Monday, 22 September 2008

Counting the numbers

The opinion poll results published today show how just far opinion in Wales has moved in the 11 years since the referendum which created the National Assembly. Support for a return to direct rule has dwindled away, with the overwhelming majority now supporting a legislative body for Wales. The only real debate is about the nature and extent of the powers which the Assembly should have, and in that context, the level of support for extending the powers of the Assembly continues to grow.

After the massive defeat in 1979, and the wafer-thin victory in 1997, I can understand why some are cautious about rushing into a referendum to give the Assembly primary powers over a range of fields. They are concerned that the referendum might be lost, and that that would be a setback for Wales. I can understand their caution – but I think they're wrong.

The question of when to trigger the referendum is, of course, a matter of political judgement, and that judgement needs to be based first and foremost on an assessment of the public mood. But assessing the public mood is to a large extent a subjective rather than an entirely objective process. It certainly isn't just about counting numbers on a particular question.

Opinion polls can help to inform that judgement, but they should never be allowed to become the determinant. There is otherwise a risk that we wait until the polls show that the argument has been clearly won before we start to present the case; and I don't understand how anyone would ever expect to decisively win any argument without putting the case.

The latest poll showed that opinion is already moving in the right direction, and national confidence in Wales is visibly growing. There is a changing mood in Wales. As politicians, we need to recognise that and be bold, not cautious. I am confident that Wales is ready for bold leadership, and I think we should respond to that. We should make sure that we are leading the nation, and that natural caution does not end up looking like holding Wales back.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Support for a return to direct rule has dwindled away

And yet is still half as strong again as for the preferred constitutional outcome of your party.

In a multi-option question independence has never been other than last (often by some distance) on the people of Wales's list of preferences. That has to be a concern to you?

John Dixon said...

Anon,

Am I disappointed that only 10% support the outcome that I want to see? Of course. But I have never believed that Wales could go from where we are today to being independent in a single step. As I've said before, I don't think that Plaid have done enough to explain and present our preferred long term option, and in that context, I can't honestly say that I'm surprised that it's only at 10% - it is completely in line with many other previous polls.

I think the poll does give us an indication though that people understand the difference between Plaid's position and what is likely to be on offer in the referendum when it is held. That in turn suggests that Wales can have a sensible debate on the logical next step, although no doubt some, such as David Davies, will try and confuse the issue as best they can.

For the longer term, I remain convinced that full membership of the EU is the best status for Wales, and that means that we have to become as 'independent' as any other member state. The fact that only a small proportion of the Welsh population currently agree with that opinion is, as I said, disappointing. But it is, of itself, no reason to change our position.

Stonemason said...

The Senedd survey tells us it is time to bring the 10% back home, time to determine what needs doing to right the great "wrongs" they feel, imagined or otherwise, the days of families divided should remain with the past.

John Dixon said...

Stonemason,

As far as I am concerned (speaking as part of the 10%), the case for an independent Wales depends on what's right for the future, not on what was 'wrong' about the past.

There's an old joke about the Russian historian, in the days of the old Soviet Union, who said "In our country, only the future is certain. The past is always changing". I start from the opposite viewpoint - we can't change the past, only re-interpret it; but we can shape the future.

I suspect that you and I would disagree about what the future should look like - but I'd like to think that we could at least agree that that's what we ought to be debating.

ardibeltza said...

If you exclude the 6% don't knows, coupling the 10% with the 39% who want greater powers and you have a majority in favour of (at least) a Welsh Parliament.

Most people in Wales get their informtion from UK media sources - if so, it's amazing people know the Assembly exists at all.

A popular and populist campaign (using the likes of Rhys Ifans, Cerys, Bryn Terfel, Matthew Rhys, Ioan Gruffudd, Stephen Jones and other sporting heroes) to demonstrate that a proper Parliament will make a real difference to people's lives should increase that majority drastically.

The negative, Unionist, forelock-tugging and confidence-sapping mentality of the No campaign can be swept away.

C'mon let's get this campaign on the road!

Stonemason said...

Your ..... "what's right for the future, not on what was 'wrong' about the past."

Absolutely right, and I do agree the whole of Wales should be debating the future.

You have an interesting blog.
So many blogs moderate "out" opposing views.

John Dixon said...

Stonemason,

Thank you. I reserve the right to moderate out some things (such as abusive or libellous statements), but I do not use moderation to exclude opposing viewpoints - after all there's no debate without disagreement. And the future of our nation is too important not to be properly debated.

Draig said...

But let's bear in mind that what the poll specifically asked was about support for a Parliament with full Law-making and Tax-raising powers. 39% assented to that question.

In other words, what people want is what the Richard Commission recommended 4 years ago. Do the public understand that this is not what's on the table - and equally important - will they like it?

Stonemason said...

I think you are probably right in the assertion "Do the public understand ........ etc".

This raises difficult questions about the effectiveness of the dissemination of information. Has there been any?

"What is on the table?", because in my limited experience of the Assembly it is loath in telling the general population, getting understandable information is akin to tooth pulling.

The "All Wales Convention", I believe, is a tad previous for the very reasons you have raised.

This Unionist agrees with your point.

alanindyfed said...

Wales (at least the 10%) should take comfort from the changes and changing mood of Scotland. It is heartening to see the progress being made under the direction of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
They asre winning over the people of
Scotland to the cause of independence through wise and popular policies which are aimed at righting Labour/Lib wrongs and improving social conditions for rthe benefit of the people of Scotland.
First Minister's Questions on the Parliament Channel is entertaining and enlightening and is political debate at its best. The Assembly needs to take a cue from the tenor of these debates.
Scotland is well on the way and in Wales great efforts are needed to win over hearts and minds, so that, when Scotland achieves its independence the people of Wales will demand it also.

John Dixon said...

Draig,

Good point. On that interpretation, what the poll showed was that 49% want to go beyond what any referendum specifically on the implementation of the Government of Wales Act 2006 is going to offer them.

There's actually a similar question to be asked about what the 30% who said they were happy with the Assembly as it is really meant as well. Does that mean that they are happy to see the Assembly acquire all the same powers, but slowly, over a period, through the LCO process? Because that's what the 'status quo' means.

In reality, of course, this just highlights one of the problems with using opinion polls to assess opinion - people can only answer the question that they're asked, and in giving a range of options, the question has inevitably been simplified, or as some might think, confused.

When the referendum is called, people won't be given such a range of options, just a simple 'yes' or 'no' to a single question. We don't know what the wording will be yet, but the effect will be to ask people whether they want the Assembly to acquire all the powers in the Government of Wales Act 2006 in one single transfer, or whether they want the Assembly to acquire those powers salami-style over a lengthy period.

For all the huffing and puffing of the naysayers, the referendum is purely and simply about the speed and timing; the eventual outcome will be the same either way. And that's part of the reason why I think we should get on with explaining the situation to people and holding the referendum.