Wales moved closer to a successful vote on greater lawmaking powers for the Welsh assembly this month with the launch of the Yes for Wales campaign. The question will be: Do you want the assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?
The majority of Welsh voters are likely to vote for the devolution of extra powers to Cardiff according to an opinion poll conducted by ICM Research for BBC Wales showing 57 per cent support. The referendum on extra powers is due to be held on 3 March, 2011.
On these numbers it should be fine, but we must not be complacent, and another challenge for supporters of a yes vote in the referendum will be a good turnout too – to help make the result authoritative.
January and February are difficult months to campaign in, I know. My constituency of Blaenau Gwent is in parts over 1400 feet high and winters can be hard, so campaigning work on the doorstep won’t be easy. We’ll need to run strong telephone contact and direct mail campaigns, as well as high profile, high visibility, campaigning in markets, retail parks and even the Six Nations home rugby matches in Wales, to get our messages over as March 3 approaches.
Fellow Labour MP Hywel Francis warned last month that we must build our cause with the great Welsh estates – he was of course talking about the council estates like Cefn Golau in Tredegar and the Rassau in Ebbw Vale – if we are to be successful in the spring. I think he’s got that right.
Labour’s message is certainly getting out there. Even the Daily Telegraph had to cover the clear red water between Wales and England shown by the announcement by Labour’s Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews. In contrast to the ConDems he took the decision to charge Welsh students two-thirds less for their tuition fees than their English neighbours.
Thanks to one of the boldest decisions taken since the advent of devolution, the assembly government will help out Welsh residents by covering all their costs above £3,290. Of course the middle brow English daily papers who are no friends of devolution hated this, and there is a danger of a new English nationalism. However, this kind of media heat could be good news for Labour as the March referendum and May elections get closer.
Defending different priorities for a Labour government in Wales, compared to the ConDem government in London, needs to be part of our campaign kitbag over the next few years. As someone who was the first in his mining and steelmaking family to go to university, I think it’s important we stand up for increased access to higher education in Wales.
As the Cardiff-based journalist David Williamson has said ‘Say what you like about devolution, but it’s making the cost of a university education radically less expensive than in England’. Well, ‘every little helps’.
Meanwhile, the Welsh grand committee at Westminster was a bit more coherent in December but, try as I might to find it, there was precious little cheer in the government analysis of the CSR and Wales from the economic secretary to the Treasury. Justine Greening found it hard to identify much good news for the Labour benches from Wales and wasn’t able to tell me how much Wales’ share of the UK’s £530 million investment in broadband would be coming home to the valleys. I’ve put in a parliamentary question on this as a follow-up – investment in new technology infrastructure is crucial for the modern Welsh economy.