"The Nineteenth century saw a great Springtime of Nations as the revolutions of 1848 saw new countries created the length and breadth of Europe. In our world today we are now seeing our own Spring Awakening with people and cultures that have long been dormant and subdued asserting their right to exist, their right to dream." Adam Price MP
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Voting for the Referendum
Today – February 9th – is a historic day. Remember this date because assembly Members will cast their vote to begin the process of holding a referendum. The end of the complex and cumbersome status quo of the LCO process is in sight, and we look forward to supporting the ‘yes’ campaign.
AMs expected today to vote in favour of a referendum
AN OVERWHELMING majority of AMs are today expected to vote in favour of asking the people of Wales if the Assembly should have new freedoms to make laws in the areas for which it has responsibility.
The Conservative group will hold a meeting this morning to discuss how its members will vote this afternoon but strong support is anticipated.
First Minister Carwyn Jones is confident the 40 votes needed to trigger a referendum request will be obtained.
He said in a statement: “Today, we are on the threshold of yet another significant step forward in bringing decision- making closer to the people of Wales. In today’s plenary vote, the Assembly Government will be seeking the support of AMs from all parties, to begin the process of moving towards a referendum.
“I am confident we can obtain the support we need to take this forward.”
The goal of holding a referendum on law-making powers on or before the 2011 election was a key element of the deal which united Labour and Plaid Cymru in the One Wales coalition government.
Plaid leader and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones said: “The time has come to move Wales forward and to pave the way for the National Assembly to make its own laws without having to first seek the approval of MPs in Westminster. This is how it works in Scotland and Northern Ireland and we are no less capable here in Wales of making good laws in the interest of our communities.”
He continued: “For most citizens in Wales, frustrated by the limits of the current system, holding a referendum on more law-making powers is simply a matter of common sense.”
Last week the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats threatened to abstain if the Assembly Government left open the option of a poll on the day of the 2011 elections. However, the difficulties a combination of votes would cause have now been acknowledged.
Tomorrow’s Wales, a group which campaigns for a more powerful Assembly, said a cross-party vote in favour of the referendum would be “brilliant news”.
Archbishop Barry Morgan, who chairs Tomorrow’s Wales, said: “This means that AMs have put the needs of the people before party politics. It sets the scene for the consensus-building approach that can deliver a resounding Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum.”
At present, the Assembly Government can request law-making powers in specific areas to be transferred from Westminster through Legislative Competence Orders. A Yes vote in the referendum would give the Assembly the freedom to make laws in 20 areas.
Liberal Democrat AM Eleanor Burnham said that even if the referendum was won, the Assembly would still need a fairer system of funding.
However, she said: “The more we can do for ourselves and the quicker we can do it the better.”
Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne opposed devolution in the 1997 referendum yet is now a leading supporter of a Yes vote.
He said: “We really need to convince people this isn’t going to be a costly exercise. This should really be cost-neutral.”
He said he had been gradually convinced that the Assembly should have powers which would allow it to set rules for school bus safety and have control over tuition fees.
Acknowledging that his support for more powers was not unanimously shared among Conservatives, he said: “I wasn’t flavour of the month with every quarter of the party, it’s fair to say. There are always those people who don’t believe in the world according to Bourne.”
However, he was confident his party would back a public vote on the issue, saying: “Most of us in the group want extra devolution but all of us I think want a referendum to decide the issue.”
He does not expect there to be strong demand for further stages of devolution in the future. “I think this will be the last major step.”
Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley said his party had learned that devolution does not take place with one “big bang” but is a gradual process.
He said: “This isn’t a massive, radical step... [It] is allowing the Assembly to do what it can already do through a slow process by a more efficient and effective process.”
Looking forward to today’s vote, he said, “I hope everybody will vote in favour. I’d be very disappointed if anybody voted against.”
He favours an October 2010 referendum, providing there is not a second Westminster election around this time as a result of a hung parliament.
Mr Wigley does not expect “revolutionary” new powers to come to the Assembly in the near future, but he believes it may gain responsibilities for new subjects.
He has not yet decided whether he will seek to rejoin the Assembly in 2011.
“I’m waiting until after the Westminster election,” he said. “I’m holding back till then.”
Rachel Banner of True Wales, a group opposed to the Assembly gaining new powers, looked forward to a referendum.
She said: “The only thing we are concerned about now is we get a fair question. If it isn’t a fair question, it will bring the whole process into disrepute.”
Ms Banner hopes that a debate about how Wales should be governed will help end public disengagement from politics.
Helen Mary Jones, deputy leader of the Plaid Assembly group, said: “‘No’ campaigners seem determined to try and create the impression that this referendum is about independence when clearly it isn’t. They have either completely misunderstood the nature of this vote or they’re trying to intentionally mislead the people of Wales.”