Thursday, 24 February 2011

A damp squid

In the first free election in South Africa there were news footage of massive but orderly queue’s of voters casting there vote for the very first time. Cry freedom, at last had become a reality.
Turmoil reigns throughout the Arab world with swathes of the population wanting the vote they cast to have real meaning. The cry throughout the lands  of the near East is for democracy. 
How different all these events are to the little parochial exercise that takes place in Wales next Thursday - the referendum.
Now this referendum is not about establishing a new democracy. It is not even about law making, for that principle has already been established. So what is it about? It’s about whether the National Assembly should be the sole body involved in making laws in Wales. 
 Alternatively, things could stay the same if the no vote won the day. So the Westminster parliament’s ‘John Cobbley and all’ would continue with their fingers in the Welsh legislative pie.
Next Thursday’s referendum could be described as many things but earth shattering it is not.  And there in lies the rub. It is difficult for anyone that is not a political anorak to have any enthusiasm for it. There is no ‘hwyl’ about it.

The ‘yes’ side have had a go at trying to get a national campaign going. Producing a million leaflets and trying to get groups to campign throughout the land. 
The ‘no’ side apart from a couple of launch meetings has confined itself almost exclusively to a media campaign. A few television and radio appearances here and the odd phone call to the local press there. A campaign it has not been.
The truth is, that neither side has broken out of their own sect’s bubble. Many voters who have a postal vote have already put their cross on the ballot paper. Most of these votes will have been cast without access to any campaign material.
If, God forbid, there is to be another referendum, let it be on a ‘real’ issue. Independence or not, Federalism or not. Not on a minor technical tidying up issue like this one.
Ane let parliament change the Electoral Commission’s rules of engagement so that the voter gets enough information to make an informed choice. Even if one side of the argument chooses not to engage.
A couple of predictions for next Thursday. The police will not need to be deployed for crowd control outside ballot stations. Neither will the Army have to leave their barracks. For  there will be no protesters in the street. No Welsh square will be occupied with mobs chanting ‘law making powers on issues already devolved to the National Assembly.

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