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Tightrope walking

Betsan Powys | 08:50 UK time, Thursday, 25 June 2009

An early doors interview with Radio Wales about the All Wales Convention's last "public event" in Cardiff, in City Hall tonight. No curry. No tea-dance. Just the promise of a "lively and thought-provoking debate."

There are a few Joneses promised as well, from all sides of the debate. There's Plaid Assembly Member Helen Mary Jones and Professor Richard Wyn Jones, the man charged with leading the drive at Cardiff University into researching governance, devolution and what it all means.

On the panel too, Lord Tristan Garel-Jones, the former Conservative Minister who floated the idea of the Welsh diaspora having a vote in any referendum on the country's future.

And of course, Chair of the All Wales Convention, Sir Emyr Jones Parry - no hyphen, no Summer to look forward to either because now starts the job of writing up his report for Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones.

Sir Emyr has already talked about the "fog" as he puts it surrounding Wales' current devolution settlement. You suspect if you were to ask him how many of us understand the settlement with which we currently live, he wouldn't talk in percentages, not even tiny ones. He'd talk in terms of a few dozen, if that.

You suspect too that one set of Joneses will bring that cutting from the Western Mail with them tonight and argue that fog is one very good reason for having a referendum. Bring in an era and a system which is simpler, which people will have voted for themselves and which may even pass an adapted Tony Benn-style test of democracy: simply understanding what power you've got, where that power came from - let alone how that power is exercised and to whom you're accountable.

The other will point to the fog and say that the referendum game is up. If we don't understand the current settlement and frankly, if we're showing little desire to cut through the fog, how could a referendum shine a genuine light on where we want to go from here? We don't even know from where we're starting.

Last night Sir Emyr told BBC Wales of another real problem that faces one set of Joneses more than the other. In the pub, he said - and I'm guessing he must have hard-drinking spies that tells him about conversations down the local - "people are talking about who's in and out of the Lions test team, have I got a job to go to tomorrow, the economy. What they're not talking about are which powers the Assembly has. I'm sure of that".

Cue the Joneses again:

They're not talking about it yet precisely because the present system is so complex that nobody gets it, the yes campaign hasn't even got going yet, the debate hasn't started, just the gathering of evidence so we can have an honest, decent, national debate about the future of our country.


That's it then. People aren't talking about it because they're fine as they are. They've got more important, if not bigger fish to fry, real problems that need sorting before you start going on about the constitution and LCOs and all that stuff that only those other Joneses care about.

Before the interivew kicked off this morning the presenter whispered urgently: "It says in the notes that I'm to ask you what Sir Emyr will be doing next, now that the public meetings are over ... Why? Is he becoming a tightrope walker or something?"

Ah no. That's what he's been doing for the past eighteen months ... if not for most of his career. By the time his report comes out in November we'll be able to establish just how good he's got at it this time and whether he'll decline a safety net, go for broke and point Ministers in one, clear direction out of the fog.


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  • 1. At 09:55am on 25 Jun 2009, Cardiffian2008 wrote:

    Surely its undemocratic to hold a referendum on something that the convention itself has proved that nobody fully understands. I'd like to hear Sir Emyr's response to that.

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  • 2. At 11:57am on 25 Jun 2009, BLUESNIK wrote:

    This consultation exercise has been an excellent use of unused public money with the "masses" breaking down the doors of the packed meetings in their crazed enthusiasm for MORE POWERS NOW! And EVEN MORE ON FRIDAY!...AND AFTER THAT? ENTERNAL LFE FOR ALL WELSH PEOPLE! (except Newport).

    Hot curries all round...OH NO! The Etonians are arriving soon to spoil things! Maybe we should abolish the ENGLISH public schools first and THEN hold a referendum on our "Welshness" (more WElsh than you, innit).

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  • 3. At 11:59am on 25 Jun 2009, Notonationalism wrote:

    It's clear enough, Cardiffian. To stop the political elite in Wales lining their pockets at our expense and taking us down the slippery slope to independence, we need to vote 'No' to full law-making powers. Since the Nationalists in government are intent on pushing this until they get what they want, let's have the referendum now, vote 'No' and then, maybe the politicians will focus on what we're paying them to do - that is, delivering effective public services.

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  • 4. At 3:29pm on 25 Jun 2009, puredrivelagain wrote:

    The issue of ex-pats voting from around is intriguing and tricky. It's as valid a consideration as allowing say, English people living in Wales to vote on the future of welsh nation. You could argue they would have a natural inclination to say 'No' just as ex-pats might have an inclination to the 'Yes' side.

    I think a referendum is needed with 3 or 4 options possibly using the single transferrable vote system for 1st and 2nd preference.

    The current system is designed to handicap any Welsh Assembly 'Government'. It is unworkable and completely impractical as a long term solution. An independent analysis would highlight this.

    We should have the options for:

    Full law making powers on a home rule settlement
    Full law making powers on the current devolved portfolios
    Return to rule by Westminster

    The Government of Wales Act 2006 is completely flawed and is the biggest contributor to any waste of taxpayers money, it is a halfway house that does nothing.

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  • 5. At 3:34pm on 25 Jun 2009, FiDafydd wrote:

    Re 1

    Are you saying then that there should be no referendum on the Lisbon Treaty? I doubt that you could fill a mini bus with people who understand that document...

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  • 6. At 3:46pm on 25 Jun 2009, penddu wrote:

    1. Prior to GOWA 2006, most people had a very clear idea of the powers of the Assembly (very little) and a reasonably clear idea of what they wanted (depending on which side of the fince you sit - either wanting Scottish Parliament style powers, or abolition).

    The problem with the current lack of understanding is that the GOWA 2006 gave as an incredibly convoluted sytem which gave seemed to give something for everyone to hate, and nothing for anyone to love.

    Nobody actually wanted the LCO system - if you want to improve the system and simplify the question - first scrap the LCO system and go back to a simple yes or no which people can understand

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  • 7. At 4:38pm on 25 Jun 2009, puredrivelagain wrote:


    If a referendum was held on anything it is up to both sides to explain the situation and the proposed change / status quo to the masses so that the people can then deliver their opinion and desire.

    A referendum, by definition, is one of the most democratic political vehicles I can think of.

    Now write out 100 times "Letting the people decide is thoroughly democratic"

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  • 8. At 6:19pm on 25 Jun 2009, John wrote:

    #7, wrote .....

    If a referendum was held on anything it is up to both sides to explain ........ to the masses so that the people can then deliver their opinion and desire.

    An interesting proposition, though difficult where one opinion holds all the financial cards.

    #5, wrote .....

    Are you saying then that there should be no referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

    I think that would be yes to a referendum, indeed there should be a root and branch examination of the whole undemocratic edifice, but as with the circumstances here, there needs to be understanding first.

    #4, wrote .....

    I think a referendum is needed with 3 or 4 options possibly using the single transferable vote system for 1st and 2nd preference.

    This has all the hallmarks of a lucky dip, this is a serious issue.

    The fog needs clearing, and does it really matter if it takes a generation or three, only to those with an urgent need for ......... a different agenda.

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  • 9. At 6:57pm on 25 Jun 2009, Bryn_Teilo wrote:

    #7 puredrivel wrote:

    'A referendum, by definition, is one of the most democratic political vehicles I can think of.'

    Yes, we had one in 2007. The handful of British unionists/nationalists on here would not agree with you.

    Unfortunately, we can't have referenda on every issue. The EU referendum was the first in UK history. IMO they should only be used in very narrowly defined circumstances, and rarely, for significant constitutional or similar proposals.

    A representative democracy is the only practical method of making day-to-day decisions.

    Unfortunately, because of a significant democratic deficiency in the UK, we have perpetual government based on a minority of votes in every general election as a consequence of FPTP, and an unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable second chamber. (Blair had a majority of 67 in 2005 with only 35% of the votes cast).

    Added to that is the inadequate separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. The executive in the UK dominates the legislature. The Commons is a docile body which does not scrutinise or challenge the executive to any sigificant extent. The judiciary at best only have powers to interpret statute law as there is no supreme court with powers to strike down unconstitutional legislation which threatens the rights and liberties of citizens.

    Undoubtedly substantial radical reform is required to make the UK into a proper democratic state. We get far too much secretive, complacent, arrogant, incompetent and even corrupt government. Parliamentary sovereignty is at the root of the problem. We have 'top-down' as opposed to 'bottom-up' government. The people should be sovereign in a written constitution which would make politicians answerable to us, and not to themselves.

    I don't think such reform will take place. Sadly, I don't think its even possible for it to happen. Vested interests, especially in the two main parties, will ensure it never does. I find the prospect depressing... Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair.. now Brown.. then probably Cameron, more and more of the same. The faces change, but not much else.

    Its the main reason that I support self-determination for Wales. Here (and in Scotland) it can be achieved simply through the ballot box, and we would be rid of the Westminster quagmire forever.

    That is not to say that Wales would be perfect thereafter. Far from it. Its a poor country, always has been under the system that prevails in the UK. So there would be much to be done to change from the benefit culture which exists. It needn't be like it is as many similar sized nations have done very well, in comparison.

    One day, perhaps a majority of my compatriots will come to the same conclusion.

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  • 10. At 07:43am on 26 Jun 2009, Bryn_Teilo wrote:


    For '2007' read '1997', of course. I'm losing it on dates, duh!

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