Page last updated at 22:51 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Meeting curries favour and fury

By Adrian Browne
BBC Wales political reporter

The convention debate
Some delegates demanded and achieved a Question Time-style event

A chance to discuss Wales' constitutional development while eating a curry? How could I resist?

I can't remember a story I have reported on where I've had less idea quite what might happen, apart perhaps from when Lemmy from Motorhead turned up at the Welsh assembly to pronounce on drugs policy.

The seaside social and labour club in Port Talbot had been criticised for being a political venue, but it turned out not to have had Labour Party connections for decades.

Around 80 people turned up with a fair range of ages. The convention's chair Sir Emyr Jones Parry, was cardigan clad and avuncular.

Then came a series of explanations of the Welsh assembly's current powers and how they might change.

There was Sir Emyr, then a DVD screening and a finally a woman with a bucket demonstrating how powers could move between Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

A facilitator, in an almost air hostess-style, had to explain where the emergency exits were.

What was abundantly clear was how passionately many on both sides of this debate hold their views

She went on to ask people to later post their written views on coloured notice boards around them.

One board was for education and sport. Another related to health and social care matters, and so on. It was not what many in the hall were expecting, me included.

People may have been expecting more of an old-fashioned Question Time style of debate, and frustration built up against this more structured play.

Diplomat mode

"We have come here to discuss if Wales should get more powers or not," complained one attendee, to murmurs of support.

Dave Rees, of True Wales, which is campaigning against further law-making powers, left the hall in disgust.

Sir Emyr came back to the stage in full diplomat mode and agreed to demands to have a debate in the room, giving his microphone, the only one, to those who wanted to speak.

Curry and rice (generic)
The curry went down well, not that Adrian Browne had a chance to taste it

There were many well-considered observations but the ones that grabbed my imagination included one which compared the assembly gaining full legal powers to someone eating a whole box of chocolates at once, while a local councillor complained that "Westminster is on the moon, they don't understand".

When it was time to pin written views on the notice boards, messages included, "I don't trust those in charge," "can we afford new legislation? we can't pay to keep the street lights on" and "badgers don't know there's a line on the map".

Others were; "sort out the mental health division of the Welsh NHS - more money needed" and finally, "present system too cumbersome, it will take ages to enshrine law".

What was abundantly clear was how passionately many on both sides of this debate hold their views whether speakers believed the assembly was working with, "one hand tied behind its back" or "you don't have to be self-determining to be Welsh".


There seemed slightly more applause for the pro further-powers speakers but it was fairly close and I'm pretty sure I saw one or two people applauding both arguments.

By now, the smell of the curry was wafting around the room.

The prospect of perhaps the most publicised meal in Wales seemed to focus people's minds, ensuring the meeting went only slightly over its allotted time.

Sadly, I never found out how well it tasted as I had to find a quiet corner to pen these words.

But the rate at which the tables were cleared indicated most people's complete agreement with the curry, if not entirely with the arguments they heard or the way the evening was conducted.


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