Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Yes for Wales - Make it Happen.

October 8, 2008 12:00 AM
By Peter Black in Plenary

Deputy Presiding Officer I have had a request from Lesley Griffiths to intervene in this debate after I have finished speaking.

Somewhere between process and event, Wales' devolution is in danger of getting stuck.

Labour's lack of courage when faced with the clear recommendations of the Richard Commission at the dawn of the second Assembly, has created a world of unnecessary complexity in this one.

The 2007 Government of Wales Act put a plebiscite where it could and should have put a doorway.

So we have to go on from here.

Now, if there is to be a referendum, and if we are serious about winning it, about saying Yes for Wales, we have to be prepared to Make It Happen.

And we should start now.

The launch of a No campaign has brought this into sharp focus.

The Two Davids (Monmouthshire Tory MP David Davies and Risca Labour Councillor David Rees) aren't waiting for a Yes campaign.

Their "True Wales" campaign is already seeding the ground, talking of "slippery slopes" and "a slide in to Soviet Style poverty".

They are off and running.

And their task is relatively easy.

There is no positive case to make.

A No campaign simply has to sow enough fear, enough uncertainty and enough doubt, that people hesitate.

Winning a Yes campaign - as many of us know - is much harder.

You have to bring together those who think anything less than independence is a cop out, the federalists, and those who know that the current settlement is ridiculous and can only be improved by having a bit more power.

A successful Yes campaign would need to bring together people as different as, er, Nick Bourne and, er, his staff.

And get them passionate about doing something positive.

Given the complexity of the job in hand, why on earth would anyone want to give the No campaign a headstart?

Mike German has been cajoling the party leaders since the turn of the year. Twice he has written to them. Twice, the only positive reply has come from Nick Bourne - one of the leaders of the last No campaign.

The First Minister and his deputy, who respond with one voice on this issue, say it's too soon. They will have a chance to explain why later. I can't wait to hear it.

This week we've seen Peter Hain coming out (again) and saying it's too soon.

But if not now, when?

When the No campaign has built up a head of steam?

Right now we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

No one is saying we need to have a high octane Yes campaign tomorrow.

But we need to make a start. There is a lot to talk about.

For example - it would be foolish to believe that a referendum could be won in the Welsh media alone.

Too few of us in Wales get our news from Welsh sources.

And sadly the opportunity to do so seems to be diminishing at a time when it should be growing

So to overcome the skewered view from London - if they even bother to cover it at all - means we will need to reach every household.

We will have to deliver our message personally.

That means recruiting existing delivery networks in the pro-devolution parties and recruiting new support in those areas where those networks are not so strong.

Persuading life-long rivals and competitors to work together won't be easy.

To work together, sharing information and resources will take trust a trust that doesn't exist today. Look at Swansea as an example. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will have to work with the pro-devolution elements of the Labour party - the very people we turfed out of running the local authority.

The very people we're gunning for in Parliament and here in the Senedd.

I hope the government won't say they're waiting for the Convention.

The Convention - as Sir Emyr Jones Parry makes clear - is not a campaign.

Its job is to listen and inform. Not persuade and cajole.

It will tell us the state of the Nation; it will not tell the nation it needs more statehood.

To be fair, the Richard Commission - instigated by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and shelved by the Labour Party - already did that!

A Yes campaign doesn't undermine the Convention's work.

A Yes campaign can and should work in parallel with the Convention.

Putting the arguments that the Convention can't, and won't.

I still believe there is time to hold and win the referendum before the 2011 Welsh General Election. And that we should. If we do not, the issue will continue to distract policy makers while Wales continues to languish at the bottom of UK prosperity tables.

The first pledge in the One Wales Agreement states your intention to hold a referendum as clearly as day.

But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised if you're backing away from that pledge.

It fits a pattern.

After all, the delivery on the promise to build 6,500 affordable homes in Wales has been lacklustre. You seem destined to fail.

Child poverty in Wales has risen, pretty much in proportion to the amount of time you say you're tackling it.

You've even managed to botch the introduction of a daily Welsh language newspaper.

Putting the referendum off helps no-one but the wreckers, the people who don't believe that Wales is smart enough or somehow unworthy of having powers more akin to those in Scotland, Catalonia and Bavaria.

The devo-doubters Peter Hain, Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones say they worry that the referendum won't be won.

Well that's only a real risk if they continue to stall on campaigning and surrender the initiative to the small c conservatives.

All polls show that there those in favour of greater powers is larger than those against, and still growing.

The recent Assembly poll showed most people have an understanding of the Assembly's powers.

We have to trust the people of Wales.

It's their country, and I believe they want a Senedd that has the tools not just to play at the edges and re-organise the health service every 5 years or so - but the tools to lift Wales to new heights.

Perhaps that's the real issue here.

There is a failure to trust the people.

That's a hallmark of the current Labour in Westminster and here in Cardiff Bay. Plaid Cymru's statist socialism shows they are stuck in the same mold.

• Centralising the health service - taking away local decision making.

• Introducing ID cards - taking away individual liberties.

• Demonising young people with ASBOs and curfews - not trusting them.

But devolution is all about trust.

If politicians will not trust the people to support the project, we cannot be surprised if the people fail to trust us with extra powers.

The desire of the establishment for a referendum where a yes is a guaranteed outcome betrays more than a lack of trust.

It betrays a lack of courage too.

I know some people have suggested holding a referendum on the same day as the Assembly election. What madness! Such timing would completely undermine the Yes campaign.

Take Swansea West for example - how would you expect Welsh Lib Dem activists to work with the very people we want to take the seat from?

It would be impossible.

All parties would inevitably put their self-interest first and the Yes campaign would suffer.

Holding it on the same day as the election is the surest way to muddy the waters.

I'm confident that Yes is a logical argument.

We need a Yes to make devolution work more effectively for the people of Wales.

Tying it up with an election - where people are inclined to vent their feelings about the government of the day - is a recipe for confusion, and ultimately, defeat.

If we wait beyond 2011, we run two risks:

1) that a Tory government decides to put devolution on ice; and

2) that we will be having a referendum on an obsolete question.

Devolution, as someone famously said, is a process not an event.

It is constantly moving.

In Scotland, they are moving on to the next question - what is the proper way to fund a devolved nation?

The Calman Commission - effectively Gordon Brown's response to the growth of Scottish Nationalism - will publish an interim report by Christmas.

We risk fighting a battle sometime in the next decade, on a question that should have been settled last year.

Or not fighting it at all, because the English Tories won't let us.

These to me seem bigger risks, than that of losing a referendum before 2011.

In 1997 we won the referendum to start the devolution process by only 6,721 votes.

Every vote, in every county, will count next time too.

I believe this referendum is winnable, and winnable before 2011.

But the longer Rhodri and Ieuan stall on joining the fight, the longer Wales will be waiting for a proper Parliament.