Monday, 31 January 2011
This week, the Electoral Commission took a decision which will almost inevitably lead to a low turnout on March 3rd. The rules governing referendums mean that two sides have to be designated by the Electoral Commission to be the official Yes and No campaigns.
True Wales, the group which have been campaigning for a No vote for at least two years and who were the only people likely to get official designation, chose not to apply. Under the rules, if there is no official 'No' campaign, there cannot be an official 'Yes' campaign.
With designation, both sides would have been able to send a leaflet to every house explaining the case, with free delivery by the Royal Mail. They would have had free TV and radio time to put the arguments across. Not so now.
The latest polls, while positive for the 'Yes' side, show a very high number of people who are still undecided. My experience on the streets so far is that levels of knowledge and understanding are low.
The question is far from straightforward. We will be asked if we want the Assembly's law-making process to change so that laws can be made in the 20 devolved areas, without first having to ask Westminster for the powers. There will be no radical transformation with a 'yes' vote, but a 'no' vote could have devastating consequences, beginning the slippery slope which will lead to the end of Welsh devolution. A low turn out with those currently undecided persuaded to vote 'No' could make for a close result. On a low turnout, anything could happen.
Those who ultimately want to abolish the Assembly are using simple messages about the Assembly being a 'waste' with 'incapable politicians' presiding over an under-performing economy. These messages will undoubtedly hit home with people who have every right to be cynical about mainstream politics. However, these points could be equally made about Westminster. Politicians there have been shown to be corrupt money-wasters, who presided over a catastrophic economic failure which will have a long and lasting impact on health, education and other public services used by 60 million people. Yet do we conclude that it's the fault of the system, that the solution lies in the abolition of both Houses of the UK Parliament? No, we call for a change in the politicians or the party in power if we don't like thier policies. So why is it different in Wales?
Wales loses out to the tune of £300 million every year because of the inbuilt unfairness of the outdated Barnett Formula, is it any wonder Wales's economy is under-performing? Although this referendum is not about funding arrangements, no-one seriously thinks there is any chance of positive reform unless there is a strong 'Yes' vote in the powers referendum. And as for saving money, so far the system whereby Wales has to persuade London to pass over the powers to make laws has cost 3,000 hours and £2 million in civil servants and legal experts.
And claims that people in Wales don't have the ability to make laws should be treated as a joke.
It now falls to the Yes campaign to make sure the real issues are explained to as many people as possible over the next month. We have hundreds of committed volunteers in every part of the country and so we should be able to reach hundreds of thousands of people. If you've not signed up to the yes campaign yet, you can do so here.