up, that’s where we stay. At the moment, with the weather not looking too good, we have to make the decision to stay in the bus shelter or make a run for the café. I know where I'd rather be if there is a storm on the way.

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