Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Honesty in debate

'True Wales' (all of them, I suspect) came to Carmarthen on Saturday to distribute some of their leaflets. As they told anyone who would listen, what they really want is to abolish the National Assembly entirely, but that won't be on the ballot paper in the forthcoming referendum.

Their leaflet (English-only, of course) is the usual mixture of lies, distortions, and non-sequiturs in which they seem to specialise. Of the six points which they make in their leaflet, four are arguments against Independence, one is a complaint about the Convention having been a tax-payer funded 'yes' campaign, and the sixth assumes that everyone who didn't vote 'yes' in 1997 was against the Assembly. It's more of a rant against the idea of Independence and the Welsh political elite (the UK political elite are fine, apparently) than a reasoned argument for retaining the current system.

So what?

It isn't honest politics of course, but if they're funding their own leaflets, I don't see why they shouldn't be free to say whatever they like, however distorted and dishonest it is, and however much it angers those who read and react to the obvious lies.

But at some point, there will be two 'official' campaign groups, and the campaigning of those two groups needs to be directed to the issue in hand. On the 'yes' side, those of us who favour moving to Part 4 of GOWA face a difficult task in explaining the difference and the advantages of moving to legislative powers in one step instead of salami style. And those in the 'no' camp face what I think is the even more difficult task of trying to defend the status quo. It's easy to see how the 'no' side in particular will find their task easier if they try to campaign on an entirely different question.

However, there is provision under the legislation for public funding to be made available to both official groups. At that point, the question of honesty and relevance in the campaign material becomes very significant. Any publicly funded campaign organisation should surely be expected not to publish outright lies at public expense, and to keep to the brief - in this case, explaining why they believe that the current structure is right for Wales.

There seems to be a widespread assumption that 'True Wales' will become the nucleus of the 'no' campaign. I think they've already disqualified themselves. I have to admit that I'm not sure what happens to the provisions for 'official' yes and no campaigns if no credible option exists on one side.

9 comments:

richardovy said...

A large number of True Wales activists have academic backgrounds and can discern empirically evidenced facts from the polemicisms of their opponents. It should be Tomorrow's Wales that is debarred from the official 'Yes Campaign' becuase it's members have too many vested economic interests in the outcome and therefore have demonstrable conflicts of interest. True Wales, through altruism, wants only the best for Wales and to me this means a secondary legislative chamber in Cardiff while British laws are made by the Mother of Parliaments. As A C Benson wrote: 'Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained, Have ruled thee well and long; By Freedom gained, By Truth maintain'd, Thine Emoire (Commonwealth)shall be strong.

John Dixon said...

Richardovy,

Where to start?

"A large number of True Wales activists have academic backgrounds and can discern empirically evidenced facts from the polemicisms of their opponents"

I very much doubt that there are a large number of activists. Having an academic background does not necessarily mean that someone is able to discern empirically evidenced facts from polemic. And if they are able so to do, why not quote a few of those 'empirically evidenced facts' (or even just one of them!) in their leaflet?

"True Wales, through altruism, wants only the best for Wales"

I'm charitable enough to accept that they believe that their position is the best for Wales. But why not explain why they think that the current system is the best for Wales - which is the effect of urging people to vote 'no'? Instead of which, they spend their time attacking an option which isn't even on the table.

"this means a secondary legislative chamber in Cardiff while British laws are made by the Mother of Parliaments"

So, you want Uk laws to be made in London, and an elected body in Cardiff which makes those laws which apply only to Wales? I think you should probably be voting 'yes' then, because that's roughly what's being proposed, isn't it?

Incidentally, are you aware of the origin of the phrase "Mother of Parliaments"? This may help you a little:

"The British Parliament is often referred to as the Mother of Parliaments (in fact a misquotation of John Bright, who remarked in 1865 that "England is the Mother of Parliaments") because the British Parliament has been the model for most other parliamentary systems, and its Acts have created many other parliaments."

As you will note, the epithet partly derives from the fact that the English Parliament (to correct the misquotation) is proud of its history in creating parliamentary systems for other countries. There are those who might just see the creation of a proper Welsh parliament as being a part of that fine tradition.

Illtyd Luke said...

Taxi for Richardovy, who should consider himself well and truly schooled by that riposte.

richardovy said...

Although refering to Westminster as the 'Mother of Parliaments'is technically incorrect it is in common usuage and is generally accepted. Remember this argument has to appeal to the non-cognoscenti. Surely you know that what is proposed is that the Assembly has PRIMARY law making powers in 20 discrete areas and my personal position is that the GOWA 2006 should be repealed and the assembly revert to the role such a mediocre body is fit for implementing and administering laws made in Westminster.

John Dixon said...

Richardovy,

The term "mother of parliaments" may well be in common usage, but it usually seems to be used in a sort of jingoistic fashion somehow expressing the view that it is the 'best' parliament. Understanding the origins puts it into context.

You are of course as entitled to take the view that GOWA 2006 should be repealed as am I to take the view that Wales should become an independent member of the EU. That leaves both of us in our respective minorities. It also leaves you well in line with the views of 'True Wales'; but, to return to the original post, that is simply not what the referendum is about. Campaigning on a different topic from that which is under discussion is misleading.

You are also entitled to hold the view that the Assembly is a 'mediocre' body - just as others are entitled to apply the same adjective to Westminster. I did think, however, from your previous comment that you were rather keen on the ability to "discern empirically evidenced facts from the polemicisms"?

Anonymous said...

There is a syllogistic relationship between the worsening performance of the Welsh economy and the falling standards of public services and the calibre of the assembly; so I do consider my statement that it is a 'mediocre' body as evidenced.

John Dixon said...

Anon,

Your definition of 'evidence' and mine do not seem to have a great deal in common.

1. "Worsening performance", "falling standards", and "calibre" are all sweeping statements which themselves require evidencing and support before they can be used as any sort of premiss for "mediocre". You are in danger of drawing an unwarranted straight line all the way from an invalid premiss to an unsubstantiated conclusion.

2. "Economic performance" and "falling standards" even if properly defined and evidenced are the responsibilities of the Government of Wales, not the National Assembly, so it is the government which could then properly be described as "mediocre".

3. Wales' relatively poor economic performance predates the establishment of the National Assembly by a century or two, so if the sort of link you adduce were true, that would make the House of Commons much worse than mediocre.

4. Be careful about the difference between a correlation and a causal relationship; correlation is relatively easy to deomnstrate, causality requires a much higher standard of proof.

Robert said...

To many big words for me, should Wales have more Powers to true yes without doubt.

Should Wales be independent thats more difficult for me, and I've been to a few meetings over the years, and I've asked where would Wales get funding, if we went independent, I had a number of answers including well England would carry on, another said well taxation of course, another said well the EU would give us money.

I'd love to have an independent Wales but one which is better not one with more poverty.

But if somebody can explain to me the funding issues I'll be glad to say yes.....to everything

John Dixon said...

Robert,

If Wales were to become independent then we cannot assume that we would get money either from England or from the EU. Like any other country, we would need to raise the money to provide public services from taxation.

The reason that it looks like Wales needs subsidies from outside our borders is because of Wales' poor economic performance relative to the rest of the UK. Our GDP per head is only around 75% of the UK average. If it was 100% of the UK average, no-one would be talking about being unable to afford independence.

No-one is saying that we are going to be independent tomorrow, but most of the questions asked about 'how will you afford it?' assume that we are. Progressive transfer of powers and progressive building of the economy of Wales will put us in a position where we can afford it if we want it.