This will be my last post about the proposed referendum on transferring law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales - until at least the New Year! Its inspired by some of the discussions I enjoyed while in and around the National Assembly this week - including appearances on AM/PM and CF99, where the subject dominated. Much of the discussion followed Labour's clumsy attempts to scupper any chance of the referendum being held in accordance with the Coalition agreement they have with Plaid Cymru. Its all boils down to timing.
Let us work backwards. While holding the referendum in spring 2011, or even on the same date as the Assembly Election is possible, the reality is that advice from the Electoral Commission, and other political considerations rule this out. I also believe that late November/December 2010 would not be considered acceptable because a referendum so late in the year would increase uncertainty because of the danger of a low turn out. So we are looking at a last possible date of early November. If there is to be a reasonable campaign period, (say 7-10 weeks) it follows that the Order in Council relating to the referendum must have been made before the summer recess, which usually stretches from mid July to early October.
Now we come to the less predictable aspects of the timetable. All we know for certain is that the 'maximum' gap between the trigger vote in the National Assembly (where 40 AMs recommend that the First Minister informs the Secretary of State of the Assembly's decision), and the date by which a Draft Order must be laid is 120 days - 4 months. It could be less, but there's so much to do that I can't see it being much. Because a General Election is likely to be held in early May, it is impossible that this process can be completed before it - except in the unlikely event of AMs holding the definitive debate next week!! So the only practical way the Coalition's agreed timetable (a pre Assembly Election refererendum) can be adhered to is if the new Secretary of State , appointed in mid May, gives top priority to this issue, resolving all the necessary questions in the 8 weeks before summer recess. This is a very demanding timetable and dependent on the trigger vote taking place in mid January. Every week that the trigger vote is delayed is one week less for the incoming Secretary of State to manage the process of translating the Draft Order into the Order in Council which would enable the referendum to take place, a process that involves weeks of consultations and votes in both Houses of Parliament and the National Assembly. And all at a time when there will be a huge focus on repairing the nation's finances. I hope you are still with me - and not too depressed.
Three reasons for this 'explanatory' post. Firstly, to inject realism into the debate; secondly, to demonstrate just what the Welsh Labour Party were up to last week (trying to scupper the whole thing); and thirdly to create an opportunity for readers to challenge or correct my thoughts on the issue.