Just who will we hear speaking over the next few weeks for the Yes and the No campaigns in the Assembly powers referendum?
Now granted, that's not the question most of you were asking over your cornflakes this morning but it is a question that surfaced in the Western Mail you may have read over your cornflakes this week - so let's tackle it.
Let me start by saying this: You'll be hearing a great deal over the coming weeks from ordinary voters who've decided to vote yes, no, or who are still trying to work out which way to go. You'll be hearing from the sixty members of the People's Assembly from next week - people who got in touch after hearing my pleas before Christmas and told us they'd like to be part of our coverage around the referendum and the election in May. Some of them feel pretty strongly about all sorts of issues that affect the referendum though they don't represent either campaign.
But the question I started with is this: who will we hear speaking over the next few weeks for the Yes and the No campaigns?
Now in terms of the Electoral Commission, there is no official lead campaign on either side.
Yes for Wales met the criteria to become the official Yes campaign but due to the fact that True Wales declined to apply, under the law, to be the official No campaign, the Commission was unable to designate official campaigns for either side of the argument.
The official campaigns would have received benefits including a free Wales-wide mail-shot of their campaign leaflet, a political broadcast slot across radio and TV channels, a £600,000 limit on campaign expenditure and £70,000 grant for organisational purposes.
So instead of official campaigns, the Electoral Commission is now only required to recognise "permitted participants" - in other words, groups or individuals who register that they intend to campaign for one side or the other.
Who are they? On the Yes side of the fence so far there's Yes for Wales, Plaid Cymru, Tomorrow's Wales and Unison
On the No side there's True Wales, the self-styled Miserable Old Fart and Mark Beech, who has described himself as an official Monster Raving Loony based in South Wales. [I've changed the word 'lived' to 'based'. Mr Beech has been in touch to say that though he's based in Wales, he doesn't actually live here.]
To be clear, the fact that they've all been registered with the Electoral Commission as "permitted participants" simply means that they've sent in their names and would have to declare it if they spent more than £10,000 while they're at it. Then again they may, in the end, decide to stay at home and watch the rugby.
In other words the simple fact that they've chosen to register their names doesn't confer any particular status on them as campaigners. They've sent in a form and the Electoral Commission has got it. That's it.
So to this press release from "Yes for Wales" where
https://www.yesforwales.com/site/?p=894Roger Lewis issued a challenge to broadcasters about the way they now cover both sides of the referendum debate, saying "'Yes' campaigners will all continue to work together through 'Yes for Wales' to present a consistent message and to work with the media, but there is no recognised lead for the 'No' campaign, so no single group should be treated with any sort of priority over other fringe parties* campaigning for a No vote.
"Each group has the right to parity, even if their diverse opinions don't help clarity."
What Mr Lewis and Yes for Wales are arguing isn't just that broadcasters should ensure all sorts of voices from within True Wales are heard (and True Wales has a pretty varied collection of supporters) but that broadcasters should give True Wales no more air time than the self-styled Miserable Old Fart or Mark Beech, the Monster Raving Loony, because they are "permitted participants." But on the Yes side, Mr Lewis points out, everyone will "work together through 'Yes for Wales'."
Does that argument hold water? No, not in my view.
We'll decide who to interview based - not on whether they've sent an envelope to the Electoral Commission - but after considering things like whether a group, or individual, has a demonstrable track record of campaigning on the issue, have campaigning capacity and whether they represent that side of the debate to the greatest extent. In other words you try to use editorial judgement when you decide who to interview and how often.
On Yes for Wales' logic, fifty people could register as "permitted participants" on the Yes side, decline to be represented through their "umbrella" organisation and demand to be on TV just as often as YfW. Parity for one, parity for all.
On the other hand hearing from all sorts of voices from within True Wales - and Yes for Wales - seems not just fair enough to me. It sounds like exactly what we should be doing. We should be giving you a chance to hear not just from the leaders but from others who've come out to campaign in their name and to spell out why in ways that stir up a strong response from those who oppose their views.
It may seem obvious but it's also stated in the BBC's referendum guidelines that "news judgements continue to drive editorial decision making in news based programmes" - whether there's a referendum round the corner, or not.
So there you go.
Will we always get it right? No, probably not. That, no doubt, is asking just a bit too much - but you can, at least, be quite sure that we're well aware how important it is that we try to get it right.
*If the 'fringe party' to which Mr Lewis is referring is UKIP, it's worth noting that UKIP confirmed this week that contrary to what's been said in some press reports, they're not officially supporting the No campaign. Individuals are free to do so but voting no in the referendum is not party policy.
A somewhat different message from UKIP over the weekend. They didn't and have no plans to make a request to become "permitted participants" and they won't, as a party, be campaigning in the run-up to the referendum, nor spending any money on supporting the No campaign - but they do, as a party, advocate a No vote.