Tuesday, 8 March 2011

It was _____ wot won it.

As the dust settles, three of Wales’ four main parties have all been claiming their share of the credit for the referendum result, just as, no doubt, they were all ready with their accusations against everyone else had things gone wrong.
So it was Labour who delivered for Wales, by passing the legislation in the first place and getting their supporters out on the day.
Or perhaps it was Plaid who delivered for Wales, by insisting on including the referendum commitment in the One Wales programme, and getting their troops out on the ground.
Or perhaps it was the Tories who delivered for Wales, by having a Secretary of State prepared to allow the referendum to be held rather than sitting on the request as her predecessor had done.
But what about the poor old Lib Dems?  Can they not find a way of claiming that it was all their doing?  I think they can probably claim to have been the most influential of all, even if only by accident.
If I may indulge in a little counterfactual history, let’s step back just under 4 years to the time of the coalition negotiations in 2007.  There was almost a done deal on the Rainbow arrangement, until a procedural hiccup occurred at the Lib Dems’ meeting (a lack of a process for resolving a tied vote, of all things).  It was a hiccup which didn’t actually kill off the Rainbow (although it’s sometimes been presented that way) but did buy enough time to halt the momentum, and enable more discussion to take place between Plaid and Labour.
Had it not been for that one little slip, I don’t doubt that we would now be coming to the end of a four-year period of a government in which Plaid found itself in coalition in Wales with the very parties responsible for the ‘savage slash and burn cuts’ in London  (somehow I suspect that the rhetoric might have been toned down just a little).  Based on the way the two One Wales parties describe their roles, I guess we would have seen it regularly described as either a ‘Plaid-led’ government, or else a ‘Conservative-driven’ one, depending on which party was issuing the press release.
As far as the referendum was concerned, the three governing parties had signed up to a referendum anyway, but would not have had the crucial two-thirds majority in the Assembly.  Everything would then have hinged on what Labour decided to do.
So, what would Labour have done?  It’s impossible to be certain, of course.  I don’t doubt that there would be some in the Labour Party who would have wanted to go for a referendum anyway, but my best guess is that the temptation for an opposition party to derail a major plank of the policy being put forward by all three of the parties that they were seeking to defeat in the 2011 election, and perhaps cause friction between them, would just have been too strong to resist.
So, no resolution in the Assembly, no referendum, a probable Labour overall majority for the next 4 years in Cardiff on an anti-Tory/ Lib Dem surge, and the whole issue of legislative powers kicked into the long grass for at least another four years.  And the Lib Dems’ approach to writing standing orders for the conduct of meetings turns out to have been perhaps the most significant event of all.
So, cheer up Lib Dems; with the aid of the law of unintended consequences, you’ve achieved much more than you realise.


Adam Higgitt said...

A very delightful counterfactual. The only thing I'd add is the grief Labour have been plunged into over whether to back a referendum.

Anonymous said...

It also begs the question - what can Labour offer Plaid to persuade them to sign up for 1W2 as apposed to a new Rainbow?

All of the big prizes that Plaid will be chasing next (eg devolution of policing) will be at the behest of the Con-Dems - there is actually very little that Labour can offer other than power for powers sake.


Anonymous said...

Labour can offer as much, or as little, as the Cons and Lib Dems could in 2007. Power for power's sake was enough to drive the Rainbow...