November 19, 2009

A Matter of Timing

Now that the dust is starting to settle on the EJP report, it is clear that it is now a matter of WHEN not IF the referendum will be held. So it is worth considering some of the dates:

First of all, there is a commitment in the Labour-Plaid coalition agreement to hold the referendum before the next Assembly elections, which are scheduled for May 2011. For practical campaigning reasons, these should be held at least 3 months before the Assembly elections, so the latest date they should be held would be February 2011.

Then looking at the timing of the UK General Election, this has to be held at the latest by June 2010, but it has been widely leaked that this will take place on May 6th 2010. Parliament will be dissolved 17 working days before this, so taking into account the May Bank Holiday, this means Friday 9th April. Parliament is actually closed on this date, as the Easter Recess is scheduled for 29th March to 18th April, so any unfinished business on Friday 26th March will remain unfinished. Even if the election date moves forward by another week or two, this remains the last effective working day of the current Parliament.

Now coming back to the referendum, this will first need to be triggered by a 2/3rds majority vote in the Assembly. After this, the Assembly will pass the request to the Secretary of State for his (or her) consideration. He (or she) will then have 120 days in which to consider this request and must either respond positively, or provide a valid reason why it can not be considered. If the Secretary of State is in agreement, and has used the 120 days to prepare the necessary draft Order which identifies the exact wording of the referendum, the date, and some additional arrangements, then the Order must then pass through the House of Commons and House of Lords for their agreement. Assuming that if the Labour Government wants to it can bounce the vote through the House of Commons in the week immediately prior to dissolution, then this means that the Order needs to be presented prior to say Monday 22nd March. (I am assuming that the House of Lords vote can be taken after the dissolution of the House of Commons) Working back by 120 days, means that the Senedd would need to pass its vote by the 20th November 2009 for the current Westminster government to approve the referendum, which effectively lets Peter Hain off the hook.

Instead, the Assembly will have to wait until after the UK General Election and submit its request to an incoming Conservative Secretary of State. Moving forward by 120 days, and the earliest that this could be approved by the SoS would be 3rd September 2010. However, Westminster will still be in recess until the 22nd September, so even with David Cameron’s express blessing, approval is unlikely before October. There would then need to be a minimum one month campaign which means that the earliest the Referendum could be held would be the first week of November.

That will please the campaign teams……….

1 comment:

MH said...

Penddu, we think along similar lines. I was going to do a post on timing too!

Agree with you entirely about the 6 May 2010 date (that is the day of the Local elections, and Labour would not want any bad result then to contribute to a yet worse result if they held on for a few weeks longer). I guess it would be possible to put the local election back a few weeks, but that would be a lot of fuss for only a few weeks. Not worth it ... not least because it would telegraph their intentions to the Tories and take away any element of last minute "surprise".

So yes, the referendum mechanism must get through Westminster by 26 March latest.

Where I would disagree with you is on the 120 days. That is only a maximum. If Peter Hain were so inclined he could put it through in a couple of days, and the WASC might take as little as couple of weeks over it, same for the Lords Constitution Committee. They could (if so inclined) do preliminary work based on the draft presented to the Assembly. I would say they could do it quickly on the basis that the mechanism and powers are already in the GoWA 2006, an Act that has been approved by Parliament and therefore not something that needs revisiting. The ONLY potentially tricky issues are the exact wording of the question, and the date.

In effect, Labour must make up their minds about what is in Labour's best interests. Plaid and the LibDems will of course say Yes ... and it doesn't matter what the Tories do, but there's a fair chance that they'll tag along to make it unanimous.

I think Labour will come round, and that Peter Hain will let it happen because it is in the best interests of the Labour party in Wales as a whole. With his undoubted skills, he might even be able to spin it as his own idea. I can put up with that. They need to hammer it out among themselves behind closed doors ... and will then come out in unity.

Because Peter Hain won't take 120 days if Labour have reached a united position, I don't think that 20 November is a fixed date. I think Labour can leave it until the start of January (but no later) before putting it to the Assembly. That we can get it through the Assembly by the end of January (that must be a deadline) and that it could pass through Westminster in a month. But some Tory MPs or Lords might be able to dredge up an objection or two ... which necessitates a few weeks' contingency.

As for the date of the referendum itself, that deserves a full post.