Page last updated at 06:29 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

What happens next?

Adrian Browne
By Adrian Browne
BBC Wales political reporter

Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones outside the Senedd
Labour and Plaid leaders Rhodri Morgan (L) and Ieuan Wyn Jones announcing a coalition in 2007

Never assume is a pretty good motto, particularly in politics.

But it is not easy to see how Welsh ministers can do anything other than begin moves pretty soon for a referendum on whether or not to give the Welsh assembly more powers.

Central to the 2007 coalition deal, which kept Labour in power in Wales and put Plaid Cymru AMs around the cabinet table for the first time, was an agreement to "proceed to a successful outcome of a referendum for full law-making powers...as soon as practicable, at or before the end of the assembly term" (in May 2011).

The All Wales Convention's role was, to all intents and purposes, to see if there is sufficient public support for giving the assembly further powers for there to be a good prospect of securing a 'yes' vote.

Given the convention has said a 'yes' vote is "obtainable", we should expect the assembly government to get on with jumping through the constitutional hoops needed to allow that public vote to take place.

For the referendum to be held, the following needs to happen:

• Two thirds of assembly members must vote in favour of holding one

• The Welsh secretary must agree to put the matter before both houses of Parliament

• A simple majority in both the Commons and Lords must back the referendum plan

However, we don't know who will be leading Welsh Labour in two week's time.

Until the party's leadership election is out of the way, it is difficult to see how the party can say anything definitive about the way forward.

The winner won't, by the way, become first minister until around a week after that.

All three candidates have made noises along the lines of 'consulting the Labour movement,' etc, about the convention's findings, so some sort of conversation within Labour will have to take place.

Let's suppose this internal discussion shows due respect to party members but concludes there can be no question of failing to honour the coalition deal with Plaid, and therefore Labour AMs are primed to vote in favour of holding the referendum.

That vote in the assembly could be held as early as January.

But there is one prominent Labour member who might take some convincing of the need to get the referendum bandwagon rolling at all, and that is Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain
Peter Hain has argued further law-making powers are being delivered to Wales at an increasing pace

Just last month Mr Hain, who devised the current legislation which allows the assembly to gain new powers over devolved areas on a bit-by-bit basis, made it crystal-clear he believes a referendum over the next couple of years would be lost.

He does, of course, represent a significant body of opinion in his party. He has a strong track record as a devolution campaigner and is, therefore, a credible voice of caution and is holding some rather important constitutional strings.

Mr Hain, under the Government of Wales Act, is involved at every stage of the process of triggering a referendum, and can undertake "such consultation" as he "considers appropriate" before the vote of AMs can even be held.

It means he could, in theory, delay even the first steps towards a referendum taking place for as long as he is in office, if he wanted to.

This would cause ructions within the Labour-Plaid coalition and perhaps end the coalition itself, but it is possible.

Should a Conservative government at Westminster be elected in six or seven months time, that new administration could then, in keeping with David Cameron's promise not to block a referendum, allow things to proceed, although missing the time slot most of those who want a referendum would prefer, the autumn of 2010.

Consolation

What if, then, the quality of the All Wales Convention's report, and/or a belief within the present UK government that the potential disintegration of Labour's coalition in Cardiff was not the ideal backdrop to a general election campaign, ensured Mr Hain's cooperation on the holding of an early referendum?

In theory a vote fairly early in the New Year could allow for a referendum next autumn.

The general election would be out of the way and, should Mr Cameron have been in residence in Downing Street for the previous few months, Labour members in Wales might be able to console themselves by working towards getting more powers for the remaining part of the UK where Labour was still in a government.

Above are just a few of the scenarios which spring to mind.

For those of us who have the honour of toiling near the engine room of Welsh politics, these are interesting times at t'mill.



SEE ALSO
'Most want' more powers for Wales
27 Oct 09 |  Wales politics

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