Friday, 2 July 2010

The Inevitability of a Parliament for Wales

From "Syniadau"

Two to one ... well, very nearly

The latest YouGov poll for ITV Wales shows that 55% will vote Yes in the referendum on primary lawmaking powers, as opposed to 28% who will vote No ... a big increase on the previous figure.
It's excellent, though not really unexpected, news. The margin in favour has been growing steadily for several years now. The only thing that's changed in the past few months is the certainty that we will get the referendum before the next Assembly elections. With the Westminster election out of the way, minds are beginning to focus on this as the next political campaign that will be fought in Wales, and I think that explains why the Yes vote is growing stronger.

The party ratings are:

Labour ... 42%
Plaid ... 20%
Conservative ... 19%
LibDem ... 12%

Obviously Labour will be delighted at this, but I don't think they should expect this surge to carry over until next June (I'm now fairly certain that the Assembly election will be on 2 June ... it's something I've been calling for, and it seems that it now has broad cross-party support). That's because the biggest issue in politics at present is the programme of cuts being implemented by the ConDem coalition across the UK as a whole, therefore the political focus is still very much on UK matters.
It's fairly obvious that opinion in Wales is going to swing away from the Tories and LibDems as a result of the cuts in services ... and that it will hit the LibDems more than the Tories simply because Tory supporters had no illusions that their party would do anything else, whereas those that voted LibDem would not have expected their leaders to have bought into the Tory agenda with such relish.
That means that people are likely to turn instead to the parties that wanted less savage cuts and a greater emphasis on taxation as a fairer way to cut the deficit. But on the Westminster stage and in all the UK media, Labour is the only party that isn't Tory or LibDem, so they are presented as the only alternative. I think that best explains why Labour's support has soared to 42%.
But that's only a snapshot for now. For the focus is set to shift to Welsh issues, although not perhaps until the summer is over. Come September, we'll have a much clearer idea of how the cuts will affect us, and attention will focus on how we protect ourselves from them by making the best use of less money. 62% of usalready think that most of the political decisions that affect our lives should be made in the Assembly rather than at Westminster (24%) or Local Authority level (7%) ... so the call for more responsibility to be devolved to the Assembly will only grow stronger. In fact I think that by the time we get to campaigning in earnest for the referendum the focus will have moved on from the administrative wastefulness of LCOs, and we will instead be asking why we do not have the same fiscal powers that are going to be given to Scotland, rather than concentrating only on why we were never given the basic lawmaking powers that the Scottish Parliament had from day one.
My advice to any Yes campaign would be to focus on that. To look to get the same devolved status within the UK as Scotland and Northern Ireland already have, and regard the hurdle that Peter Hain put in our way as something to be trampled down as we move on towards more fair and equal treatment. Why should we in Wales put up with less?
So from the Autumn onwards the focus will be on Welsh affairs, and in February and March will be at fever pitch as we work towards the poll on 31 March (trust me on this one). But in April and May the focus will continue to be on Wales, although this time on which parties offer the best programme for government in the Assembly.
The prolonged focus on Wales means that Plaid Cymru would have to run a disastrously inept campaign not to come out well. First, we will have delivered on the main reason for going into coalition with Labour ... a successful referendum. The simple fact is that we got Labour to realize that Peter Hain's Government of Wales Act was not something that would last for a generation, and that he was completely wrong to say the referendum could not be won. Second, we have demonstrated in our three years of government that our ideas work. The inventiveness and quick footedness of our policies has left Labour diehards complaining that we have "run rings around them" in government.
It will be fascinating to see how this will play out in our respective election campaigns. I'm sure Labour will want to fight the election in the same old tribal way. But they will not be able to use their traditional "it's us or the Tories" mantra. They will have to acknowledge that a lot of what has made One Wales successful has been because they worked with us. I'm happy to acknowledge that Labour have some good ideas, so I'd expect Plaid to campaign in a very different way. For us, it will be about differences of emphasis rather than fundamentally opposite views. It will be about collaboration rather than confrontation.
But more importantly, it will be about Wales ... and this is where we are certain to be on more solid ground than Labour. For our policies are designed around Wales and worked out to suit Wales ... while Labour's policies will always be designed around what will win them votes in England so that they can get back into power at Westminster. In short, the immediately preceding referendum will put the spotlight firmly on what is good for Wales; and that will sink Labour's support back down towards the 30% mark, while pushing Plaid's support up.

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