In Cardiff yesterday, at a conference arranged by the Institute of Welsh Affairs and an organization called Tomorrow's Wales. It was held at the All Nation's Centre under the title 'Assembly to Senedd' - The Convention and the Move to Primary Powers. My slot was part of a 'roundtable' discussion at noon, but I took in the whole morning. It started off with the opening/welcome from The Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, Chair of Tomorrow's Wales, which campaigns for strengthening the National Assembly.
Next up was John Osmond, Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru candidate at last year's Assembly election. He focused quite a lot on changing the basis on which power is devolved to Wales - so that everything is devolved except what is reserved to the UK Parliament (as applies in Scotland), rather than what is specifically prescribed (as applies in Wales) . He seemed to think that this change (which is very significant) could occur within the current constitutional arrangements. 'Hope blinding Judgement' in my opinion. Its not that I disagree with what he wants - just that if its included in a referendum, the people's answer will be No. As ever, I play the role of pragmatic gradualist.
And then it was Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, diplomat extraordinaire, and Chair of the Convention that is being set up to ......er, um..... I'm not absolutely sure. The official purposes are to facilitate a thorough debate throughout Welsh society about the granting of law making power to the Assembly, to assess the level of support for this, and to raise awareness of the current arrangements by which power is being transferred. Sounds impressive, but I'm not sure what it amounts to. It will depend on the way Sir Emyr tackles the job. But he does use the English Language with such elegance. For some reason he launched into a mini dissertation on the divisibility of 'sovereignty' which justified the ticket price.
He was followed by the consistently splendid Prof. Laura McAllister, sharing her experiences as a member of the Richard Commission, which produced a comprehensive report on Assembly devolution development, which is languishing somewhere in long grass. And then on to the Roundtable Discussion - Alun Davies from Labour, Mike German from the Lib Dems, and Helen Mary Jones from Plaid, plus me, representing the Conservatives. It became increasingly clear to me that the idea that a referendum will be held before May 2011 is as dead as a dodo. Alun Davies, who must have the top command's licence to say it, said "I would rather win a late referendum than lose an early one". Quite! Even Helen Mary was tentative. Something like 'It's still a possibility' - which technically it is. I wonder when Ieuan Wyn Jones will admit the demise of the main plank he walked when he shuffled his troops into the support positions which kept Rhodri Morgan in his job last May.
Not much came out of the roundtable. Interesting to note that I was introduced by discussion Chair, Emyr Lewis from Morgan Cole, as a blogger. Still think I had the toughest job of the day, outlining Conservative policy in this area. Don't worry devosceptics - I kept my own opinions on a short (ish) leash. And outside in the real world, the people of Wales carried on living their lives, completely unaware that such important discussions about their future's were taking place in the All Nations Centre.