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Pulling the trigger

Betsan Powys | 08:26 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

I don't know. You wait for years and then along come two at the same time - two votes in two institutions in the one week that if won could lead to a referendum before the end of 2011.

This blog has had a stab already at laying out the likelihood of the vote being won in the Assembly next week and the process that would lead to that referendum. I won't make you suffer again so here's the potted version:

Am I convinced a referendum will be held in the Autumn? No, open to convincing but not convinced.

Could it happen? Absolutely.

What makes the difference between 'no' and 'absolutely'? Political will. The party in power in Westminster must have lots of it if there's to be an Autumn referendum within months of a General Election.

If the Conservatives win, then Welsh Labour might well find pots of political will but then they'd find they no longer have a Secretary of State.

The Conservatives will but David Cameron hasn't said clearly that he intends to make a referendum in Wales happen as early as the Autumn. What he has said is that the timing isn't up to him. Nick Bourne is adamant that he wants a referendum in the Autumn but ask some of his trusted advisers whether they think a vote would be held in September/October if David Cameron makes it to Number Ten and they're just not sure things would move that quickly. They are hoping, just not sure.

If Labour win, Peter Hain has said clearly he thinks an Autumn referendum would be lost. Would he be cajoled by Carwyn Jones into holding it anyway? Now there's an obvious question for this morning's lobby briefing - one that offers the First Minister a chance to spell out the extent of his political will on this one.

A hung parliament? Ah well, then you'd have to look at the maths and look at who had the clout, along with the political will ... and the possiblity of a second General Election making the timing of a referendum even harder to predict.

What happens today? Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones sit side by side to announce that the vote held in the Assembly on February 9th will be a trigger vote - in other words, it sets us off towards the finishing line of a referendum.

Will the government win the vote next week?

The Conservatives say they won't vote yes unless the possiblity of a referendum that coincides with the date of the Assembly election next year is ruled out. Neither Labour nor Plaid are minded to give them that assurance.

The Lib Dems are saying the same, yet briefing that they'll vote yes next week. Not exactly what you'd call political hardball.

Will the vote be won then? Yes, it looks very much like it.

UPDATE:

The Liberal Democrats insist they did NOT brief that they will vote to support the trigger motion next week unless they get a reassurance that a referendum would not be held on the same day as the Assembly election. Reports that they did, they say, are wrong.

The party line? The group will abstain unless Labour and Plaid "do their best to rule out ... no, do rule out" a referendum that coincides with the Assembly election.

There'll be some bartering, no doubt and possibly some overtures to Trish Law - Blaenau Gwent's AM who is all for a referendum but against having it on the same day as the Assembly election.

But bottom line? Next week's vote will be won. The problem the Lib Dems face is that no-one - except some Conservatives perhaps - believes they would vote against a referendum they really want.

By the way it's the Lib Dems who made another point more clearly than anyone else: the vote next week might be won, said Peter Black but without a full slate of parties backing it, don't the chances of winning a referendum diminish?

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