The Labour leader Ed Miliband has become the biggest political name so far to weigh in on the forthcoming referendum on strengthening the Assembly’s powers.
He’s emailed Labour members and supporters in Wales, urging them to campaign for a Yes vote on March 3rd and telling them to put aside any fears about the referendum being about independence by the back door.
He says devolution has strengthened the union not weakened it. The full text of his email is at the bottom of this post.
I met Mr Miliband in his Westminster office earlier to ask him why he was weighing in. Was it, I wondered, an admission that there are significant numbers of Labour members who fear their leadership in Cardiff has become too caught up in what they would term a Nationalist agenda.
He acknowledged there had been doubts but he said,
I actually think those dbouts have lessoned over time as they’ve seen the performance of the Assembly under Rhodri Morgan and now under Carwyn Jones…
And he went on to say,
Remember all those people who said, ah, it’s just going to lead to greater calls for independence. I think the opposite has been true because it’s shown that we can exist as a United Kingdom with Wales making its own decisions about its own affairs in devolved policy areas.
There are still though, Labour members who are deeply distrustful of devolution and aren’t persuaded that the Assembly needs more powers.
And there are those who may be willing to give further devolution a go but wouldn’t be seen dead taking part in a cross-party campaign, particularly if that would mean appearing alongside Plaid campaigners or worse, as far as they’re concerned, Conservatives.
But the Yes campaign needs Labour support. Hence the separate Labour Yes campaign and hence today’s encouraging words about the union from the UK party leader. Labour leaders – and some in the other parties – privately concede it’s the only way of getting some Labour members to vote let alone deliver leaflets.
His intervention is also the biggest confirmation yet of something that we in Wales have seen happening over the last six or seven months, which is Labour (or at least its Westminster-based part) changing its tune when it comes to a referendum. No more suggestions that a Yes vote is not achievable nor that the current system needs more time to bed in.
Why the change? Ed Miliband’s email spells it out:
Now more than ever you can see what a difference Labour makes in power as we contrast the decisions being made by our Labour-led Assembly, with those being made by the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government.
Put more cynically, Labour members should support a stronger Assembly as a means of strengthening a Labour-led government in Cardiff Bay.
This is the full text of Ed Miliband’s email:
On March 3rd Wales will vote in a referendum on the Assembly’s powers. I look forward to working with Welsh Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones to deliver a “yes” vote for Wales, so that the Welsh Assembly can become more democratic, and more accountable to the people of Wales.
Please join me and Welsh Labour in saying “yes” in this important referendum.
Devolution was delivered by Labour, and it is Labour that has ensured devolution has delivered for the people of Wales.
Now more than ever you can see what a difference Labour makes in power as we contrast the decisions being made by our Labour-led Assembly, with those being made by the UK Tory-led Government.
You only have to look at the recent Assembly draft budget – the maintaining of free bus passes and the stance on university tuition fees – to see Welsh Labour and devolution in action. This is what Labour is all about: getting our priorities right, even in difficult times.
The old thinking that told us the choice was between the break-up of the United Kingdom, or Scotland and Wales run from London, has been banished forever. Devolution has not weakened the union; it has strengthened the bonds between us.
A “yes” vote in this referendum on extending the Assembly’s powers will allow laws that effect only Wales to be made here in Wales. By campaigning for a “yes” vote you can help create more efficient and cost effective government, and give Wales a stronger voice.
A “yes” vote also means that Welsh Labour’s policies can become law more quickly and that can only be a good thing for our communities.
Nothing can be taken for granted, but I am confident that with Carwyn’s leadership a “yes” vote can be delivered.
Please join us now, and I look forward to seeing you on the doorstep in the new year.