I've not blogged on matters devolutionary for months - mainly because nothing very significant has happened since May 2007. That was the date that Labour and Plaid Cymru agreed (as a key plank of their Coalition agreement) that a referendum would be held on the transfer to the National Assembly for Wales of all law making powers in currently devolved policy areas. This referendum would take place before the next Assembly Election. Now that was a big deal. But nothing much since then, except perhaps David Cameron's announcement that a Conservative Government would not veto the process. I suppose there was the Sir Emyr Jones Parry Commission, but it told us only what we knew already. And then there was today's announcement by Carwyn Jones, the new First Minister, that there is to be a vote on this issue in the National Assembly on Feb 9th. We knew that already as well, even if not the exact date.
Strangely, the First Minister did not make clear the purpose and significance of this vote - even though there can be but one reason for it. This blog has explained before why mid February is just about the last possible date that a so-called 'trigger vote' can be held, (setting the referendum wheels in motion) allowing sufficient time for a referendum to be held before 2011. Without a 'trigger vote' in February, the Assembly Coalition Government would fall. And we can't have that.
Following the Assembly vote on Feb. 9th, the Westminster Government will have 120 days to complete the arrangements for the referendum - and I'm told that most of this 120 days will be needed. It follows that enabling legislation cannot be approved before the General Election on May 6th. It also follows that there will be only about 60 days between the General Election and the following summer recess - so there will have to be a lot of work done before the General Election if this legal timetable is to be adhered to. So the preparation work will probably be done by two separate Secretaries of State - probably of different political parties. A lot of scope for mischief there, methinks! The reason that the enabling legislation has to be completed before the summer recess, is that there will not be enough time for a referendum, together with a campaign between Parliament reconvening in mid October and next winter. The only way out of this impasse would be for all tradition to be set aside, with Parliament reconvening in September.
The announcement of the actual date of the 'trigger vote' should have been a significant milestone in Welsh politics - but it has attracted almost no publicity at all. Perhaps the coalition partners leaving the 'trigger vote' until the last possible moment has removed any newsworthiness. Perhaps that's what Carwyn Jones wanted. After all, most Labour MPs are very unhappy about the whole process. Pity these milestones are unnoticed, because they are important.