Further to my previous post, we are having a practice run here in Wales on 3 March. A referendum on extending the law-making powers of the Welsh Assembly. Ho-hum.
Devolution in Wales has had a pretty lame history. In Scotland, it has been a live issue for many years, but here no-one (apart from politicians) is really bothered. The first referendum on the subject was in 1979. The Labour government had proposed the creation of a Welsh Assembly (with strictly limited powers) and put the proposition to the Welsh people. 80% voted 'No'.
That's a fairly substantial expression of opinion, but Labour were undeterred. In 1997, Tony Blair's government held a referendum to see if the support for an assembly had increased. Even with the support of Labour, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru (the only major party to campaign against were the Conservatives, and they are not greatly liked in most of Wales, so their involvement may even have boosted the Yes vote), the result was very close. In the end, less than 1% separated the results: 50.3% in favour and 49.7% against. Turnout was an unimpressive 50.1%. In effect, only 1 in 4 Welshmen could be bothered to go to the polling booth and cast a vote for an Assembly. But Labour wanted it, and Wales got it. Setting it up cost millions. Not a catastrophe on a Holyrood scale, but a massive amount of money in a country which, by UK standards, is not wealthy.
The Assembly gets quite a lot of airtime on the local BBC news (and is often presented by the very cute and very astute Betsan Powys)
but in the street and the workplace, I can't remember ever hearing a conversation that involved Cardiff Bay, other than as a location for a night out on the lash. People just aren't interested. (I am interested in politics, and even I don't know the name of my AM or which party he/she supports.)
The referendum on 3 March is on law-making powers. At the moment, the Assembly is like a neutered dog - it can bark all it likes, but its generative powers are strictly limited. The Assembly wants powers to make its own laws independent of Westminster (no surprises there - what politician doesn't want more powers?), and the line up of For and Against are pretty much the same as in 1997.
I'll be voting No. It's not that I am against devolution, far from it. I believe that all decisions should be taken as far as possible by the people involved, and devolving powers down to communities and away from a remote central government is a good thing. But if you think the politicians at Westminster are twats, you haven't seen the Welsh Assembly in operation. Playground spats, grandstanding, undercover deals - all are there, and of exhibition quality. If these chumps are given powers to make laws, then I suspect we will see an awful lot of ill-thought-out, self-interested and plain dotty ideas coming out of Cardiff Bay. And not just ideas, but actual laws that we will all have to obey. I predict a major outing for the Law of Unintended Consequences with every one.
I did consider abstaining. I am not Welsh, and I feel that the issue is one for the Welsh people alone. But then again, I have lived and worked here for 21 years now, contributing to the economy and marrying a local girl, so I suppose I have some stake in the matter.