Friday, February 27, 2009

Inching forward to a Welsh Parliament.

Lots of excitement following publication yesterday of a BBC Wales opinion poll predicting that over half of Welsh voters would vote 'Yes' in a referendum about the granting of law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales. It was very much in line with what I would have expected. The only surprise to me was that the most popular of a series of options about the way forward (34%) was that tax raising/varying powers should be devolved as well. There was something symbolic about support for a law making parliament going through the 50% barrier. There will not be a referendum before 2011 though. It is no more than another inch forward, even if it is consistently in the same direction.

I enjoyed the performance of Plaid AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas on the BBC's Dragon's Eye last night. He was back to his ebullient best - trying to give the impression that the referendum promised when his party signed up to a coalition deal with Labour to form the National Assembly Government was still on target. There's a bit more to this than meets the part-seeing eye. He could well have been laying down a bear trap for his leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones. He owes him one. Could it be that he is ramping up expectation, so that Ieuan really cops it when he announces that there's not going to be a referendum by 2011 after all. Labour Minister, Carwyn Jones gave us the true 'softening up for reneging' approach of the Government on last night's programme.

The key statistic in any opinion poll on this issue will be the gap between the 'Yes' side and the 'No' side. 13% is just not enough. Personally, I think it would be too risky to go for a referendum unless the gap is 20% over several polls. It could happen. One reason why there has been increasing support for a law making Welsh Parliament is the sheer incompetence of the current Westminster Government. There's a sense that 'We can't do any worse than that'.

Be interesting how much attention is given to this constitutional stuff over the next week. Its 30 years since the overwhelming rejection of devolution in 1979. That was at a time when the nation was facing huge problems associated with economic and industrial unrest. Voters thought politicians should be concentrating on what they saw as more important matters. It may not be wholly logical, but I do think we could see the same response if a referendum were to be called in the current economic chaos.


Lenin Cymru said...

Glyn, a truly appalling post from you. You have chosen to speak out about an opinion poll that shows a referendum is winnable. Instead of welcoming the news and adding your backing to a referendum by 2011, you've chosen to talk it down.

And where is your reaction to David Cameron's ruling out of a referendum on a law-making Parliament? You didn't have the stomach to try to justify that remark. And don't give me a baseless semantic argument that he wasn't briefed/was answering a slightly different question. Because you know that's not true.

Draig said...

Why should the "34%" figure be surprising? Tax-raisinf powers has been a consistently expressed preference in opinion polls over the last few years - and was also the consensus view expressed in the Richard Commission.

The Welsh public want parity with Scotland - and in this respect they are ahead of their cautious political leaders.

I too enjoyed RGT's performence on Dragon's eye last night - Cawryn's was just the usual bland, softly, softly approach - has the man even taken a big risk in his entire life?

The point about the economy though is THE central point in all this. I was worried about what the economic situation would do to public opinion, but I suspect that in Wales, the economic incompetence of the London Labour Party, combined with the looming prospect of Tory rule(No offence meant!), is focussing people's minds...

Swansea Voter said...

Glyn you are going from bad to worse. You are seriously saying having seen the results and watched dragons eye that Rhodri Glyn was setting a trap rather then the actual sensible conclusion that the support is increasing and a referendum looks more likly than ever! I know that would put your politics in a major headache but its the natural conclusion!

Glyn Davies said...

Lenin - You remind me of Gordon Brown accusing David Cameron of 'talking Britain down' whenever he says anything that is not precisely worded as Mr Brown wants.

I don't think a 13% lead for a Yes vote makes a referendum winnable. I thought it was winnable when the Coalition Government was formed almost two years ago, but all we've seen is prevarication by the governing partners since then. Every time I've heard the leader of Plaid Cymru speak about this issue over the last few months its included the let out "If we are satisfied that it can be won" - while doing b***** a** to achieve it. And then you have a go at me - a Conservative who has consistently promised to campaign for a Yes vote.

Draig - Thanks for a sensible comment. I suppose I found the 34% surprising because its just not been in play. The Richard Commission didn't recommend it, though its a fair point to make that without fiscal responsibility, there is no real accountability. Interesting to note that so far the Scots have never used the power they have.

My fear is that a referendum (as opposed to an opinion poll) could generate hostility during a serious economic crisis. No way of knowing this of course - unless it was tried.

I also want to add that the law making Assembly which would follow a Yes vote in a referendum would not give Wales anything like the same powers as Scotland - Scottish style powers, Yes, but over only a fraction of the areas of policy.

Swansea Voter - Actually Yes, that is what I was suggesting, and not wholly with my tongue in my cheek. I add that a referendum would be no headache at all for me. I don't think anyone can accuse me of not taking a position on this, and I will not change from that opinion, or my long held belief that eventually the Conservative Party will become whiolly committed to a law making Assembly. In fact, I think a referendum will be held around 2012/14, and driven by a Conservative government - and I'm looking forwards to rubbing a few noses in it when that time comes.

Draig said...

You're right, but not quite right about the issue of tax-raising powers raised by the Richard Commission. Richard advised that "tax-varying" powers were "desirable" but not "essential" - so I had it a bit wrong too.

I don't see that a referendum would generate hostility during this crisis. I think if anything this crisis will lead to a collapse in confidence in the ability of Westminster to deal with the issue. Wales will also be hit disproportionately hard by this depression, as we have a slightly larger manufacturing base.

On the other hand I'm disappointed in the lack of leadership coming from the One Wales Government. In this I'm in broad agreement with you Glyn. I think if this government took a strong stand and said they are holding a referendum NOW because they want to give the Assembly at least a wider range of tools to deal with this crisis, it would command a great deal of public support.

In times of crisis, people look for leadership, and I can't see it coming from anywhere to be honest.

Glyn Davies said...

Draig - 2nd para is conjecture. You may be right though. I do think there's a case for saying that its helpful to the Yes supporters - but I still think a major constitutional referendum would run the risk of approbium for 'not focussing on what really matters.

I totally agree about the 'leadership' point. There are elected politicians who will fight like tigers on the No side, while the Assembly Government (in my opinion) have written off any vote unless something just turns up.

Anonymous said...

Did you mean "inching" or "itching" fo greater powers?

We certainly don't want a another vote unless its realy worth it Glyn.

This time we want the pro Welsh Tories on board from the start if there is to be one.

Not realy bothered about RGT, DET, IWJ, LO or RM or indeed any AM of any party who finds reasons for not backing a real Wales Senate who will fight for powers that will help all of us in Mid Wales.

I am off the Lib Dems here in Powys as KW buggered up the chance for a real progressive assembly while LO was doing one of his TV comedy slots.

Come on Glyn get the others on board and you will get lots of new voters.

Anonymous said...

Just looking at your blog while I am on holiday in Paris Glyn...after a bad result against the French!

We realy all need to be pulling together like the boys here on the field.

Wales is a team here and we need all at the Senedd to put our little country first. That includes the MPs of all party backgrounds who seem to be pushing hard against us in the scrum!

come on the reds

Stuart Rendel said...

The problem with this poll is that it was carried out over the telephone. Presented with a number of options over the phone 34% opted for tax raising powers. I wonder how long the interview took and how much time those being interviewed were given to think about their answers. Yet in the same poll only 48% even knew that the Assembly was controlled by a Labour/Plaid coalition. We also have in the same poll a 65% approval rating for Rhodri Morgan. What all of this suggests is that most people are either still not interested or do not understand devolution. For many in Wales the politicians still responsible for everything are based in Westminster and they tend to be Scottish. Rhodri gets a good rating because basically he doesn't in the eyes of many take decisions which adversly effect their lives. He doesn't impose council tax increases or cut local services. That's the fault of the local Council. He also isn't responsible for the economic mess. That's the fault of Gordon Brown and co. All in all since he hasn't done anything it is surprising that only 65% give him an approval rating. Only those involved in the civil service and the public sector know the truth about a fairly light weight and indecsive politician. Despite all the excitement from the nationalists about this poll,in reality it changes nothing and until we have a real poll no one will know for certain the result in an area where it is so difficult to judge public opinion because of the major differnces that exist. What no one has mentioned is the further confirmation of lack of interest on the part of most people regarding law making powere shown by the report on Dragon's Eye about the Jones Parry meeting in Llandudno. The next few years is going to be very tough for the public sector in Wales. Rhodri had it lucky and could avoid the difficult decisions. His successor will not be so lucky. It will be interesting to see the attitude of many once the cuts that the Assembly will have to impose on public services are introduced. Finally all of those who again believe that the poll shows that the yes vote is a shoo in should remember that in both 1979 ans 1997 the polls showed large majorites for the yes side of the argument. The actual results were to say the least somewhat different to the predictions. Despite the criticism Glyn you are right to be cautious. There will be no referendum before 2011 and everyone who really understands Welsh politics and more importantly Welsh politicians knows this.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon 1 - Well, I've been on board for a law making parliament since 19th Sept 1997. I do not think it 'constitutionally stable' or 'publically accountable' to have responsibility for the delivery of a service divided between Westminster and Cardiff. The current constitution allows for transfer of law making power, but in a ridiculously tortuous way.

Anon 2 - Yes we lost - but you can't win them all. Wales made a few more mistakes than usual, but it was French pressure that did it. They fought like men wanting their pride back. We did well to hang on, and almost nick it at the end. It was a terrific battle of wills. The game of rugby won, even if we didn't.

Stuart - Agree with the thrust of your comment, though I do think 65% is a good approval rating for Rhodri Morgan. The next few years are going to test public opinion as services are cut. Already Rhodri Morgan and Alex Salmond are laying the ground for all the blame to be dumped on Westminster, by telling us that Brown's 'efficiency savings' should not apply to Wales and Scotland. The only way that a Yes vote will be won is if the Coalition Partners go out and fight for it. They do not have the will, the bottle, or the unity of purpose - and they have left it too late.

Anonymous said...

Don't suppose there's any chance whatever of your sticking to the party line? Do you know how you are viewed at Westminster? I do.

Why can't you just keep quiet?

Anonymous said...

Be interesting the hear what the Party Line is your reader speaks about. That of David Jones - Clwyd North MP / David Davies MP or that of our Assembly Group or indeed that of some of our pro Wales Conservative Peers like the good Sir Wyn and co?

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - If you don't like what I write why don't you go and read someone else's blog. Your comment makes absolutely no attempt to engage with the issue. There was absolutely nothing in this post that contradicts any party line.

Jeff Jones said...

Ignore the comment from anon Glyn. He or she doesn't even have the courage to criticise you using their real name. In many ways the comment sums up what is wrong with British politics. Anyone who seems to haven an independent opinion is considered to be a danger. What is required are individuals who will troop throught the lobbies no matter what their private concerns might be. Just imagine Nye Bevan, Churchill or even Thatcher putting up with such a system. Of course none of them would have been selected as candidates if they had been around in the past 20 years. Keep it up Glyn. You are a refreshing change from the norm. Someone who is not afraid to have an opinion or debate with others who disagree with that opinion.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy Jeffs comments on your blog Glyn, also his letters in the Western Mail and BBC contributions - always well thought out and well positioned - however Indepenmdent thought ! I don't think he took that view when Leader of Bridgend when he ruled with a rod of iron. The occasion Con members of Bridgend and Ogwr Councils were shown little thought.

alanindyfed said...

Logically, if the Scots are having a referendum by 2011 on full independence
it would appear that the Welsh referendum should be on the same matter of independence and not the half-way step of a Welsh Parliament.
Thus, the constitutional anomalies would be dealt with at a stroke.

Penddu said...

Glyn, coming from just down the valley from Jeff Jones, I can safely say that I have never voted Conservative in my life - but you are the first Conservative that I could realistically support. Stand your ground with your views and do not let yourself be bullied by the likes of David Davies & friends.

alanindyfed said...

the man's in the wrong party.
He would be a great asset to Plaid.
Yet I hope he will influence his
Tory unionist stalwarts for the sake of Wales and the future of the nation.

Glyn Davies said...

Jeff - I never mind comments that attack me - if the attack is based on an opinion. Thats what debate is. I do publish empty comments, but I assume that other readers can judge for themselves.

Anon - I too find Jeff's comments well argued. Alun Cairns used to tell me what sort of a Council Leader he was!!

Alan - I'm not going to say anything else about a referendum until I think there is the slightest chance of it happening. And I must insist that I am a Conservative - right of centre and in favour of a smaller state - gerally speaking. As far as I can see, Plaid are a very left wing party, which believes the state is the answer to every problem, and that the private sector has no real role to play in service delivery. Neither do I believe that Welshness can only be claimed by Plaid Cymru.

Penddu - David Davies is a very good friend and colleague of mine. There may be issues on which we might disagree, but we both know that in a democracy, its the majority which decides, and we both accept that.