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Pulling the trigger?

Betsan Powys | 16:13 UK time, Monday, 4 January 2010

Back in November of last year the Institute of Welsh Affairs considered a future "Life under the Tories."

I chaired the event and as per usual, spent much of the time scribbling notes in the margins of the conference timetable. Some seem fascinating at the time but are indecipherable when I sit down later and try to read them. Others are simply jotted, almost in passing but turn out to be rather significant weeks later when I re-read them.

So how about this: Sir Emyr Jones Parry sketched a possible scenario - sketched let me assure you, not advocated - a scenario whereby a vote would be held in the Assembly in January 2010 that made clear the intention to hold a referendum on or before May 2011. It wouldn't trigger the constitutional, legal process of holding a referendum but politically it would lay down a marker. It would be a public statement of intent. The All Wales Convention could no longer, after all, be the government's "alibi".

Wouldn't that make more sense, he asked, than actually triggering the process in the dying days of the UK government? Wasn't there more logic and political mileage in laying down your marker, then triggering the process proper once the General Election has been held and a new government, of whatever colour, is in place in Westminster with a mandate to govern for years to come?

I tried the theory out on a Plaid source before Christmas. Why wouldn't you trigger the process in January, came the response? Why not get the process started before the electioneering proper starts? The time for markers and statements of intent is long gone.

So will there be a vote in the Assembly before the end of this month that triggers the process that leads, eventually, to a referendum? It might be quiet in Cardiff Bay but the voices I can hear are insistently whispering that yes, there will be.

Let's hope other voices join in the whispering over the next few days.


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  • 1. At 7:32pm on 04 Jan 2010, Crossroads wrote:

    Quote.."I tried the theory out on a Plaid source before Xmas" and surprise surprise...they wanted the process started in the next three weeks.

    Why a Plaid source...not exactly representative are they.

    Looks like just another rushed-through carve-up..whatever did happen to fair-play and democracy in Wales?

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  • 2. At 7:55pm on 04 Jan 2010, Neocromwellian wrote:

    "Let's hope other voices join in the whispering over the next few days."

    I would prefer 60% of the electorate shouting for it one way or the other.

    With both the Tories and Labour sucking up to the Libdems lets hope the possibility of a hung Parliament is going to include more people in the political process.

    This should also include the recall of AMs and MPs and making public institutions more accountable, we need people who will stand up for their constituents and not two faced whisperers.

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  • 3. At 9:14pm on 04 Jan 2010, canibefrank wrote:

    Blwyddyn newydd dda Betsan!!
    This is my first comment on your blog. I was going to leave a message on your happy New Year post but after reading the 'comments' left by your usual suspects, I decided to wait a few days.

    I've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with your blog for a number of years now - not because of your posts - but because it doesn't seem to matter what the topic is about, we seem to end up in the same tired argument.

    Although I personally have very strong views on independence for Wales, the Welsh language, Addysg Gymraeg, the Welshness of Monmouthshire etc.... I am going to try my best to stick to the topic at hand.........don't quote me on that though!!!!

    I sought of see Sir Emyr's point about setting a marker - making it clear politically that the referendum is going to happen and allowing the political and legal wheels to start turning especially after the general election. I personally can't wait to see the Tories in power in London. This is not because I’m a Tory, but I really think the people of Wales (which tends to be a Labour stronghold) needs to see a definite difference in the ethos, policies and priorities between the two governments. Only then will the need for assembly to go begging on the door of Westminster to allow us to pass a law that we as a government have already passed be properly addressed.

    However Betsan, I do agree with The Plaid Source “The time for markers and statements of intent is long gone” This conversation could continue for years and years to come with finishing markers becoming dots in the distance. Let’s hope we get there very soon!! We may mess it up and make wrong decisions (lets be honest – we do and we will) But the main thing is................THEY’LL BE OUR MISTAKES TO MAKE!!!

    Well there we first post done. Don’t know if I managed to stick entirely to the topic or if it was any good!! But I’m sure someone will be more than glad to point out the errors of my ways!!!

    By the way did anyone see Michael Portillo’s documentary on Guantanamo Bay yesterday? Worth a look

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  • 4. At 08:10am on 05 Jan 2010, penddu wrote:

    I must admit to having broken one of my new year resolutions yesterday, and got dragged into arguing about a completely irrelevant topic. So I will refresh my vows today and stay on-topic. So.....

    First, we should ask when the best time would be to hold the Referendum. I dont like the thought of coinciding it with either of the forthcoming general elections to WA or Westminster, as the battle lines will be different, so I suggest that the referendum should not occur within 3 months of either, so the political window would be somewhere between August 2009 and February 2010.

    So avoiding the holiday periods, the practical windows could be early October to mid-December and then possibly February.

    But mid-October seems to be the most obvioous date.

    Now work backwards from then. The official trigger vote in the referendum would need to be around 3 months before then so mid-July would be the last possible date, although that will inevitably cause problems with the summer holiday period.

    But those problems could be avoided if everyone knows what is coming - Calling an official trigger vote now would casue problems in the Westminster and Whitehall machines because of the UK GE but an advance vote in January to demonstrate that there is the political backing in Cardiff Bay, and with an unequivocal committment to call the trigger vote immediately after the UK GE with a planned referendum date of October, would allow everyone to start planning in the background.

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  • 5. At 08:10am on 05 Jan 2010, John Henry wrote:

    canibefrank at #3 is right to advocate a referendum, the Conservative party are expecting the demand and have said they will not impede its constitutional progress; however canibefrank then demolishes any logic brought to the argument with ...


    ..., I'm not sure the little people can afford many more mistakes, just look at education in Wales ... not a Westminster mistake to spend £500 per year extra over and above Welsh pupils, a WAG mistake to under-fund the best way to prosperity.

    ... having said that welcome from a Unionist.

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  • 6. At 09:40am on 05 Jan 2010, penddu wrote:

    5 The Conservatives in Westminster (ie David Cameron/Cheryl Gillan) have said they will not impede the referendum.

    But the Conservatives in Cardiff Bay have been much more positive and are likely to vote in favour of the referendum in the trigger vote and then openly support the YES campaign (although as it will be a free vote, some individual AMs will support the NO campaaign.

    How goes your petition???

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  • 7. At 10:54am on 05 Jan 2010, John Henry wrote:

    Penddu, what I wrote was ...

    ... the Conservative party are expecting the demand and have said they will not impede its constitutional progress

    ... this is as positive as it gets, it is not possible to be more positive than positive. Westminster is where we have democracy with its checks and balances, its good scrutiny, and with the best interests of the whole United Kingdom population. Though I expect certain questions to be raised in the corridors of power, how further powers will impact on the constitution for example, alternatively it could bring into question how further powers might be better served by cutting the strings completely, might this be a better question for the region ...

    Stay or go, choose now. ... and forever hold your peace.

    On the other matter, two weeks to the start date, approximately, depending on a publication date.

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  • 8. At 12:29pm on 05 Jan 2010, Bryn_Teilo wrote:

    #7 wrote

    "Westminster is where we have democracy with its checks and balances, its good scrutiny, and with the best interests of the whole United Kingdom population"

    Westminster is the place which is always run by one of two thoroughly rotten parties. When the electorate is fed up of one it has to opt for the other, until its fed up of that. It goes on and on. Which of the two parties gets in is decided by a few hundred thousand voters in about 50 constituencies, almost entirely in England. One of the two parties was in government in the 90s, and didn't have a single seat in either Wales and Scotland - or N Ireland, for that matter. (It was the party you support) How's that for democracy?

    As for checks and balances, they hardly exist. Westminster has become the tame puppet of the executive, particularly since Thatcher, and more so under Blair and Brown. The second chamber contains not one elected member, but 92 of them are there by virtue of birth.

    As for the constitution, what exactly does it constitute? No-one really knows. It seems to work in favour of the privileged and sectional interests in these islands.

    The result of all this is that the UK is a mess, by whatever standard you wish to measure it with. Illegal and/or immoral wars and politicians on the make. Hospitals, schools, roads and railways still in the first half of the last century. Uncontrolled immigration. An economy which actually manufactures very little, but depends on gambling in the money markets. A divided society - the wealthy in London and the south east (by and large) and the rest of us. A benefit culture.

    Its not because I'm Welsh, or Welsh-speaking, that I want fundamental constitutional change for Wales. A constitutionally reformed UK would be more palatable but its impossible - we're stuck with parliamentary sovereignty in perpetuity and its been highly damaging, as we've witnessed with the country's spiralling decline. It would take a revolution to change it.

    Wales can be rid of it with a simple vote. The Scots are waking up to the possibilities that can bring for them. I hope they take it and show us what can be done.

    You have a petition? Unfortunately, in the UK, petitions have a history of achieving absolutely nothing - another result of the unwritten constitutional setup which bedevils the country.

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  • 9. At 12:47pm on 05 Jan 2010, John Henry wrote:

    For those who do not read the Western Mail, Nick Bourne is reported as saying ...

    Ours is a party of the centre, which believes in both a United Kingdom and in localism, with devolution offering practical solutions. There is nothing wrong with devolution that Conservative policies cannot fix.

    The Conservative position is clear: if and when a referendum on further powers is formally requested, David Cameron will facilitate it. Cheryl Gillan, the Shadow Welsh Secretary, has already outlined practical measures to streamline the working relationship between Westminster and Cardiff.

    We urgently need the mature approach to government Conservatives would bring – goodness knows we need it after 12 years of Labour.

    ... and then further on, he said ...

    A Conservative Assembly Government would put people back at the heart of politics and strengthen civil society’s role in the governance of Wales.

    Devolution in Wales is in for a bumpy ride ....

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  • 10. At 12:57pm on 05 Jan 2010, canibefrank wrote:

    5# I'm aware that both Cameron and Gillan have said that the Tories won't stand in the way of a referendum but that wasn't my point.

    My point is that voters in Wales have generally voted labour and although I might be wrong, I don't think that is going to change. However the likely hood of a new government in Westminster come May 2010 seem very high. With two different governments in Cardiff and Westminster we are bound to see clashes and disagreement of policy and priority especially where cuts are concerned. Instead of having a an Assembly government that has tended to follow London's biding on most matters, we will have a government a bit more like Scotland - not in a nationalist way, but in a way that our voice is more likely to be heard on a UK stage.

    On the point 'they'll be our mistakes to make' I stick to that whole heartedly and take slight issue with the comment that it
    'demolishes any logic brought to the argument'
    Wanting to climb off the fence, stand up and take charge of my nations actions should not be seen as illogical.

    What I personally see as illogical is using WAGs 'mistakes' to justify an argument without acknowledging the 'mistakes' the UK government have made during the same time.

    I know that WAG have made mistakes and have done things that I personally don't agree with but compared with the mistakes that the Uk government have made during the same time - there's no contest.

    Trying to come back to the topic at hand
    4# I do agree with penddu regarding the referendum not clashing with either Westminster or WA. I just don't want us to lose momentum on this issue by delaying it

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  • 11. At 2:08pm on 05 Jan 2010, John Henry wrote:

    #10 The logic of the comparison rests with the topic, it was education, a devolved area where a direct comparison might be made.

    I reiterate ...

    ...not a Westminster mistake to spend £500 per year extra over and above Welsh pupils, a WAG mistake to under-fund the best way to prosperity.

    ... there is a major problem in education in Wales, at the moment the best part of a generation is being let down by our local politicians in Cardiff Bay. You might like to calculate the missing funding for a thousand pupil school, I think £ half million is a big hole in any budget, and no explanation.

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  • 12. At 2:24pm on 05 Jan 2010, FoDafydd wrote:

    Re 9


    I really don't see any logic in placing your final sentence here as you do devoid of any meaningful context. I just ask 'why'?

    But whenever the referendum is held, it is just very sad that we won't hear the intelligent, melodious and sometimes booming voice of Hywel Teifi Edwards participating - as only he could - in the debate.

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  • 13. At 4:00pm on 05 Jan 2010, penddu wrote:

    January 26th......

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  • 14. At 5:52pm on 05 Jan 2010, West-Wales wrote:

    Sorry we have lost Professor Hywel Teifi Edwards.

    An Author, Academic, Activist and Wordsmith par excellence, able to deliver his intellectual argument with emotion and a wonderful speaking voice that influenced many.

    I strongly disagreed with him - but thoroughly enjoyed listening to him.

    A great man has passed!

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  • 15. At 08:24am on 06 Jan 2010, Lyn David Thomas wrote:

    Thank you West-Wales
    That was gracious of you. And I second your views and add my condolences to his family and friends.

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