Today’s Western Mail Friday Essay comes from the First Minister and is entitled ‘My disappointment with No 10 over referendum’ and is pointing the finger of blame at the Secretary of State.
If Carwyn Jones is disappointed then I’m afraid he only has the previous occupants and his colleagues to blame. The former Secretary of State Peter Hain claimed to have Wales’ best interests at heart, especially when it came to the referendum but we soon found out when Cheryl Gillan took office that there had been little progress.
Since taking office, the Secretary of State has been honest and open about the timetable for delivering a referendum. We now have a clear map of the road ahead.
If we retrace the steps that bring us to the present, it is difficult to see how the First Minister can suggest that the inability to deliver an autumn referendum is any thing other than one of the many unwanted legacies of the previous Labour government.
The All Wales Convention reported back in November 2009. However, a ‘trigger vote’ did not happen until February 2010 and even then the letter to then Secretary of State formally requesting a referendum sat on the First Minister’s desk for another 10 days. I repeatedly pressed Carwyn Jones to rule out a referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections. Until the middle of May he had failed to do that.
Then just over 2 weeks ago, the First Minister issues a Ministerial Statement which suggested an October referendum as well as a draft question. Just like that, out of nowhere. Without any serious consultation.
We all know the reality of the situation is that proper, robust consultation must take place. There are obligations on both the Secretary of State and the Electoral Commission to not only deliver a question that has been fully tested meet electoral regulations and allow adequate time for a campaign on the vote. These requirements are vital to the delivery of a referendum question and a referendum date and we must not be over hasty regarding this process.
The First Minister says we must wait and see whether the Prime Minister and the Government can work constructively with the Assembly Government. Perhaps it’s time the First Minister took his own advice over this referendum process and focussed his energy on the campaign ahead. I have repeatedly urged him to push forward with the referendum process and have found him lacking the necessary commitment and passion about this vital issue. Most recently, I wrote to him on the 20th May reminding him that some time ago I urged the setting up of a ‘yes’ campaign with each of the 4 parties in the Assembly nominating representatives. I urged him once again to move swiftly to ensure that such a campaign is up and running. To date I have had no response to the letter.