Monday, 7 February 2011

Swimming through the muddy waters of the referendum

I havent written a post for this blog for some time, so thought I should make some sort of contribution during this important referendum campaign. I fear it has kept most of us very busy lately!

Anyway, I was writing a response to a Guardian online article which I thought merited a response (which can be found here: due to some of its illogical arguments, and realised I had got slightly carried away and that it was a bit long. I thought it may make an interesting blog post, or at least something to spark debate. So here is the very edited comment highly edited to make sense as a blog post and not just a reply to an article:

There is a problem of confusion amongst a lot of welsh people with regards to what the referendum is about. Neither the Yes or No sides help the situation with some of the comments that are made by some (although I do think the Yes campaign are doing a better job of trying to stick to the facts than True Wales who seem to be purposely muddying the water). However, referendums are rarely fought with everyone knowing the full facts, and they are regularly won or lost on very different questions to the one asked (usually the popularity of the government of the day).

Firstly, I doubt the author of the post has actually read the Western mail lately, but I read it most days and I have in the last few weeks found it difficult to find a day where the referendum hasn't been mentioned. I'm suprised WM readers arent sick of it by now (I'd imagine a number are). The main problem is as she mentions that not enough people read the WM or other welsh newspapers.

I agree that speed is not synonomous with effectiveness, however it can be very important, and can be a strength of unicameral legislatures where it means there is no possibility of legislative deadlock and it can produce a simpler more efficient system (what we have at the present is neither). Other unicameral parliaments in Europe include the Riksdag in Sweden and the Storting in Norway to name just two, and they seem to cope well enough. It is not a strange or unique set up in a democracy.

It is not a question of thinking that Welsh people are the only people who can make Wales a better place, just that they are best placed to. It is a basic principle of Democracy, and it is not something to be mocked.

I believe the author is right in some of her criticisms of the lack of dynamism in the Assembly and the poor performance in a number of areas since its set up in 1999. Their is also a critique to be made of the quality of some of our Assembly members. However, the author then illogically says we should stay with the same system which has helped produce this by voting no, before ridiculing the Welsh people's elected Assembly as a child compared to its wiser older brother in London. If we want to improve the quality of our politics we first need some confidence in ourselves and our ability to learn from our mistakes.

She then moves on in the typically cynical fashion of those who want a No vote by saying that democracy wont be improved. She may be right (I personally dont think so), but what is the alternative? A No vote would send us backwards, but how far and how fast? To the days of an all powerful secretary of state who might not represent a Welsh constituency or have even been voted for by anyone in Wales. Or even further, to the days when Wales had no institutional devolution (we're talking decades here), when the rule of the majority in the UK parliament meant that a Welsh nation couldnt exist, and if it wanted to it was powerless.

This is why this referendum is so vitally important. It is not about Independence (as True Wales wants you to think) which would require a further referendum and which would probably be beaten. It is a great shame that it is not engaging the vast bulk of the Welsh populace because it is about something very important. It is about a very basic principle of governance and democracy, that it should be clear where power lie's and the people should know this and understand it. A No vote keeps us in this state of confusion, a Yes vote makes the system simpler and makes it clearer where power lie's.

It has been said before that there is nowhere else in the world where a system like this operates (for that you have to go back to 15th century Ireland), where one elected parliament has to effectively check on another parliament in areas of responsibility it has already seceded to it. It is for a very good reason that this is the case.

By Daniel Lawrence (Cardiff)