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Just say no.

Betsan Powys | 15:39 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

To Newbridge Rugby Club where I doubt they have such a thing as a Zen room handy.

What will True Wales - the body campaigning for a no vote - want to make quite certain IS there, centre stage?

Ordinary voters, grassroot campaigners determined to be David to the Goliath of a more slick, establishment-supported Yes campaign that's been waiting for the opposition to get properly out of the blocks.

I've seen the speech that Rachel Banner, a key figure in the No campaign, intends to deliver tonight. It's a good speech, a very good speech. The 'slippery slope to independence' rhetoric is there. But it sticks to the point, sticks to its mission which is to persuade voters that devolution has so far failed to deliver.

Where is the motivation, she asks, for giving Assembly Members more powers to legislate? The prosperity gap between Wales and the rest of the UK? Well that has widened. The devolution dividend she highlights in schools is the £527 spending gap between pupils in Wales and England.

"We say to the people of Wales, don't let them hide their record over the last decade. Make them get the basics right on the economy and schools. More laws won't pay for one more ambulance. More laws won't pay for one more nurse. More laws will not improve stroke services."

Where do things get rather more difficult? How about these lines:

"Now, so divided is the Health Service in the UK, that cross-border relations are breaking down... because of a shortfall of money from Wales. So we no longer have a universal health service in the UK. Aneurin Bevan must be turning in his grave."

What does that mean? Does having "a universal health service in the UK" suggest no campaigners would rather health was not devolved? That the National Assembly wasn't, in fact, in charge of the health service? Would many rather there was no National Assembly at all?

And what, under the heading "True Devolution" does this sentence mean:

"True Wales is here today to say that there is a better, more forward-looking form of devolution than that which Assembly politicians are currently offering. Instead of looking to centralise power in Cardiff Bay so that the Assembly becomes a pale copy of Westminster, we say that politicians must look to give power to the people, involving them in meaningful decision-making, to achieve true devolution."

I'm off to Newbridge to listen - and to ask just that.

UPDATE

From the No campaign an extra "no" tonight that might change the nature of the referendum battle over the next few weeks.

True Wales had until midnight tonight to submit their bid to the Electoral Commission to become the designated - official - lead No campaign. They've decided to say no to that chance. Some months ago we thought they might take this course but they've made it clear both publicly and privately that they were going to go for it.

So why not make it official? Because the Electoral commission rules make it virtually impossible, they argue, for a grassroots campaign to qualify. Because if there's no official No campaign there can be no Yes campaign. And if there are no designated campaigns, neither side gets £70,000 to spend on their teams. Neither side will have their campaign leaflet delivered free of charge to every household in Wales and neither side will get the platform of a referendum broadcast.

"Be grateful," said Len Gibbs of True Wales, "our decision has just saved the Welsh taxpayer half a million pounds." A spokesman for Yes for Wales said: "Our priority is to engage the Welsh public in the referendum and we will be discussing with the Electoral Commission the best way to do this."

Final thoughts. Could the biggest impact of tonight's decision be how much each campaign is now allowed to spend overall. And could someone somewhere try for a last ditch attempt to take on the No mantle?

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