Monday, 29 October 2007

Referendum fever (2)

Readers of this blog (both of them) won't be surprised to have heard Peter Hain suggest that an early referendum to give the Welsh Assembly more powers would be lost and therefore it might not be good politics to hold a vote before 2011.

The Secretary of State for Wales can't be accused of inconsistency on this issue.

Peter Hain, June 2005: "I note that the Richard Commission did not envisage primary powers until 2011. There is no consensus for a referendum today: it would be lost."

"My own view is that the new Assembly arrangements should be allowed to bed down through the next Assembly term between 2007 and 2011, and that there is no case for considering a referendum until at least the following Assembly term of office."

Peter Hain, November 2005: 'We need to be sure that there was a broad consensus of at least the level of 1997. When we call this referendum we have got to have a reasonable confidence we can win it.

"If we lost a referendum it would be disastrous for the cause of primary powers, which is why I am being cautious about this, and there is a constitutional reality check...If we lost a referendum it would be off the agenda for a very long time."

Peter Hain, July 2007: "I do not think you can guarantee in advance when we will hold a referendum. There is a process to try to achieve that objective. That is what the agreement is and it has been entered into in good faith. I am now rather doubtful whether it can be achieved."
Peter Hain, July 2007: "That is an ambition of the agreement signed between the two leaders, now the Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government, and endorsed by respective Parties. I cannot anticipate the translation of that ambition into practice on an exact date. It is no secret that I have always said, and I have not changed my mind though if there is progress on realising that ambition then obviously I will have to take account of that, I think it is better for the first stage of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to bed down the extra powers provided for under both the Order in Council process and then, in parallel, the framework powers, which will give considerable extra power to the Assembly, and its capacity to deal with those extra powers has yet to be tested. I would have thought we needed a period to see how that beds down and see what the case is for going for full law-making primary powers, rather than to set a date in advance artificially. "

That Peter Hain - too consistent for his own good. But in politics, as in comedy, timing is everything. Mr Hain's comments made headlines because they were a direct response to the optimism (certainty?) of Rhodri Morgan and his Plaid coalition partners that a referendum will be held in or before 2011.

He also feels "bounced" into the appointment of his friend Sir Emyr Jones Parry as chair of the convention paving the way for a referendum.