Earlier today, the Welsh Labour Party released a statement indicating that progress on a referendum would not be made before a UK general election. In consequence of that, there have been serious ructions within the Labour-Plaid coalition, and even talk of its collapse. Martin Shipton’s story from Wales Online (the Western Mail’s online service) is here, and the BBC’s is here.
What struck me reading this was not the delay in itself, but the reason for it. The Labour Party statement says
Because a ‘No’ vote in a referendum could set back devolution for several decades, triggering the referendum process needs to be based on a firm prospect that public opinion is ready to respond positively in the referendum.
The implication is that this hasn’t yet been done. But that’s exactly what the All Wales Convention was set up to do – and did. Chapter 5 of the report is a careful and detailed survey of the state of public opinion, based on polling commissioned by the Convention. That is what it has spent the last 18 months doing. This position of Labour’s amounts to second-guessing the Convention it set up. It’s a very odd position indeed.
This isn’t, sadly, the first time that Rhodri Morgan has commissioned a large-scale report on devolution and then reacted to it in a confused way, unclear how to handle party considerations and balance those with the requirements of his government and the larger project of securing effective devolved government for Wales. The same thing happened in spring 2004, following publication of the Richard Commission’s report. Once again, a comprehensive survey of the working of devolution and what the public think about it has come up with conclusions that are too difficult for Labour Party politicians to handle, so they seek to unpick. It looks horribly as though history is repeating itself.