06/05/2008

A Normal Referendum

I enjoy Normal Mouth's contributions to Golwg, they are generally better than his usual blog posts. I suspect that he tries to be less partisan in the magazine than he is on his blog, by doing so he gives an interesting view on Welsh politics.

As an aside Normal is obviously employed by Golwg as a blogger - he took over the column from Blamerbell - so why doesn't the magazine recognise this by publishing his and other Welsh blogger's URLs?

I was disappointed by Normal's latest offering in which he claims that those who want an early referendum on further powers for the Assembly are faking it and that all of us really truly support Peter Hain and Paul Murphy's policies of procrastination.

Normal's current article is full of inaccuracies.

Firstly he says:

The Welsh political elite currently divides into three camps: those who say they want primary powers via an earlier referendum, those who say they want primary powers via a later referendum and those who don’t want primary powers at all
.

There is a fourth option. some of us believe (for a variety of different reasons) that a referendum is not needed / undesirable and that it would be better if the Government of Wales Act was amended forthwith to get rid of the referendum clause.


Secondly Normal claims:


Few politicians genuinely seem to want an early referendum. Labour has claimed credit for the Convention idea, a device that at least punts decision time into the future. Some, however, credit Plaid as the true authors of this deft delaying tactic.


If a snap referendum was held tomorrow all the signs seem to suggest that it would be won by the YES side. The sediment in the clear spring water appears to be a fear that some Labour dinosaurs (naming no names) would do a Kinnock and campaign against Labour Party policy in a big way, scupering the referendum, as in 1979. This is a real problem. But I can't see that delay will solve it. Is there any guarantee that they will have changed their minds by 2012 or 2016? No!

There have been pro and anti home rule wings in Labour since its inception 100 years ago and if the anti's are appeased they will continue for another 100 years. The Labour opponents of enhanced devolution need to be taken by the horns and fought with now. Delaying the fight won't make the fight less bloody, won't make the outcome more secure and wont make victory smell sweeter of defeat smell less bitter.

Those who believe in enhanced devolution, in all parties, should campaign for it and aim for it now - there is nothing to be gained by procrastination!

Thirdly Normal claims that:

The consequences of a “no” vote would be catastrophic, for devolution and for Plaid.


I disagree. On three counts:

  • No new powers will be given to the Assembly by a Yes vote. The powers are already there in the Act. A Yes vote just makes gaining the powers simpler. Loosing the vote will be an administrative rather than a political problem.

  • Win or loose the nationalist cause (with or without Plaid, but probably with) will be enabled to go on to the next step in the evolution of devolution.

  • In other countries (Quebec for example) losing a referendum on autonomy has strengthened the national party. Their most extreme proposal is put off for a generation, which makes them stronger "regional" representatives within the status quo. A raging nationalist bull may not be electable, but emasculate it by referendum and it may be given the chance to govern, as a tame bullock, until its cahones reappear!

    The worst failing in Normal's article is this statement:

    It is hard to argue for a referendum so that people can vote no


    There has only ever been one UK wide referendum, the EU one in 197?. The purpose then was to get a yes vote. In Wales we have had many more referendums. The Sunday drinking referendums were introduced specifically to enable a no vote, in order to reverse an act perceived by both Labour and Conservative politicians as passed as an appeasement to north Wales, Welsh speaking, chapel-going, Liberals. The 1979 devolution referendums which included the if you are dead you have voted no clause was hardly geared to the yes side. Most calls for UK referenda, the Euro, Mastricht, Lisbon etc, of recent years have been called for, specifically, in order to gain a no vote.

    All in all, it is those who are opposed to Wales, those who have a NO attitude to Wales, who insist on a referendum for Wales to be treated as a grown up country and who also insist that such a referendum should be delayed forever and a day.
  • 12 comments:

    1. A good rebuttal, Alwyn. I'm not sure if you picked up inaccuracies as opposed to differences of opinion.

      You say that there is a caucus in favour of no referendum at all. I perceive some of the elite (I was careful to discuss them, rather than wider opinion) who would happily not have referendum because they don't want primary powers. They were covered in my third group.

      I don't see a group who are arguing for primary powers without a referendum or for going straight to independence.

      Secondly, you may or may not be right about the dubious logic of holding a later referendum. I simply say that few politicians actually seem to want an early one.

      On point three you may a fair argument, though I'm not sure many would agree with you that "Losing the vote will be an administrative rather than a political problem". Notwithstanding the powers already being in the act, a no vote would keep them locked away. I think that would be a major political problem.

      Finally on the trigger question, I take you point. I do think in general though that it is harder to push for a vote when you want the proposition rebuffed than when you want it affirmed. Licensing laws are one thing; constitutional change is something else.

      ReplyDelete
    2. There is a fourth option. some of us believe (for a variety of different reasons) that a referendum is not needed / undesirable and that it would be better if the Government of Wales Act was amended forthwith to get rid of the referendum clause.

      In Scotland, Sir Kenneth Calman has stated that there need not be a referendum (in Holyrood) if the propsed reforms in devolution are not radical ones. As you point out, the Government of Wales Act 2006 already covers giving primary powers to the Senedd, ergo it is not a radical change.

      Those who believe in enhanced devolution, in all parties, should campaign for it and aim for it now - there is nothing to be gained by procrastination!

      This is a view that I share and indeed have expressed elsewhere.

      ReplyDelete
    3. Government of Wales Act 2006 already covers giving primary powers to the Senedd, ergo it is not a radical change.

      Ah, but it explicitly holds them in abeyance pending the outcome of a successful referendum. Part of the act therefore is that Primary Powers can only come via specific public approval.

      Nice try, though :-)

      ReplyDelete
    4. Ah, but it explicitly holds them in abeyance pending the outcome of a successful referendum. Part of the act therefore is that Primary Powers can only come via specific public approval.

      Nice try, though :-)


      You miss the point, NM. It isn't a radical change ergo (according to Calman) no referendum is necessary.

      You'll have to buy your own cigar, I'm afraid ;)

      ReplyDelete
    5. It can't be argued that since primary powers are contained within the GoW the move is not radical enough to require a referendum when that Act speficially requires a referendum before activation of set powers.

      In short, the act that gives effect to primary powers deems it significant (radical) enough to require a referendum. Without that referendum, the provisions of the Act relating to primary powers are void.

      ReplyDelete
    6. It can't be argued that since primary powers are contained within the GoW the move is not radical enough to require a referendum when that Act speficially requires a referendum before activation of set powers.

      In short, the act that gives effect to primary powers deems it significant (radical) enough to require a referendum. Without that referendum, the provisions of the Act relating to primary powers are void.


      Again, you're avoiding my point, which was that if the Calman Commission consider a referendum to be unnecessary for non radical changes then no referendum should be necessary here in Wales for lawmaking powers. So yes it can be argued that since primary powers are contained within the GoW the move is not radical enough to require a referendum. All you do is remove the offending paragraphs in the Act, as Alwyn suggested.

      ReplyDelete
    7. Regular Blog Reader06/05/2008, 11:51

      well done for deconstructing some of the nonsense NM talks Alwyn, its a shame more bloggers don't so it. Blamerbell he certainly ain't.

      Although i don't agree with you on the Golwg posts I think they are worse than his blog.

      ReplyDelete
    8. "If a snap referendum was held tomorrow all the signs seem to suggest that it would be won by the YES side"

      Although i would be happy for this outcome to happen, where is the proof of this view? One little poll on dragons eye?

      Where are these 'signs'?

      ReplyDelete
    9. if the Calman Commission consider a referendum to be unnecessary for non radical changes then no referendum should be necessary here in Wales for lawmaking powers.

      That assumes that the move to lawmaking powers is not radical, something I'd personally agree with but which the Act does not. Moreover, we do not know if Calman would deem it to be radical. We only know that he has said some reforms might not require a referendum.

      regular blog reader - I cannot deny the force of you logic. I am not Blamerbell.

      ReplyDelete
    10. Ords writes
      Those who believe in enhanced devolution, in all parties, should campaign for it and aim for it now - there is nothing to be gained by procrastination!

      This is a view that I share and indeed have expressed elsewhere
      This is a view I too hold and is held by most of the people I talk with. Why not just ask people now, what is to be gained by waiting. If we are going to be devolved at least lets get rid of the handcuffs that stop us taking real decisions. Thats the only way we will grow as a nation

      ReplyDelete
    11. what is to be gained by waiting

      A greater likelihood of victory?

      ReplyDelete
    12. rather cynical07/05/2008, 14:30

      what is to be gained by waiting,
      A greater likelihood of victory?

      or the prospect of Welsh Labour hanging on to power in Welsh Government because the other parties are so inept and can't seem to benefit even when Labour are at thier lowest point in Wales.

      ReplyDelete