Friday, November 27, 2009

The Referendum Timetable.

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.


MH said...

Not too much to disagree with, Glyn. Except for how long it will take for the referendum order (I'll call it the RO) to get through Parliament.

I think a Draft RO could be tabled at the start of January and be passed by the Senedd by the end of January. Peter Hain could lay it before Parliament the very next day (he would have seen the Draft and flagged up any objections in January). It would have to be properly considered by the WASC and the LCC (who would also have seen the Draft beforehand) but that should take weeks, not a few months. There's no point of principle at stake; the precise powers were hammered out when the 2006 Act was passed, so there's none of the usual blood to be split. The only outstanding issues are the date, the official referendum period that leads up to it and the precise wording of the question. I think the amount given to both sides will be a matter for the Electoral Commission.

All in all, we could and should aim to get it through Westminster and signed by the Queen by the end of March. Fast, but achieveable. The last working day before the Easter recess, in both Parliament and the Assembly, is 27 March.

Anonymous said...

thankyou glyn for explaininmg why there was so much fuss when labour tried to delay the referendum until after the generasl election

Glyn Davies said...

MH - I'm not sure that you are correct here. Let me explain how I think it works. Lets assume that the new First Minister (or another Welsh Minister) tables a definitive motion recommending moving from Part 3 to Part 4 in mid January, and 40 AMs vote in favour. I'm not expecting anything beyond a vote on the principle by AMs at this stage. The First Minister would then inform the Secretary of State, who has 120 days to prepare a Draft Order in Council. All the advice I'm getting tells me that almost all of120 days will be needed. The Draft Order would need to include the question and the explanatory statement, after consultation with the Electoral Commisssion. It would also have to include the date of referendum, how it would be run, what money will be allowed to each side, how votes would be counted etc.. The consultations on the question and statement with the EC, and the consultations on precisely how a referendum will be run will not be straight forward. A constitutional referendum is a serious piece of legislation, and there will be plenty of politicians looking to frustrate the process. The only legal opinion I've consulted privately warns me not to assume that 120 days is enough. I would like you to be correct, but I can only blog what I believe to be realistic.

Anon - as long as I have my facts right!

Anonymous said...

whats your opinion glyn on peter hains warnings that a referendum might be lost.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I think that Peter Hain might be right about this - say 25% chance. I've always thought going for a referendum while the UK Government is mired in a battle to restore the economy is a risk. The opinion poll leads are too small. I do think that the c*** being talked by those who think the Welsh people will vote Yes to "protect Wales from the Tories" will be a big help to the No side. Its also part of the reason why my own efforts to campaign will not be part of an 'official' Yes campaign. But since I believe moving to Part 4 is sensible, I'm prepared to go with it and try to win it for the Yes side. Also, I'm less worried about a No vote because I have concluded that the 'downside' is not as great as I once thought it to be. If there were to be a No vote, the LCO process would have to continue for another 5 years at least. Disappointing, but not a disaster. It would return as part of a future General Election campaign. Eventually, it would be Westminster which becomes sick to its back teeth of the constant bickering (or worse) between the Assembly and UK Governments that a No vote would deliver. MPs, who believe in the British state will become concerned about constitutional instability.

Anonymous said...

Glyn I'd be interested in your thought son the impact of this referendum being held while there's a Tory or Tory/Lib Dem coalition in Westminster. (if that is actually what the Enection produces!)

It seems likely thet they will not have a majority in Wales, and that that will focus many Labour voters minds (you don't need to go down the "tories eat babies and hate Wales" route to see that).

What do you think the impact of many leading Tories, such as yourself, supporting the Yes campaign have?

Do you think it will encourage more Tory voters to vote yes than was the case in 97? will the possibility of the Tories being part of a coalition in Cardiff influence this?

Also - pure speculation - but if the Tories do form a coalition with the Lib Dems in Westminster - the Lib Dems of course favour a more powerful parliament than envisiged in the 2006 act - how likely is it that Wales will be given a Scottish style Parliament as part of their agreement?

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - It makes no difference which party forms the Government at Westminster. The process is triggered in Cardiff Bay, and all parties are committed to acceding to a request for the referendum to take place.

I do think Labour's support is crucial to achievement of a Yes vote - so it may be helpful if the Conservaives win the general election.

I hope that my (and other Conservatives) support for a Yes vote will make a difference. I hope it has already in terms of the 'Broughton Declaration'. I do think its important if I'm to have influence that I do not become too closel involved with any formal Yes campaign.

Finally, I do not see any move towards a Scottish model for many years. I can see regular extension of the powers devolved to Wlaes, and a greater use of framework powers to strengthen the role of Th eNational Assembly - but the equivilent of the Scottish Parliament is not on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

Glyn, i don't know if you saw the politics show but there was an interesting interview with wigley. He was speaking to john stephenson about ieuan wyn and his answers didn't seem to express much enthusiasm about the leader. is there something going on? incidentally, John Stebhenson is speaking to "senior" politicians - are you going to be next?

Glyn Davies said...

John - I've never seen Dafydd Wigley enthuse about Ieuan Wyn Jones. Of much greater interest is whether Adam Price has fallen out of the loop. We were guests on CF99 last week, and he seemed way off beam when commenting on the spat in the Cardiff Bay about the powers referendum. After the General Election, it may well very soon be "Who's Adam Price". The 'country solicitor' just keeps rolling along.