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Welsh referendum: there’s a ‘great deal of confusion among the Welsh public’, says Baron Wigley

Referendum, Welsh referendum, Wales, Yes campaign, no campaign

A senior Welsh politician has accused ‘No’ campaigners in the country’s forthcoming referendum of stifling debate because they refused to accept taxpayers’ money for an official publicity drive.

There is less than a week before voters go to the polls on whether the National Assembly in Wales should receive more legislative powers.

Watch the Sharp End’s referendum debate at ITV.com/Wales

Baron (Dafydd) Wigley, a former leader of Plaid Cymru, called on voters to say ‘Yes’ – saying it would cut the cost of democracy and speed up the assembly’s “slow” law-making process.

However, Baron Wigley voiced his dissatisfaction about a low voter turn-out and places some of the blame with the ‘No’ camp.

Last month, True Wales, against a ‘Yes’ vote, decided not to apply for lead-campaign status – a move which denied both sides the opportunity to use £70,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Baron Wigley said he was concerned “there was still a great deal of confusion” about the referendum among the Welsh public, which could have been cleared up with two “official” and properly-funded campaigns.

The former MP for Caernarfon also accused ‘No’ campaigners of spreading misinformation about the referendum.

He said the issue was not about Welsh independence – or the country becoming separate from the UK.

However, asked whether a ‘Yes’ vote would put Wales on a more autonomous route in the future, the English-born lord called the issue irrelevant and something to be discussed “another day”.

He added: “More legislative powers are needed in Wales because it will make the Assembly more accountable and reduce costs. The current system of legislative competence orders (LCO) can cause lots of delays.”

He pointed to four measures – including Clwyd AM Ann Jones’ proposal on sprinklers to be fitted in all new homes – which had taken up to up to three years to be passed.

However, True Wales spokeswoman Rachel Banner said the Assembly was not deserving of more powers because it failed to deliver on matters such as addressing poverty.

Ms Banner, a schoolteacher and lifelong Labour supporter, said: “I personally think it is rich for any politicians to say we have stifled debate when they are refusing to discuss the devolution journey as whole.

“It would have damaged our campaign had we taken funds because we are criticising politicians for spending public funds in a cavalier way.

“If we had accepted money for something as trivial as office space we would have been very much been open to criticism. It would have been hypocritical of us.”

She also expressed disappointment that those in the ‘Yes’ campaign, particularly AMs, had not fully addressed people’s concerns “one way or the other” that more powers could open the door to Welsh independence.

“We should be having this debate now, not afterwards,” she said.

The referendum, which takes place on March 3, asks voters whether the Assembly should progress to part four of the 2006 Government of Wales Act.

The Act gives powers to the Assembly only for 20 specific topics.

If a ‘Yes’ vote is passed on March 3, the Assembly will be able to have primary legislative powers – and would be able to pass its own laws in its devolved areas without having approval from Westminster.

If a ‘No’ vote is passed the current LCO system will remain in place.

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