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They'll do it their way.

Betsan Powys | 13:30 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Time to switch off for a few days soon but first, just a bit more of that half term horizon scanning - a slightly closer horizon this time. The Order which will allow the referendum on further powers for the Assembly has been laid before Parliament and the Assembly, the question is decided and the date - March 3rd 2011 - is in place.

What's still conspicuously absent is the launch of the cross-party Yes campaign. We're told every time we ask that it's not far off but there are still elements to be ironed out.

True Wales have confirmed that they'll go for official status as the designated No campaign. Senior members remark wryly that there isn't much in the way of competition for that mantle but they see it as a matter of real importance that the other side of the debate is put strongly to voters.

They're sanguine about any celebrity endorsements that may be wheeled out by the Yes side. The feeling is that most people have already made up their minds and that neither the pre-campaigning period or the campaign itself will convince many people to change their position.

The message coming from the True Wales camp is that they're organised, united around a message and strategy and ready to go. In terms of where public opinion is, they believe recent polling understates the No vote and that they're "in the game" in terms of standing a chance of winning the vote. There could be as little as two per cent in it either way says one TW campaigner.

Well, he and YouGov can't both be right but we'll have to wait until the evening of March 4th to find out which it is, as counting looks as though it'll be through the day on the Friday rather than overnight, even if shares in coffee companies plummet as a result. Better for those bags under my eyes, I can safely say.

What of the Yes campaign? Although its structure, message and personalities remain under wraps, one intriguing element will be quite how genuinely cross party it will be. At a headline level, it will be just that - expect senior representatives of Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats at the Yes campaign launch.

In terms of how things are going work on the ground? That may be a little different and that's the intruiging bit.

The Conservatives have decided that they're not going to commit any party resources and will remain officially neutral, allowing members to campaign for or against as they wish. That said, expect to see the likes of Nick Bourne, David Melding and Nick Ramsay more than pulling their weight.

Plaid Cymru have set aside precious party cash to help fight the campaign and both they and the Liberal Democrats have been instrumental so far behind the scenes in pushing forward the Yes campaign. Both parties are foursquare behind the campaign.

Which brings us to Labour. In Rhodri Morgan they have the most popular politician in Wales and in First Minister Carwyn Jones a politician whose profile will have been significantly raised since his election as party leader at the end of last year. You can bet the BBC radio presenter who wasn't sure who 'the man with grey hair' was when Mr Jones was introduced to the Pope will know who he is now and you can bet too that by March, every effort will have been made to up the First Minister's profile. So the current and past leader will play a leading role in the Yes campaign. I understand Leighton Andrews is taking time out from bashing the university vice-chancellors to hone the Yes message, bringing to bear everything he learned during the 1997 referendum campaign.

But what of Labour's grassroots activist base? Here, things may be a little different. Labour are planning to run their own Yes campaign, separate and distinct from the cross party effort.

It will be a Labour-branded campaign which will have a relentless focus on the pro-further powers argument from Labour's point of view. The message will be calibrated to appeal to their core vote, their activists will be working to promote Labour's achievements during the last decade of devolution alongside selling the benefits of a Yes vote.

Setting it up will be one of the key early tasks of the new Welsh Labour general secretary, just announced as Dave Hagendyk, the party's former policy officer.

So: a campaign from the point of view of Labour's achievements. Pre-election antennae twitching, anyone?

It's not clear yet what the reaction of the other parties will be to Labour going its own way. Plaid and Lib Dem figures are fairly relaxed. They know it's crucial that Labour get their vote out if they're to win it so their feeling is - whatever it takes.

However, I wonder how long it'll be before the other parties start getting riled by what will effectively be a pre-election campaign for Labour being run out of Transport House under the guise of a referendum campaign? "It's pretty tribal, isn't it" sniffed one Tory figure.

Could Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats follow suit? They could but it could also lead to a fragmentation of the cross party campaign and a pretty rapid descent into party political slanging - music to the ears of True Wales.


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