When crafting the message of the Yes for Wales campaign ahead of the referendum we were at pains to agree a line that would allow all four parties to unite behind:
A Yes vote would allow decisions that only applied to Wales to be made in Wales.
But surely this is a slippery slope, came the inevitable question. No, we would reply, a Yes vote is supported by every Conservative AM and they wouldn’t support anything which posed a threat to the Union.
We worked very hard to keep the debate focused on the question at hand, and not get into what might happen next. After all this was a question for each of the parties, and not for the cross-party campaign.
The Welsh Conservatives were officially neutral, and although their AMs were in favour of a Yes vote, there were many in the wider party (most notably in the Wales Office) who would not have been unhappy had Wales voted No. We were especially sensitive to this during the campaign and bent over backwards to ensure we didn’t upset the Conservative sceptics – which was one of the reasons why our message was on occasion anodyne. The last thing we wanted was Conservative MPs adding fuel to the fire and giving credibility to the weak No campaign.
It is more than a little ironic therefore that since the referendum calls for the Assembly to have revenue raising responsibilities and a Commission to look into further powers have come from the Conservatives. The tin hat has been put on this morning with a call from Andrew RT Davies for the Assembly to change its name to ‘Parliament‘:
In this, the week of the National Eisteddfod, the most important Welsh cultural event in the calendar, I feel it is now time to have a Welsh parliament. Polling and the recent referendum show that the electorate want an institution as strong as a parliament, and in reality the National Assembly is in all but name the Welsh parliament.
Personally, I have no quarrel with the point. But the irony of the Conservatives making the running on this, when placating them caused me such grief, does rankle a little.
Add this latest salvo to Andrew RT Davies’ conversion to the argument that the Welsh Conservatives should have a separate leader – something he dismissed during his own leadership campaign – and it all starts to make greater sense within the context of the internal party debate.
ARTD – as he was called by his Chief of Staff on Twitter this morning – does not disagree with the Treasury that devolved institutions should be more accountable for the money they spend, and it may temper their appetite for demanding more. But he does bristle at the tone with which the arguments are made from within the Wales Office. And he wants to assert his own position having been outfoxed by central office loyalists who ignored his protestations against cancelling his first Welsh conference as leader. His first salvo was on ITV Wales last night:
“That conference would not have been cancelled if I was leader. I am categorical about that and I was very disappointed that it was cancelled.”
This morning’s call for a Welsh Parliament is the second salvo in a power struggle within the Conservative Party in Wales. The Wales Office’s frosty reply that this is ‘not a priority’, was followed up on Twitter by the Welsh Secretary’s PPS suggesting ARTD may not have the support of his own backbenchers. Glyn Davies tweeted: “Interesting call by Andrew RT Davies for Welsh Assembly to be re-named Welsh Parliament. All he needs to do is ask his AMs to use new name”.
But as Andrew RT pointed out in his Face to Face interview last night, he is a ‘bruiser and a fighter’ with a coded message of his own:
“I don’t think many people patronise me, just by being nineteen and a half stone really and having a very loud voice”
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