Oh dear. As I wrote on Wednesday, Sir Emyr Jones Parry has been appointed as chair of a commission on holding a referendum on primary law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly.
Now Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain has spoken out, saying a referendum before the next election would return a “no” vote. This despite the timing of the referendum being linked to public opinion. In other words, the agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru was that a vote on primary law-making powers would be taken when there was public support for it. No government ever volunteers a referendum it thinks it will lose – just look at New Labour over the consti-treaty!
Here’s what Lenin Cymru says:
The idea of a referendum on or before May 2011 looked certain, after the Ieuan and Rhodri press conference earlier in the week. I noticed that even the display board in the background had the Plaid-driven terminology “One Wales Cymru’n Un”. Another sign that Plaid’s is providing the government’s direction. Following that conference, what else could regressive London Labour do? Answer: put up their reasonable face, Peter Hain to undermine that certainty.
Peter Hain’s arguments deserve a little dissection. He argues that an “early referendum would be lost” and that “there would not be a consensus in Westminster, most of Welsh Labour would be against an early referendum.” What he is really saying is that Labour MPs in London can’t handle this, the Labour party is too divided. He knows that to retain Labour MPs’ support and maintain the appearance of unity within the party, then he has to talk down the prospects of a referendum. Otherwise, it’ll be a won referendum and a ’99 election result all over again.
This Hain interview is no doubt designed to sure up the fractures growing ever more evident from the comments of the likes of Don Touhig on the unionist wing, the man who says a former UN ambassador is not up to the job of chairing the Welsh constitutional convention. Should Labour party unity, as Hain suggests, be the main criterion deciding when one should hold a referendum? Or should public opinion be the guiding light?
Sexy Plaid socialist Adam Price is pissed off:
Of course, we have been here before – this was the same Peter Hain that famously ruled out a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition. Now that it exists, he seems determined to undermine it. What particularly was the motivation for yesterday’s remarks? Is he soothing furrowed brows among Westminster colleagues piqued at the appointment of Sir Emyr? Is he jostling for position with Rhodri Morgan as the true power-broker within Wales? Or is he as Secretary of State saying that the One Wales agreement only binds Labour in the Assembly not Labour at Westminster?
After all, what he actually said was: “I did not take the Government of Wales bill through, nor did MPs vote for it to be bounced into an early referendum”
To most people that sounds like a threat that the Westminster Goverment may veto a referendum – either directly or indirectly – which would effectively render the One Wales agreement null and void.
Considering that the Scottish Parliament has seen some good reforms for working class people, would voters really reject the Welsh Assembly having similar powers?
Hain also criticised the Tories, who have come out in favour of an English Grand Committees – or at least, Sir Malcolm Rifkind has done so, one never knows what Tory leader David Cameron thinks.
It’s clear that the Tories will try and do something about the West Lothian question – but not about the English question. There is majority support for an English parliament, according to opinion polls.
As for Labour, the only union it cares about these days is the United Kingdom. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, was speaking out on The Andrew Marr Show this Sunday:
I think it’s right that we’ve devolved power, and this was a decision by the House of Commons to set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and also to set up a Greater London Assembly.
So I think it’s right that you look at the constitution from time to time and see where you can devolve power.
But I don’t think it’s right to break up the United Kingdom, and I think that that’s where ultimately the suggestion of the Conservatives would go.