Wales politics

Assembly powers referendum campaigns clash over funding

Campaigners in the assembly powers referendum have clashed over the use of taxpayers' money.

Yes-vote supporters said the lack of official campaigns on either side would spoil the debate.

It follows a decision by their opponents, True Wales, not to apply for lead-campaign status.

The move denies both sides the opportunity to use £70,000 of public funding, free mail-shots and TV and radio broadcasts.

Yes For Wales chairman Roger Lewis said his campaign would ask people around Wales to raise money to help get their message across.

Mr Lewis, chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme: "The fact that no-one is prepared to step forward to become the official designated No campaign is very disappointing because it denies the people of Wales key opportunities to understand what the issues are."

A vote to give the assembly more power was a vote for "better government", he said.

Image caption No-vote campaigners have decided against taking up an official status entitling them to public funding

He appeared on the programme alongside Rachel Banner, campaign director of True Wales, which describes itself as a grassroots movement opposed to giving the assembly more power.

She denied the group was shunning official status as a way to scupper the Yes campaign and prevent a debate.

She said: "That's what we have wanted all along - a serious debate on what this settlement is about.

"We want all these issues to be brought out in the open right now."

She added: "We started as a grassroots movement and we decided to stay as that and not spend any taxpayers' money on our campaign."

Her group's campaign would be funded by the subscriptions of its supporters, she said.

Lead campaigns, which are designated by the Electoral Commission, are entitled to £70,000 of public funding, free mail-shots and TV and radio broadcasts.

But the help is only available if there are official campaigns for and against increasing the assembly's law-making powers.

True Wales' announcement on Wednesday night that it did not want lead-campaign status threw preparations for the referendum on 3 March into confusion.

Booklet

The Electoral Commission is considering two applications for lead-campaign status - one from Yes for Wales, which has the support of Wales' four main party leaders, and a No application from a blogger called David Alwyn ap Huw Humphreys.

The commission has a duty to promote awareness about the referendum and will send out an information booklet to every household in Wales. There will also be a TV, print, radio and internet advertising campaign.

The deadline for applications to become a lead campaign closed on Wednesday. The watchdog must decide whether it can appoint lead campaigns for both sides of the debate by 2 February.

Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said the absence of official campaigns was a "sad day for politics and democracy in Wales".

True Wales campaigner Len Gibbs told BBC Radio Wales' Good Morning Wales programme that most people did not read political leaflets or watch political broadcasts.

He said: "We are not fighting this new war with the tools of the last.

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