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Everything you wanted to know ...

Betsan Powys | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 7 July 2010

What, says a friend in Switzerland, is all the fuss about? Can't you lot put two crosses in two boxes on one visit to the polling station? Not exactly earth-shattering, argues someone who left Wales for a dose of globe-trotting some years ago. Are you lot just looking for a fight, or what?

She's been reading the boost to democracy/bang goes the respect agenda stories that appeared in the wake of Nick Clegg's announcement that the referendum on AV will be held on the same day as the Assembly Elections.

You either believe, as does Mr Clegg, that it boosts turnout, saves money and simply makes sense to hold both votes on the same day and that those decrying the decision are out to shout down the coalition government, no matter what.

Or you believe, as do the two dozen MPs from Wales mostly but also from Scotland and Northern Ireland who signed an Early Day Motion tabled last night that the devolved administrations were by-passed and insulted by Mr Clegg's announcement. To that insult add the injury they can see coming to the future of democracy in Wales if the number of MPs is reduced from 40 to nearer - or even fewer than - 30.

The unofficial title of the EDM, I'm told, was "Alas the Respect Agenda, she faded fast".

In the meantime I've been brushing up on referendums. In case there's a round on referendums in your local pub quiz next week, read and commit to memory:

What's the job of the Electoral Commission?

1. commenting on the intelligibility of the referendum question
2. registering campaign groups and regulating campaign fund-raising and expenditure
3. supervising the voting arrangements
4. certifying and declaring the result of the referendum

On which subjects have our opinions been canvassed recently?

Let's kick off with the votes that led to the creation of the Assembly in Wales and the Scottish Parliament in 1997; there's the vote in London on an Assembly and Mayor in 1998, the vote in Northern Ireland on the Good Friday Agreement a fortnight later and in 2004 the vote in the North East on whether to create a regional government.

37 referendums have been held in local authorities in England on the issue of directly-elected Mayors. 24 said "No", 13 said "Yes".

There've been two referendums on the introduction of congestion charges (Edinburgh and Greater Manchester - both voted "No")

And there've been three votes on council tax increases - in Milton Keynes, Bristol and Croydon. Voters either went for the lowest or the medium increase. Funny that.

Lots of facts: one point to add. During every single campaign I bet you someone sounded a warning - that when people vote in a single-issue referndum, they rarely use their vote solely to answer the question on the ballot paper.

The latest to make that point? Glyn Davies MP on AMPM this lunchtime. Rarely, he said, are referendums fought on the exact issues under question and so, he fears that the call from the Holtham Commission yesterday for the Assembly to gain the power to vary income tax could prove "very dangerous" for the "Yes" campaign during next year's referendum in Wales.

There was, he said, logic in what Mr Holtham had said. In that he's singing from the same hymn sheet as his former boss in the Assembly, Nick Bourne. But political campaigns aren't always fulled by logic he points out and so Mr Davies' fear, as a supporter of further powers, is that the "No" campaign could very easily portray a vote for greater powers for the Assembly as a "vote for higher taxes". They could - Mr Davies is spot on there.

"I think" he added "that's a very dangerous change".

So what do you do?

Put logic to one side, or make it central to your argument? Not a pub quiz question this time but not a bad one.


A double whammy for AMPM - let me quote Rhodri Morgan, who used to sit in the First Minister's seat but this morning occupied a sofa in the Senedd and spoke bluntly:

"I've always believed that we've had no sanction or mandate from the original September 1997 referendum to have tax-varying powers. If we had had a tax-varying power on offer there is no question that we would have had 'no' instead of a 'yes' -- as a result there is no mandate for that."

"I understand all all the principles for accountability but there is no mandate for a tax-varying power for the Welsh Assembly".


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