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Four weeks and counting

Betsan Powys | 10:02 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011

It was with a month to go that I started swotting for my GCSEs, or as they were known then, O levels. I knew I should have started sooner but wished I could have left it until later - a feeling some of you might be sharing with a month to go until the referendum on law-making powers.

I won't do this to you every day, don't worry but given it's day one of what will be a step-change in our coverage and lots to do, what follows is my bit-by-bit take on the first day of the last month.

The Western Mail's come out in favour of a Yes vote. Not knock-me-down-with-a-feather stuff, I know but it's a reminder that when I landed in Edinburgh airport last week, one of the first things I saw was a bank of papers, every single one of them with a Scottish story on the front page. I left first thing the next morning and saw Tommy Sheridan's face, in a prison van, staring out from most of them. If there were Welsh editions of national newspapers and thriving Welsh papers, how different a campaign would this be?
The People's Assembly is up and running - up very early in the case of four members who were in the Senedd by 6am. Rebcca Wasinski, Linda Bennett , Aled Morris and Gareth Protheroe are all undecided voters. The main issues that bothered them - how can you make up your mind when both sides spin so much, how can you weigh up the argument around scrutiny when both sides disagree so fundamentally about it, not enough information in the Electoral Commission's leaflet about the current situation, what would actually change, do No campaigners in all honesty hate the Assembly and things as they are, do Yes campaigners in all honesty want to appoint another 20 Assembly Members.
A change of tack by Roger Lewis of Yes for Wales, who went for it on Good Morning Wales and went for Rachel Banner of True Wales. It's as though he'd decided it was time to go for the no side, though he realised, I suspect, that he risked appearing over-bearing. Rachel Banner was taken aback by the change in tone since their last exchange. Our panel of four didn't seem to like the 'heat not light' element and left still undecided.
Neither will be on Wales Today this evening. Newbridge businessman and no campaigner Paul Matthews will be on, along with Cardiff City announcer and vice chair of Yes for Wales, Ali Yassine.

A quote from Steve Thomas, Chief Executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, who gave evidence to the Communities and Culture committee this morning: "I have appeared before this committee before on various initiatives which have stemmed from the Home Office, and the Home Office, in terms of its relationship to devolution is a bit like, sort of, Frank Spencer. Well meaning, but generally incompetent and bumbling ..."

Went down very well with AMs ...

which is ... more than can be said for the government's controversial amendments to the Local Government Measure, first revealed on this blog. The amendment, tabled very late in the process, would allow a Minister to merge or amalgamate two or three councils together by order. It's developing into a serious row, with three significant interventions today.

Firstly, the Liberal Democrats are to table no less than 82 amendments in a bid to delay its progress. This isn't Westminster of course, so there'll be no filibustering, no reading out of recipes to try and talk it out. The Assembly (maybe sadly) doesn't have a scriptwriter of Lord Fellowes' calibre to lecture them on the art of winning Oscars while waiting for a vote to take place.

But the time it will take to debate and vote on them is going to make the legislative timetable even trickier than before.

The second intervention came from the noted constitutional expert David Lambert. His view, expressed without the caveats normally favoured by lawyers of his ilk, is that in Westminster, an amendment of the scale being proposed by Carl Sargeant, so late in the process, would be turned down flat. Under Cabinet Office rules, the Government wouldn't propose it, and under Parliamentary procedure, it wouldn't be accepted.

His bottom line? If bodies such as councils are established by primary legislation, then they should only be dissolved by primary legislation. And that means another Measure, rather than ministerial decree. Very clear.

The third intervention, in the same Constitutional Affairs Committee meeting as David Lambert gave his views, was from the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. One got the impression that he didn't entirely buy the create by primary, dissolve by primary argument, but at the same time, it doesn't appear that he's one hundred per cent comfortable with the government's last minute decision to include the powers in the Measure.

Here's what he had to say: "We all share this sort of unease about this late addition, obviously a late addition is naturally going to create suspicions of 'what's going on here' and is this really subsidiary to the overall purpose of the local government measure as we have previously understood it."

That sense of unease is felt across the political spectrum, to a greater or lesser extent - but, and to return to where we started the day - this is what law making looks like.


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