Turning up the volume

John Osmond delves behind the key words being deployed by the Yes campaigners in the 3 March referendum

The Yes campaign could scarcely believe itself at its launch in the University of Glamorgan’s Atrium Building in Cardiff yesterday evening. It was out in force. Many, but by no means all, were the usual suspects. And, remarkably, all the parties were there, though mainly a blend of Labour and Plaid – the One Wales spirit made flesh, so to speak. There were a lot of young people, too, and as the evening wore on, even a bit of a buzz.

What was most noteworthy was that, for the first time outside the Senedd chamber, all four party leaders took to the stage and sang from the same hymn sheet. This was truly historic in Welsh political history. Nick Bourne acknowledged it by referring to how things had changed since the 1997 referendum. But now we needed the powers to make the Assembly work effectively. It was commonsensical. The occasions were mounting up when all parties agreed on the need for some initiative but discovered they just didn’t have the power. He mentioned mandatory seat belts in school buses following a tragic accident in the Vale of Glamorgan. There was a consensus in the Assembly on the need to legislate for this change, but the power was still reserved at Westminster.

“Give us the tools to do the job,” said Carwyn Jones, again, a theme echoed by his Deputy, Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones who also remarked on the significance of the cross-party united front. A bit of passion came from LibDem leader Kirsty Williams. She had grown up with the Assembly since 1999, she said, not everyone’s best option for spending the bulk of their twenties and thirties, but a privilege for her. And during that time she had given birth to her three children as well. She didn’t want them to grow up in a Wales that was still searching for the powers to get a proper job done.

The key words of the Yes campaign are proving to be: toolkit, confidence, stature, and ambition. And, oh yes, one other, a reworking of that old stager from 1997, Voice. We need a yes vote to give Wales an even stronger, perhaps louder voice. “Turn up the volume,” said chairman Roger Lewis.

That says a lot about Welsh psychology. What is this voice that we want to be stronger actually for? To whom is it to be addressed? We are still, it seems, in a supplicatory mode. The Campaign’s first leaflet is headed “A Stronger Voice” and it suggests a yes vote would mean more money for Wales:

“The government in London has said it will only consider fairer funding for Wales if we get a yes-vote in the referendum. With fairer funding, we can put more money into schools and hospitals. So vote yes if you want a stronger voice for Wales and more money for public services in Wales.”

Rather than being about equipping ourselves to stand more firmly on our feet, it seems a Yes vote is about giving us more traction with the powers that be in Westminster and Whitehall.

That may be the reality of where we are in terms of the present stage of Welsh development. My hope, however, is that so long as this message delivers on 3 March, it will enable us mature into a more rounded and self-sufficient polity, one that is more equal and at ease with the rest of the United Kingdom.

One other thing about the launch. It is obvious that the Yes campaign is going to present a huge dilemma to the press and media, and especially the BBC, in the way they cover the campaign. Can you, indeed, should you, give “equal” coverage to two sides when they are plainly so unequal? Is it the job of the BBC to, in effect, run the No campaign?

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

3 thoughts on “Turning up the volume

  1. Whatever a yes vote will achieve it will not change the Barnett formula or bring more money to Wales. Only the UK Parliament can change the Barnett formula and there is no evidence to show that any of the main political parties have any intention of doing that in the foreseeable future. To suggest otherwise is to seriously mislead a voting public which already has a pretty low of politics.

  2. Very interesting observation at the end regarding the BBC. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Such asymmetry is something the Yes campaign should have regard to, as well. It may well figure prominently in voters’ sympathies.

  3. The only valid argument for a NO vote that I can think of is that it would damage the Assembly, leading possibly, in a number of years, to its abolition, and then Wales could be re-absorbed as region of England, and the language put back in its box..

    There are people who think like that – I have spoken to some – and they deserve a voice. Thankfully they are few and far between.

    I agree with Jeff though, that a promise of a reform to the Barnett formula should not be a part of the YES campaign. We are not short of persuasive arguments.

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