I spent most of yesterday at Compass’ annual conference in London. It was really interesting with a broad spectrum of progressive speakers attending; Lib Dems, Nationalists and Greens with the biggest slice being Labour. There are moves to get the organisation doing more in Wales – definitely a good thing.
For once at a national event Wales wasn’t forgotten about either. There were a number of sessions on devolution including one attended by the Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, John Osmond. He, of course, came close to winning Preseli for Plaid at the last election and is one of their leading thinkers.
A question came in around the referendums on devolution and John admitted that the referendum on the further transfer of powers to the Welsh Assembly was ‘frankly unlikely’ in this term of office. The smart money, he thought, was on the 2/3 majority required to ask for a referendum on further powers to come late next year. By then it’s likely there will be a Tory Welsh Secretary. They need to give permission for a the referendum to happen within sixty days – watch the Tories go into a tailspin as they finally confront the issues of devolution which they have been dodging inelegantly for years.
If the Tories go into a tailspin what will happen to Plaid? This is the most senior figure I have heard suggest the referendum won’t happen. It was a key part of the deal to go into Labour, ‘One Wales’ promised a referendum ‘as soon as practicable and on (or before) the end of the Assembly term in 2011‘. Their AM’s have been pushing for it ever since and in recent weeks influential members* have called for them to back out of the coalition because they are unhappy.
The importance of this referendum to Plaid’s members (elected and otherwise) shouldn’t be underestimated. Their leader has claimed they put the debate for more powers on the agenda with the ‘One Wales’ agreement. It is a claim that is beginning to look rather hollow now.
This comes on top of Plaid u-turning on top up fees. Plaid members (elected and otherwise) must be asking themselves which bits of their manifesto they are going to get implemented. Right now, it looks like it’s a Labour Government propped up by Plaid who are hanging out in a blind alley.
Update: My bad. I’ve edited this. Initially it linked to a post by Alwyn about how Plaid should walk out of the Coalition if they couldn’t get the referendum. He says isn’t a member of Plaid anymore (I think, as long as I’m reading it right) here. So I have altered the link and the reference.