Ashdown takes `Yes' message to Wales

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Co-operation, not confrontation was the politics of the future, Paddy Ashdown declared yesterday, throwing his weight behind the Welsh "Yes" campaign.

Surrounded by a platoon of party workers, the Liberal Democrat leader, arrived in Wales by "battle bus" yesterday to spread the message that devolution is a good thing. He chose a Brecon factory specialising in the manufacture of conveyors as a launch pad.

The choice of the mid Wales town was significant; it is the heart of the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency which witnessed scenes of jubilation on 2 May when the Liberal Democrat Richard Livsey defeated the incumbent Tory Jonathan Evans leaving Wales a Tory-free zone.

The Liberal Democrats now allied with Labour and Plaid Cymru are engaged in a struggle that looks like being much closer than the general election contest in which Mr Livsey triumphed by 5,097 votes.

But Mr Ashdown was not fazed. "Talking to people in Pontypridd on my way here I found real enthusiasm for a `Yes' vote next Thursday," he said.

Co-operation between the three parties in favour of devolution demonstrated that old-style confrontations went out of the window when a common adjective was in the sights.

Touring the Nerak-Wiese factory on Brecon's Ffrwdgrech Industrial Estate, he donned a face mask to try his hand at paint spraying and walked past a machine permanently labelled "Do All Job Selector" - an omen perhaps for aspiring Welsh assembly men and women. If all goes well on 18 September, 60 newly minted WAPs (Welsh Assembly Persons) will be taking their seats in a couple of year's time.

The "Yes" campaign was joined by a Spanish exponent of devolution's virtues. Juan Colon, an MEP from Catalonia was canvassing in the valleys as the guest of Wayne David, MEP for South Wales Central. Last night, he was due to share the platform with John Prescott at a rally in Llantrisant.

Catalonia was one of the up-and-coming regions of Europe, an enthusiastic Mr David explained. "Ten years ago there were calls for Catalonia to secede from Spain. There is very little call for that now - devolution has reinforced the integrity of the Spanish state."

The "Yes" camp criticised the ICM poll published in the Guardian earlier this week. it predicted a very close result. Between 4 and 8 September, 502 voters were interviewed - about half the number normally considered large enough to reflect opinion accurately.

Darren Hill, national organiser of the "Yes" campaign, said: "It seems somewhat bizarre to hold a poll during the time when mourning over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was at its height. We are not surprised that people's minds were not on politics during that time."

t The future of at least oneWelsh university could be jeopardised by a "Yes" vote in next week's referendum, a leading academic claimed yesterday.

Derec Llwyd Morgan, vice-Chancellor and Principal of University of Wales Aberystwyth, said he was concerned by the lack of clarity in the White Paper on plans to transfer power from Westminster to an elected Welsh Assembly.

Although broadly in favour of devolution, he was concerned at the possible impact on universities like Aberystwyth, Lampeter and Bangor.

In an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, he questioned whether a Cardiff-based assembly would sustain funding for its universities in rural areas for the sake of their local economies.

Many questions about the provision of funding for Higher Education after a "Yes" vote had been left unanswered. Current government proposals were likely to encourage students to study closer to home, which could have a devastating effect on many Welsh colleges and universities.