Hopefully, you're all aware of the referendum in Wales on 3rd March (tomorrow as I write). But as there no group applied for the status of official no campaign, there have not been TV broadcasts or mailshots for either yes or no campaigns which may well have reduced awareness of the issues.
This is a quick email to encourage you all to consider the issues and to go out and vote. Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm on Thursday 3rd March. In recent weeks, we have seen people in the Middle East and North Africa demonstrating on the streets, at times at risk to their lives, for democracy. We are lucky in living in a democracy with free and fair elections and referendums, and I believe we have a duty to engage with the democratic process by voting.
I have a very strong opinion about how I am going to vote, but I hope in this email to give you information on the issues so you can make up your own mind.
The National Assembly for Wales was created in 1999 after the yes vote in the devolution Referendum in September 1997. At that time, it had no primary law-making powers. In 2006, a second Government of Wales Act was passed which gave the Assembly law making powers in a few areas and the ability to apply to Westminster to gain law making powers in the other devolved areas after the May 2007 Assembly elections. To gain more law making powers, the Assembly had to propose a Legislative Competence Order (LCO). In the LCO the Assembly set out what powers it was asking for and went through a process of consultation and committee scrutiny in the Assembly and then in both houses in Westminster and if all houses agreed it received Royal Assent. Once an LCO has received Royal Assent, the Assembly can then introduce a Measure to make a new law in that area. This then goes through a process of public consultation and committee scrutiny in the Assembly before being passed by the Assembly and then receiving Royal Assent.
Got that? I don't blame you if you haven't. I know the system because I worked for a political party at the Assembly and I can assure you that it is convoluted and long-winded.
Under this current system, more and more powers will be devolved to the Assembly area by area as LCOs are passed. The 2006 Government of Wales Act, however, set out a way to speed this process up. If the people of Wales vote yes in a Referendum on this issue, then the Assembly gains primary law making powers in all devolved areas wholesale. This means that rather than taking at least a year to pass an LCO and then another year to pass a Measure, the Assembly will be able to start the Measure straightaway.
The most extreme example of the problem with the current system is the area of Housing. In 2007, the Labour, Plaid and LibDem manifestos contained a promise to suspend the 'right-to-buy' (for tenants of council housing) in areas of high housing need. These three parties won 47 of the 60 seats in the Assembly. You might therefore thing that this would be an easy matter for the Assembly to legislate upon. However, because of the LCO system, nearly 4 years later the Measure is still to be passed, although it is nearly there. It has taken this long because it took 3 years to gain an LCO giving the Assembly the powers to do this. I believe that the House of Parliament are supposed to judge whether it is appropriate that Wales should have the powers it has asked for, however in the case of the Housing LCOs (two because we had to return to the drawing board once), it was blocked because MPs (especially Conservative ones) did not approve of the laws the Assembly might have passed, although it was the power to completely abolish the right-to-buy which was the real sticking point, which is not the intention in the first instance but was included in the LCO for completeness sake.
I promised to be fair and set out the issues, so I've just checked True Wales' website and their reasons for voting no. Despite having been founded to campaign for a no vote in this Referendum, True Wales did not apply for official campaign status meaning there have been no officially recognised campaigns and so no TV broadcasts or mailshots. Some people have suggested that this is because True Wales want a low turnout so that they can claim that the result is not legitimate though they have denied this.
Having looked at their reasons for voting no, they do not appear to me to engage with the (admittedly technical) issue that the referendum is about. They criticise the record of the Assembly and suggest that voting yes is a slippery slope to Independence. Although there are those in the Yes campaign who are in favour of Independence, that is not the matter at issue here and there would have to be a Referendum on that specific issue.
For full balance, the website for the Yes Campaign is also available
I hope I have managed to be reasonably objective and clear in setting out the issues here.