Yes = No excuses
"Make your way to the Zen room" said a Yes for Wales campaigner who'd already heard all the jokes.
No, she didn't promise we'd better understand the meaning of life if we got there but we would hear the campaign's best shot at persuading voters to turn out and vote Yes in the referendum that will be held on March 3rd. The floor to ceiling windows were plastered with giant Yes for Wales tick/dragon's tail logos, the team of helpers putting them up not spotting - as one bright photographer did - that the backdrop, clearly visible behind them, was the Big Sleep hotel. There he had it, a picture that told a story of a campaign that has eight weeks to win a referendum to which an awful lot of Welsh voters are oblivious.
This was the un-jazzy, un-starry official launch of the Yes for Wales campaign. Expect more jazz and stars at this evening's do but nothing lavish. The message from campaign chair Roger Lewis that "there is no profligacy whatsoever in this camp" was made early on. Any money donated will be spent on "getting the message out to the people". Where their money has come from so far won't be made clear until the Autumn when all donations of over £1000 - but not a penny less - will be published as required by law. Some small amounts of corporate and trade union donations had been made already, conceded Mr Lewis but all donations would be welcome, he added hopefully.
When the campaign is, inevitably, designated as lead Yes campaign by the Electoral Commission come February, it will then be awarded tens of thousands of pounds to explain why voting Yes is the right decision. The same amount will be given to the lead No campaign to make their arguments. We're expecting True Wales to launch their campaign the week after next.
What did we hear from the Yes campaign?
That voting 'no' would not mean things would stay as they are. Wales' voice would be weakened. A 'no' vote would hole the Assembly Government below the water-line when it came to negotiating with Whitehall.
A 'yes' vote would strengthen Wales' voice. It would mean laws that affect only Wales would be made only in Wales - "people are uniting behind this simple principle."
A 'yes' vote would allow Assembly Members to get on with the job of "developing Welsh solutions to Welsh problems" - in other words, making decisions that are not necessarily the same as ones made elsewhere - without having to negotiate a legislative system that means they must first get the nod from Westminster.
It would create "a no excuses culture". There'd be less of an opportunity for politicians in Cardiff Bay to duck and dive and blame MPs if the going got tough. They'd have to focus on delivery and explain why if they failed. This would "raise the bar" for the Assembly.
Where did they get into difficulty?
Education is at the heart of the campaign. The launch was at the Atrium, the University of Glamorgan's centre for Creative and Cultural Studies. Roger Lewis was flanked by a head teacher and a student (the 'ordinary voters' in such demand when political times become rather more extraordinary). Education was, he said "at the heart of how the Assembly Government are trying to move the country forward", "one of the pillars of devolution, a key pillar, a fundamental pillar." Yet an international study, published before Christmas, suggests that over the last decade, the performance of 15 year old pupils in Wales has suffered compared with other pupils in other schools in other countries. How do you combat the argument, as put already today by no campaigners, that it makes no sense to give the same politicians more power to get things even more wrong?
It was about freeing politicians up to focus on delivery, said Mr Lewis. It was also about not conflating the Assembly Government's performance so far with the powers that would be given to the Assembly as an institution and any future government that will be at the helm.
Another difficulty. If it is not about political decisions taken already by this government, why does the campaign leaflet say that "it's good to know that our National Assembly is protecting schools, skills and hospitals" - the mantra of Labour and Plaid ministers? Where's the 'clarity' in that?
It won't be easy, was the gist of the response. Future leaflets would be "sharpened up." This is, after all, a cross party campaign, one having to explain what powers have been used for so far, what a 'yes' vote would mean and how more powers could be used in future. "That's the tightrope we're having to walk". In other words, we concede now that there'll be an occasional wobble.
The biggest difficulty of all? Answering the turnout question. What is 'enough' to be significant, or reasonable or, indeed, legitimate. By his own admission the response from the chair was "a soup of an answer". The gist of it was, I think, that a 'yes' vote is the right decision and what's most important is that after the vote, the majority understand what took place. That's what legitimacy is about, that's how you measure the significance of a 'yes' vote, not how many actually vote on the day. You're welcome to pick the bones out of that one.
Not everyone will take to Roger Lewis' style. Be under no illusion: he's as tough as they come but his puppyish enthusiasm will carry some along, grate on others. Even a fan of the YesforWales group comments on Facebook that "I'm 150% with you. Its a pity that WRU chap Lewis is fronting it, he enunciates like some born again christian who's been Eisteddfod trained".
That is why, perhaps, you will also hear from those 'ordinary voters' over the coming weeks - the teacher from Barry who feels that Welsh ministers have rightly put the well-being of children first, the student from Aberystwyth who thanks her lucky stars that decisions on fees taken in Wales are different to those taken in Westminster and the food bank manager from Ebbw Vale who was sceptical about the need for an Assembly in 1997 but who whose experience of gaining access to decision makers and changing things at grassroots level has persuaded him that it's time for more devolving of power.
You won't know their faces and that is the point. All four party leaders want a 'yes' vote. They really want a 'yes' vote and they've calculated theyr'e more likely to get one if they, for the next eight weeks, stand back sometimes and let Roger Lewis and his pack take the strain.