Monday 7 February 2011

Roosting chickens

There’s been a lot of criticism of ‘True Wales’ for their decision not to seek lead campaign group status.  Certainly, their decision means that both sides of the argument will have to put their case without any subsidy from the public purse, but in criticising ‘True Wales’, people are aiming at the wrong target.  Why should any group feel under any obligation to apply for a particular status if it doesn’t want to?
The Electoral Commission’s hands are tied by the legislation which allows campaigners on one side of any referendum argument to be designated as the lead group only if there is a similar group on the other side which can also be so designated.  Does that mean that it’s the MPs who passed the legislation setting out the rules who got it wrong?
Possibly; but I’m not sure that that would be the right target either.  In setting up rules for holding referenda, the government of the day and the MPs who voted the legislation through probably assumed that any referendum was likely to be on a highly contentious proposal, and that there would be two strongly put sets of arguments.  It’s not an unreasonable assumption – but that doesn't make it correct.
The referendum on 3rd March is one where the arguments are overwhelmingly one-sided, and most of the counter arguments seem to be against a wholly different proposition from that which is on the ballot paper.  We are obliged to go through a referendum process because that’s what GOWA 2006 says, but it’s not the issue on which any rational analysis would suggest that a referendum is really necessary.
I can see the argument for holding a referendum in 2006, before GOWA was enacted, on the principle of moving from an administrative body to a legislative one.  That was a real step change in the nature of devolved government.  But whether the powers devolved under GOWA are passed across piecemeal or wholesale doesn’t really strike me – or many others – as the sort of major change which really requires a referendum.  And the difficulty which both sides are having in adequately explaining why people should vote one way or the other tends to support that view.
We are where we are in terms of the two campaigns over the next few weeks, but it really isn’t ‘True Wales’ who put us there – it’s the architect of GOWA 2006, and the people who forced him to include a clause mandating a referendum as the price for their support for the Act, in the belief that they could thereby delay a move to Part 4 almost indefinitely.
I wonder whether the difficulty some people are having in deciding what to say now is because they are distracted by the sound of roosting chickens.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"I wonder whether the difficulty some people are having in deciding what to say now is because they are distracted by the sound of roosting chickens."

Could you be thinking of Touhigs, Murphys and Kinnocks? I wonder?

But surely, it is an indication of just how far we have come in 4 years that noboddy of substance will stand up and defend the LCO process.