Chill and icy weather has not deterred Labour from hitting the campaign trail to champion the case for a better deal for the people of Wales.
The new year in Wales has seen a big push for a Yes vote on extra powers for the Welsh assembly in the important referendum that’ll take place on March 3rd.
Over the last decade the assembly has gradually grown in stature and confidence. But the system for making laws that affect Wales is slow and complicated. For example, it has already taken three years for the assembly to get powers transferred from Westminster to reform the organ donation system to give a lifeline to people waiting for a new kidney. Even though the policy is widely supported in Wales, the assembly is still waiting for permission to act – and the Conservative UK government is slowing things up.
Wales Labour is leading from the front on this campaign and in Blaenau Gwent I am urging everyone to vote Yes and make the assembly work harder for us. I want to reassure progressive supporters across the UK who may be worried that this may be about either separatism or independence. It’s not. I’m supporting a Yes vote because it will strengthen Wales and the place of Wales in the UK. A No vote would weaken Wales’ voice in the face of an aggressive Tory-led Westminster government.
Carwyn Jones, our Welsh Labour leader, is doing a good job showing the clear red water between the Labour-led government in Cardiff and Tory-led Westminster. At a time when all the talk is about cuts to public services, it’s good to know that the Assembly is protecting services for the most vulnerable, like free bus travel for pensioners and disabled people, and free milk for the under sevens in schools.
Young people in particular will be able to contrast the much better deal on tuition fees for Welsh students compared to that for English domiciled students. Welsh students who go to university in 2012-13 will be paying the same in real terms as students who go to university in this academic year. As Wales education minister Leighton Andrews has said ‘Higher education should be on the basis of the individual’s potential to benefit, and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay. This is a ‘Made in Wales’ policy which demonstrates the benefits of devolution. We are preserving the principle that the state will subsidise higher education and maintain opportunities for all.’
As someone who was the first in his family to go to university. I’m very pleased at this initiative. Many working-class students from England will baulk at the extra tuition fees, while those from Wales will get a much better deal because of our Welsh Labour values in action.
Having said that, for the first time ever, all four main Welsh political party leaders are on the same side in the referendum campaign. This is a major achievement and shows the appeal of the common sense agenda that Yes for Wales is united upon: laws that affect only Wales should be made in Wales.
I spent the holiday period in south Wales at home in Nantyglo, and like many parts of the country it was pretty cold and so many of us stayed indoors or did short trips. Because of this winter referendum we’re going to have to find ways of linking up with our community and neighbours to highlight the importance of saying Yes.
I will be encouraging party members to wrap up warm when we hit the markets, sporting venues and doorsteps through January and February. We can beat the chill and wintry weather to get our message through and see a brighter spring for Wales.