Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Support from Independence-minded Scots

From Richard Thomson

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A 'Yes' for Wales

Some important news from Wales which you almost certainly won't have seen on our glorious British 'national' news. This evening, the Senedd passed a motion which triggers the process for a referendum to be held on transferring legislative powers to the institution from Westminster. The motion, which required the support of at least 40 AMs, succeeded in garnering the support of 53 in the end, with no abstentions or votes against.

And so begins a process which will see First Minister Carwyn Jones write to Secretary of State, Peter Hain, informing him of the result. The Secretary of State then has 120 days in which to consider the request, and lay a draft order for the referendum, or to respond in the negative explaining why a vote can't go ahead.

A rejection seems highly unlikely. Hain has already said this evening that he looks forward to “beginning the preparatory work”. His Conservative shadow, Cheryl Gillan, has also made it clear that the Tories, should they win the general election in the meantime, will not stand in the way of a referendum. Plaid Cymru, as you would expect, are in favour, while for the Lib Dems, Kirsty Williams has argued that the present settlement is “unsustainable”.

There's no doubting the progress that the self-government argument has made in Wales since the knife edge referendum result in 1997. I stayed up to watch the results coming in that evening, and went to bed in the wee small hours, despondent that the 'No' campaign looked to have won the day. In the event, it took the final declaration from Carmarthenshire to swing it. Seldom has a student hangover disappeared quite so quickly!

The argument for the transfer of legislative powers ought to be unanswerable. The current system whereby Legislative Competence Motions have to be passed in order to give the Senedd powers to legislate on particular matters, is clunky and cumbersome. However, the challenge, at a time of cynicism about politics and politicians, is to set this in a context and narrative which resonates with people. Done properly, and with the cross party support already in evidence, it can give the Senedd, and indeed the whole idea of self-government for Wales, the emphatic legitimising endorsement that so many loud voices have always sought to deny the institution.

While I wish my many Welsh friends and colleagues likely to be involved in the 'Yes' campaign all the best, it's hard not to draw a parallel with Scotland. Here, we're told by our regional franchises of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems that a referendum on the constitution is no-go. Thanks to this evening's vote in the Commons on electoral reform, that's two referendums which now have the go-ahead to take place during an economic downturn, when people's minds are focused on [insert own self-serving excuse here].

It really shouldn't need to be pointed out, but the legitimacy of our political processes and their ability to respond to people's concerns has arguably never been more important. It's not just about who governs or how they govern, but also the ability we have to influence how we ourselves are governed. Here's to a successful referendum in Wales, and to a similarly successful vote on Independence in the not too distant future.

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