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Bucket loads

Betsan Powys | 21:40 UK time, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Who needs meetings?

Today, apparently, me and lots of them .At one, I found myself harking back to Port Talbot, to the Seaside Leisure and Labour Club and yet another meeting - one that probably felt it deserved to spelled with a big 'M'.

A lot has been written already about the All Wales Convention's first attempt to set out what would be at stake in a referendum, what would not and to sense whether more want to press ahead and vote yes than do not.

People wanted to talk and found their job was mostly to listen while others talked at them. That went down very, very badly. Despite having a budget of a million pounds there was just the one microphone - a sign, you feared, that there had never been a plan to hear very much from the audience. There were props: a bucket to make the point that a referendum wouldn't be about 'more' powers. It would be about the speed of delivery. Do we go to London and ask if we can fill our bucket with a few powers at a time from the big vat in Westminster, or do we ask for the whole lot in one fell swoop. The metaphor got slightly strained at that point.

Granted, a shouting match would have led nowhere. There was little to be learned from giving eighty people, most with entrenched views and minds made up, an opportunity to goad each other.

But people wanted to talk, wanted to try out their thinking and the next time Sir Emyr Jones Parry comes face to face with the Welsh public, you can bet there'll be far more of that than was allowed in Port Talbot.

One or two talked with their feet and left, only to come back later, curious to know whether the audience had turned nasty. They hadn't - just. But what they did find was a scene that came straight from Ricky Gervais' The Office. There were marker pens, colour co-ordinated slips of paper, numbered 'stations' dotted around the hall and a baffled group of people who'd just watched a DVD that one half found biased, the other patronising. "Why was the UK government the big, bad bully?" followed by "Too Doris and Dave by half."

Once they'd been persuaded to take up the big, fat pens and scrawl their big, fat concerns, ideas, thoughts on paper, the hope was that the real debate would quietly get going. It will all play a part in the evidence the Convention delivers to the First Minister and his Deputy before the end of the year.

So here's a sample:

"Wales is a divided nation as never before" (A tick of agreement from someone had been turned into a cross of protest by another).

"The Welsh nation has a right to its own destiny".

"I want the same healthcare and length of waiting lists as in England."

"Can we afford more legislation? We can't afford to keep street lights on".

"Let's empty the bucket in one. It's only a very small bucket anyway".

"You want more members of the Assembly??"

"My MP can't deliver even if he wanted to. He's one of hundreds. It makes sense for power to be with us in Wales."

"The people who need to be reached are not here."

"The system we have now makes no sense to me. It's a compromise. It's wrong".

"I don't want to end up like the Bosnian Serbs".

One question that did raise its head: why isn't there a Yes campaign? I'm wondering whether members of Tomorrow's Wales, a handful of whom were there quietly listening, will be able to fend off the tempation for much longer not to take on that mantle.

In the meantime one bit of news to share from one of today's meetings. Cross your fingers that I may have some good news soon on that rare thing in Welsh political life: an opinion poll, one that tells us something tangible about how keen we are to grasp that bucket, or whether we're afraid there's a big hole in it.


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