Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Post Referendum Thoughts

So its all over. All the build up (or lack of it), the expected result (maybe better than expected) and we now have a proper parliament, with primary legislative powers (almost). So why do I feel slightly deflated about it all, I certainly didn't on Friday night when celebrating our much deserved win.

I think it is possibly a number of things. Firstly that for those of us interested in politics, I'd kind of been looking forward to this referendum for some time. I remember going to a Tommorow's Wales event maybe a couple of years ago where the move from Part 3 to Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 was the main topic of debate (it makes you wonder how a referendum on such a topic got even 35% of voters to the polls?). It was to me then as it is now such a painfully obvious choice, and thankfully we got the right result. But how could 36% of people vote No? I suppose the debate did become more about a number of other things as all such referendums inevitably do. It became a question of scrutiny, it became a question of competence (of the Government and the Welsh people), and finally it became a question of the devolution journey.

On a slight aside, the question of whether there is an agenda on the part of some towards a nationalist future was often raised by the No campaign (even though one of the parties makes that their clear aim). In the classic style of all conspiracy theorists they tried to plant in the public's mind the idea of a sinister and power hungry establishment that were itching to pull up anchor and sail the good ship Cambria away from England and to the promised land. It was rarely raised by Yes campaigners the equally obvious agenda of many No campaigners, often denied, who wished the assembly wasn't there or that it could slowly be eroded until it went away, no matter the consequences for Wales (if you watched David Williams post referendum TV program, one of them wanted to blow it up or burn it down. I don't think he was that serious, good old Len!).

So it is over, I feel I worked quite hard and played my part. But like all of the things in your life that you make a big deal, it soon becomes clear when its over that it wont make as big a difference as you first expect. Don't get me wrong, this is a major and important step forward for Wales. But for me my life wont in the short term be drastically altered. Hopefully we wont see a raft of legislation just for the sake of it, I'm sure we wont as our politicians aren't quite as daft as some make out. So I wont feel the primary legislative powers of our soon to be elected representatives add to the weight of needless bureaucracy already resting heavily on our heads.

What seemed more important was the shift in attitude that the results seemed to portray, as they were announced, followed by cheers it seemed that the unclothed zeitgeist of Wales was on display, well the zeitgeist of the 35% that bothered to vote, but it still seemed important. The speeches of the party leaders and Roger Lewis summed it up. Something that we had struggled for for centuries was happening, not that we were getting more power to legislate, but that Wales was uniting behind something. Not entirely, we cant get too carried away, but as county after county returned Yes verdicts it seemed, to coin a phrase we had one Wales, slowly uniting behind the institution that housed our democracy. The ancient sparring kingdoms and principalities united, the rural and the urban united, the welsh speaking and English speaking welsh united. The differences were still there if you bothered to look at the results closely, but it was fading. A transport network geared east to west could not hold back a shared and growing sense of shared history and culture. Only the apathetic spoiled the party. We may be coming to terms with Wales as a political nation, but the majority of the nation still gets its media and much therefore of its thought and culture from the British media. This is a dangerous problem in terms of Welsh democracy, and the low turnout in this poll is just one sign.

Unless you are interested in Welsh politics as I obviously am, then you probably would have voted in the referendum on a couple of very simplistic ideas. Both the Yes and No campaigns tried to make it about these simple matters in order to capture our imaginations, to varying effect. Laws that only effect the people of Wales should be made in Wales, vote No to the slippery slope, give our Assembly Members the tools to do the job, don't give them any more power they don't deserve it. We heard all these simplistic arguments, and the standard of debate was poor as a result. But it is hard to grip the imagination of people who don't really care much for what happens in Cardiff Bay unless it directly affects them, especially when the British media pretty much ignores anything going on in Wales which they might deem a bit too parochial, and not the fundamental battle of ideas that it could have been. The stronger the press and the media of a country the greater the potential for good quality debate. As in all referendums both sides normally have some good points or stumble on them accidentally, no matter how kooky or outlandish they seem, and we should take heed of them as we go forward. Wales needs better forums for its future debates if it is going to engage the majority of its people and come to good decisions. How to achieve this I'm not sure, but the online sphere played a vital role in this last referendum and if we can engage more people through it all the better. But the old fashioned mediums of TV and newspaper still dominate.

To come back to my original thoughts on why I quickly realised that we cannot celebrate for too long, and the long hard slog of politics and government must continue. We have to up our game, we always will. Those of us who try to steer public opinion through all mediums including politics have a challenge ahead. We now have a proper Assembly as some of us have long wanted. We will probably want more, more powers for Wales (or should that be “in” Wales, sorry Luke!), but we must use what we currently have well in the years ahead if we hope to go any further.

I think it suddenly dawned on me, that we cant sit idly by and let others do it. All of us who voted Yes on Thursday the 3rd of March 2011 have a duty to ourselves and our country to take responsibility for what we do next. Its quite a depressing thought really, I was quite happy for others to get on and do it for me.

To end with, I have been thinking over the last couple of days of a couple of quotes from 2 films I like (this time its the American media shaping my thoughts). A classic line in Spider-man is: “with great power comes great responsibility”, sorry about the obvious cliché I have just concerned you with. But in my favourite film of the moment Kick Ass we get this expansion “with no power comes no responsibility........except that wasn't true”.

Daniel Lawrence

Daniel Lawrence is a Non-Portfolio Member of the National Executive Committee. He writes in a personal capacity.

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