Getting Up Betsan's Nose

When the Electoral Commission decided last Wednesday that there should be no officially designated Yes and No campaigns, Yes For Wales Ltd, the only bidder for the Yes lead designation, put out a statement saying that despite the Commission's decision that the company would remain the official leader of the Yes campaign because it retained the support of all the other groups who had registered support for a Yes vote. Fair enough.

Yes for Wales Ltd also noted the fact that there isn't a similar umbrella group that unites those on the No side, again a fair comment.

Given that Yes campaigners have united around Yes For Wales Ltd and that No campaigners are disparate the Company's statement also contained an opinion that broadcasters should reflect this reality saying that as there is no recognised lead for the 'No' campaign, no single group should be treated with any sort of priority over other fringe parties campaigning for a No vote. In other words Mark Beech from the Monster Raving Loonies and myself should be treated as the True Wales no campaigns' equals.

This statement appears to have got up the nose of BBC Wales' political editor Betsan Powys. How dare Yes for Wales interfere with the BBC's editorial judgement! On Dragon's Eye on Thursday on her blog today she says "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."

I totally agree with Betsan the BBC and other broadcasters must show fair editorial judgement in deciding who to interview and how often, to do otherwise would be unacceptable especially from a public service broadcaster. But I'm not quite sure that the BBC is showing fair editorial judgement. When Betsan goes on to describe who the BBC is likely to interview from the No side she explains that we will be "hearing from all sorts of voices from within True Wales".

Mark Beech and I might just have "sent an envelope" to the Electoral Commission in Ms Powys' haughty view, but in sending those envelopes we have shown that concerns about the GOW Act referendum are wider than just those expresses by voices within True Wales. As Yes For Wales Ltd says any fair editorial judgement should ensure that those wider concerns are heard.


No 'lead campaigners' for National Assembly referendum

Press Release from Electoral Commission 25 Jan 2011

The Electoral Commission has decided that, although the applicant to become the lead campaigner for the ‘Yes’ campaign in the referendum adequately represented those campaigning for that outcome, the only applicant to be the lead campaigner for the ‘No’ campaign does not meet this statutory test. In these circumstances, the law does not allow the Commission to designate lead organisations for the referendum on the law making powers of the National Assembly for Wales.

The Commission is now seeking the views of all registered campaigners on how it might help voters get information about the arguments for and against the referendum question, in addition to its planned public awareness campaign.

Kay Jenkins, Head of the Electoral Commission in Wales, said: “The only applicant for the ‘No’ campaign in Wales didn’t meet the statutory test so the Commission cannot appoint lead campaigners for this referendum.”

“Voters need to have as much information as possible about the referendum question, and we are already planning to send an information booklet to every household in Wales explaining what it is about, as well as how to take part on 3 March. Voters should look out for this next week and there will be advertising across television, radio, in Welsh newspapers and on the internet.”

“A number of campaigners – including political parties, individuals and trade unions - have also already started their campaigns. So there should be plenty of opportunities for voters to hear the arguments of both sides in the media, in campaign materials and online.”

“We are also now seeking the views of registered campaigners on what more the Commission might do to help voters get information about the arguments they are making. We will announce the results of those discussions as soon as possible.”

Decision on designating lead campaigners

The Political Parties, Elections & Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 requires the Commission to determine whether each applicant to become a lead campaigner ‘adequately represents’ those campaigning for the relevant referendum outcome. The Commission must designate lead campaigners for both sides of the debate, or not at all.

Anyone wishing to spend more than £10,000 in the referendum must register as a ‘registered campaigner’. Any registered campaigner could apply to become a lead campaigner, giving them access to higher spending limits, a public grant, referendum broadcasts on television and radio and free delivery of campaign material to voters.

Two campaigners submitted applications to the Commission to become ‘lead campaigners’ for the referendum. The Commission decided that while ‘Yes for Wales’ adequately represented those campaigning for the ‘Yes’ campaign, David Alwyn ap Huw Humphreys did not meet the statutory test of adequately representing those campaigning for the ‘No’ campaign. This means that the Commission cannot appoint lead campaigners for either side of the debate.

Provision of information to voters

The Commission is already planning an extensive public information campaign, including sending an information booklet to every household in Wales. The booklets are being sent to voters next week and are currently available on the Commission’s website.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 states that in the event that there are no lead campaigners for the referendum, the Commission has the discretion to “take such steps as they think appropriate to provide information…about the arguments for each answer to the referendum question.”

The Commission considered whether or not it would be possible to include additional information about the arguments for each answer to the question in the booklet it is sending out next week, or in a separate information leaflet. The Commission decided that this was not possible within the timescales available.

The Commission has decided to seek the views of all registered campaigners this week on the following options:

Establishing a page on the Commission’s website – which voters will already be directed in the Commission’s information booklet and advertising campaign – that would provide voters with links to the websites of all registered campaigners. This is the Commission’s preferred option.
Offering all registered campaigners in addition the opportunity to each place a short statement of their arguments on the Commission’s website. The Commission has said it will need to consider further whether or not this option will work in practice, taking account of the response of the registered campaigners.
Once it has heard from registered campaigners, the Commission will make an announcement as soon as possible on whether it will undertake either or both of these activities.

The Commission will start sending out its information booklet to voters from 31 January. A copy of the booklet is available on the Commission’s website.


Has the Whisky in the Jar undermined Welsh Democracy?

True Wales' decision not to apply for official designation was not a surprise to me, it was widely mooted a fortnight or so before the closing date for applications to lead the campaigns.

I made my semi-jocular application to lead the No campaign because I knew, beforehand, that True Wales was seriously considering not making a bid.

Supporters of the Yes Campaign have been unjustly condemnatory of True Wales for not registering as an official No campaign.

I can appreciate the Yes frustration, but True Wales have not broken any rules or laws by not registering, so if democracy has been in anyway ill served by True Wales' decision not to register, the fault lies with the rules and laws, rather than a group which abided by those rules and laws!

Indeed if there is no official Yes campaign it won't actually be True Wales' fault, it will be mine, for not submitting a good enough bid to succeed as No lead.

So the Yes campaign may, actually, have been hindered by the fact that the only No bidder had miscounted his fingers when measuring the Whisky in the jar before submitting the bid! ---- (This is a Theory not an Admission; Possibly!)

Nevertheless an interesting way of judging a democratic process, one must admit!

A Yes bid was made and a No bid was made – how can it be right or democratic for a valid Yes bid to be rejected just because the No bid was not quite up to scratch? What is democratic about one campaign being dependant on the ability, efficiency and sobriety of its opponent's campaign?


No way to run a poll

I have just received a "notice of poll" card from Conwy Council regarding the upcoming referendum on powers for the Assembly. The 3rd of March is the official date of the poll, but those who are entitled to postal votes can, of course, vote earlier than that. The council tells me to expect my ballot papers from Wednesday February 16.

According to a letter I received from the Electoral Commission, the Commission will decide if it will endorse official referendum campaigns by February 6th. So if there is to be an official campaign it could run for just ten days before the first votes are cast; hardly sufficient time for a practical campaign by either side.

One of the things that is becoming increasingly clear is that the existing legal procedure for referendums in Great Britain is a complete farce.

I see that Jessica Morden MP is calling for the referendum on the alternative vote to be postponed. I would encourage anyone who is interested in the subject, whether for or against, to support Ms Mordens call, so that lessons can be learned from this farce of a referendum in Wales before holding any other referendum under the same ridiculous procedure.


Silly PPER!

This is not a term that will be oft found on this blog but In Fairness to True Wales, despite the rhetoric, it is not True Wales' policies or difficulties that have thrown a spanner into the workings of the Government of Wales Act referendum campaign it is the inadequacies of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (the PPER Act), an Act drafted without the foresight to know that this sort of pickle would almost inevitably arise.

I was speaking to an English friend a couple of weeks ago who is an avid supporter of electoral reform, he was excited by the prospect of the AV referendum, not just because of the issue but because it will be the first time he will be allowed to campaign and vote in a referendum. To me, an old stager of referendum campaigns, that statement came as a bit of a shock, especially as he is a few years older than me. Since I was born there have been 9 Welsh referenda, 5 of which I voted in, and 2 in which I campaigned before voting age. I have also voted in two parish pump referenda.

My English friend is correct, English voters who are under 54 years of age have never had a chance to vote in a referendum, and that is the main difficulty that the PPER Act has. It was drafted by and voted through Westminster by people with little or no practical experience of referenda.

One of the clauses of the Act states that in order to be designated an official campaign the applicant must show that the applicant adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome at the referendum in relation to which the applicant seeks to be designated. Anybody with experience of referenda knows that this is a clause that it would be virtually impossible to comply with, on either side.

I always voted Yes (Dry) in the Sunday Closing Act referenda. I voted Dry, the first time, because I worked in a pub at the time and I didn't want to work on Sundays.

Many Nationalists voted Dry because the Closing Act was the only visibly distinct Welsh Act at the time that made Wales different.

Members of Licensed Clubs and owners of Licensed Restaurants, unaffected by the Act, knew that they had huge profits from being open when the pubs were closed.

Licensees in just over the county border pubs use to give avid support to keep their own counties wet, whilst campaigning just as avidly to keep the neighboring county dry.

The teetotal chapel vote went dry in the hope that one day closing would be the start of a slippery slope towards seven days dry.

The idea that such varied opinions could coalesce into a single campaign that would adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome is patently ridiculous!

During the 1997 Devolution campaigns George Robertson MP declared his support for Scottish Devolution because It will kill Nationalism stone dead. I am sure that Lord Robertson genuinely believed that, he might even be correct - if it wasn't for devolution would Scotland be more or less likely to be independent now? Whatever the answer to that question, I know for a fact that Alex Salmond wasn't campaigning for a Yes vote in order to kill nationalism stone dead! Salmond hoped that he was on the No side's slippery slope!

Incompatible views that can't be included in the PPER "outcome" clause!

Daft Act, badly drafted, but in the context of my No Not Good Enough Campaign – if the National Assembly had the powers to control its own Elections and Referenda (it doesn't), today's confusion, which is probably a balls ups caused by a lack of experience of referenda in England , would have been avoided by the more Referendum Savvy Assembly!

If it does nothing else, I hope that my eccentric, hopeless, bloody pathetic, not credible, nutcase, brilliant idea etc campaign, has at least highlighted some of the weaknesses of the Act!


Opposing The Elite in Welsh Politics

One of the things that really annoys me about the True Wales No campaign is their claim that those who are elected to serve the people of Wales by the people of Wales are some sort of élite.

I am a fairly common bloke, I was bought up on a Council House Estate, I still live in a Housing Association owned home. The highest "status" that I have ever achieved is a Charge Nurse in the healthcare sector. My father was a railway signalman pre Beeching and then became a building site Labourer and eventually a local authority grounds man. Not a very elite life, but yet I can guarantee that if I were to meet them on the street I could greet about a third of AMs on first name terms and they would greet me back by name.

I can greet them by name because our paths have crossed in such mundane environments as car boot sales, marts, chapels, non league footy games and supermarkets, rather than in some corridors of power.

I can't think of any AM who has had an elite education in one of the top public schools or is a former member of anything like the Bullingdon Club.

I believe that one AM has had an Oxbridge education and that there are two are millionaires in the Senedd, but even they are from mining stock!

Look at the party leaders.

In Wales:
Carwyn Jones – Working Class Parents, Comprehensive education, & Aber Uni, Jobbing Barister

Ieuan Wyn Jones – Father a Minister, grandfather a miner, Comprehensive education and Liverpool Polytech; country solicitor

Nick Bourn – State Grammar School – Aber and Cambridge Universities (a bit posh). Working life a collage teacher (not so posh). Family background never mentioned, (which suggests common as muck in Tory circles), but I understand that Nick is also from a mining background.

Kirsty Williams also with working class parents and a comprehensive education; a degree in American Studies – how élite - from Manchester University!

On the UK level:
David Cameron Public School, Oxbridge Multi Millionaire, privileged upbringing

Nick Clegg, Public school, Oxbridge, Multi Millionaire, privileged upbringing.

Ed Milliband, very rich son of an intellectual, state and Oxbridge educated, a member of a politically elite family, has only worked within professional politics.

Now, if True Wales is really opposed to power being given to the Elite shouldn't they be begging for lots more power to be moved from the posh, rich and truly elite sorts in Westminster down to the rather common earthy sort of lads and lasses who are elected to Cardiff Bay? - As my No campaign will be doing!


Oh No!

I have just been informed by the Electoral Commission that my application to lead the No campaign on the grounds that what is offered doesn't go far enough is the only application that they have received on behalf of a No campaign!


Devolving a Devo-Sceptic

The Open University has a new definition of the word Devolve. Rather than using it to describe the passing down of responsibilities to a subordinate legislature, the University has decided that Devolution is the reversal of Evolution. In order to promote their biology courses they have come up with a fun application called Devolve me – where you can upload a photograph of yourself and "devolve" back to what you might have looked like a couple of million years ago, had you not evolved into the highly developed creature that you are today.

Here is a picture of how a certain Welsh politician might look if he was not so opposed to devolution.


Gillan - The worst Secretary of State for Wales that we have ever had?

On a post about the organ donation controversy Welsh Ramblings makes an interesting comment about whether The Westminster government neglects Wales as a systemic characteristic, and that passive neglect or misunderstanding- rather than outright nastiness- constitutes the existence of an anti-Welsh set up. On the whole I would suggest that passive neglect of Welsh issues is the reality; but this passive neglect gives a tremendous amount of power to the person(s) responsible for Welsh policy. When Wales is passively ignored the personality of the Secretary of State for Wales is immensely important to the governance of Wales.

All Labour SoS for Wales have been members for Welsh constituencies, those who have been comfortable about their Welsh identity – Jim Griffiths, Cledwyn Hughes and Ron Davies have done well for Wales. Those who have been ambivalent about their Welsh identity – George Thomas, Paul Murphey, Alun Michael and the only non-Welsh Labour MP to have the job Peter Hain have tended to use it to promote the Labour Party in Wales rather than to benefit Wales as a country.

The Conservatives, however, have been different. The Conservatives have treated the job of Secretary of State for Wales as a bit of a bum job, a spare part that allows somebody to be in cabinet without a really important contribution to make. Nick Edwards is the only Welsh Conservative Constituency MP to be SoS Wales, since the job was created in 1964. (Prior to 1964 we had a Minister for Welsh Affairs from 1951 – all Conservative and none representing a Welsh constituency).

Peter Thomas was a true Welsh MP in exile. Nick Edwards, for all his faults, had the interests of Wales at heart. David Hunt, Peter Walker, John Redwood and William Hague couldn't give a fiddler's fart about Wales but by leaving the actual running of Wales in the hands of Sir Wyn Roberts did Wales a favour, because Wales had a passionate Welsh man at the helm.

Cheryll Gillan, however, is a different beast altogether – she has a false assumption that because she lived in Wales until she was ten years old, that because she is a member of the parliamentary choir (singing is a Welsh trait you know!) and because she went to some rather exclusive nursery schools in Cardiff that she is actually Welsh and knows what is best for Wales.

She is, of course, mistaken – she hasn't got a clue about Wales and Welsh life but rules Wales as if she is an expert on Wales, which makes her – not one who shows outright nastiness or passive neglect - just one who is completely ignorant about Wales and its needs and one who is completely out of her depth - and therefore the worst Secretary of State for Wales that we have ever had.


Anybody fancy joining my NO campaign?

An issue that has been raised on my own Welsh Language Blog, Vaughan Roderick's Welsh language Blog and BlogGolwg, the blog of the best selling Welsh language magazine, but has not been raised in English is an oddity in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, 2000.

The act enables the Electoral Commission to recognise official campaigns for and against a referendum question. The recognised campaigns get financial support, they gets broadcast time similar to Party Political Broadcasts, they get free access to public buildings for public meetings, they get a leaflet delivered through the post similar to the election communication that election candidates have. But under the act these benefits of being an official campaign can only be accessed if there are registered campaigns on both sides of the question.

Under the Act If there is no official NO campaign launched then there can't be an official YES campaign either.

It appears that True Wales intends to jib out of registering as an official NO campaign in order to ensure that there can't be an official YES campaign either.

A clever trick if it works out!

Anybody fancy joining my official Vote No – it's not good enough campaign? – we won't actually have to do anything to scupper the vote –just spend £70K on drinks parties whilst we think about the issue, and maybe go on telly to say it's nowhere near another step on the slippery slope to independence –unfortunately!

If there isn't an official No campaign registered by February 2nd the law says that there won't be an official Yes campaign either!

This might sound facetious and a bit daft, but I am willing to threaten True Wales that if they haven't registered as the official NO campaign by January 23rd, I will register a No! Not good enough campaign with the Electoral Commission on January 24th.

I WILL call their bluff!

I would like some support for calling that bluff - please!