Sometimes, its possible to be involved in a 'nonsense' discussion. This is how I felt this morning as I listened to former Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain talking about the expected referendum on transferring law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales in those policy areas already devolved. I'd risen early in order to hear him speak on Good Morning Wales at 7.00 am.. I was speaking on the same programme myself at 8.00,along with the Lib Dem AM, Peter Black. As you might expect of new 'coalition' buddies, Peter Black and I were in complete agreement - while it seemed to me that Peter Hain was blustering incoherently as he tried to re-write history.
Lets go back a step. The Assembly Coalition Government (Labour and Plaid Cymru) agreed in 2007 that this referendum should be held before, or on the day of the next Assembly election in May 2011. And it was quickly 'accepted' that the same day would not be appropriate for such a significant decision. We then had several months of pointless time wasting on this issue, before Sir Emyr Jones-Parry (a highly competent retired diplomat) was asked to head an even more pointless time-wasting commission - which eventually told us what we knew in 2007. During this period, some of us were pointing out that the time needed to hold the referendum meant moving much more quickly. Personally, I strongly suspect that neither Labour nor Plaid actually wanted it, but did want to blame a new Conservative Government for refusing it. But Conservative leader, David Cameron fired an Exocet into this plan with his Broughton declaration, which announced that Wales could have its referendum if it were to be asked for. That must have caused a few feathers to fly in the Cardiff coalition hen house as devious plans were shredded. But lets move on.
The National Assembly was eventually asked to vote on the issue in February 2010 - a date so late that this blog (and others) questioned whether my preferred October date could now be met. Even then, it took Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, 10 days to pass on the letter to Peter Hain asking for the referendum. Now we reach a point of disagreement between Peter Hain and his successor, Cheryl Gillan. He tells us that he moved the process on when in office, while during her first five days, she can find no evidence whatsoever of this. Interesting. I hope the Foi questions been submitted. Whatever, we are where we are. The Electoral Commission tell us they need 10 weeks to settle the question which will be put to the people. There are but 7 or 8 weeks before the summer recess. You do the arithmetic. The Parliamentary work needed after the Electoral Commission has finished its work cannot take place until Parliament returns in October. And there will need to be several weeks campaigning before the referendum can actually take place. None of this is news to anyone who has been reading what I (and others) have been writing for years. Personally, I still hope there may be a way around this, but it will have nothing at all to do with Peter Hain, whom I think we should refer to as 'The Great Obstucturist' whenever discussing this matter.
To finish, another couple of points about what Mr Hain has been saying. He insists that the time needed by the Electoral Commission must not be "telescoped". And we know that he has long held the view that the referendum should not be held until after the next Assembly Election anyway. You make your own mind up about what to think of all this. Perhaps 'nonsense' was too kind a word.