Stunts set the tone as campaign for Wales nears climax

Wales woke up yesterday to the final 100 hours before deciding whether it will vote "yes" for devolution. But, as the Principality faces its first big constitutional question since 1536, the campaign is dominated by stunts and jibes, not real argument. Tony Heath observes ministers on the stump.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Tony Banks, the sports minister, stepped off the train in Cardiff yesterday to meet Welsh Office minister Peter Hain, accompanied by a giant pounds 90 cheque made payable to John Redwood, the former Tory Secretary of State for Wales.

It was not an altruistic contribution to a party looking somewhat ragged in opposition, Mr Hain said. "Mr Redwood has repeatedly stressed his opposition to an elected Welsh assembly. So he should come here to explain. We're offering to pay the fare from his Wokingham constituency to encourage him."

However, Mr Redwood was not tempted, leaving Great Western Trains - one of the beneficiaries of rail privatisation - pounds 90 the poorer.

Mr Redwood told BBC Radio Wales: "Devolution is madness. It will crush local government and take money and power away from the Welsh people."

It was precisely to protect Wales against future Redwoods -should the Tories ever return to power - that an elected assembly was needed, Mr Hain countered. "During his time as Welsh Secretary Mr Redwood handed back to the Treasury pounds 112m from the Welsh budget," the minister said.

Mr Hain and Mr Banks, who in the interests of devolution temporarily put on one side his love for football and Chelsea FC and went to Cardiff RFC's ground for a spot of light training with exponents of the oval ball game.

The Labour Party will this week distribute 500,000 scratch cards to help persuade the 30 per cent or so "undecideds" to support devolution on Thursday.

The cards printed in English and Welsh ask: "Do you want better job opportunities for school leavers?" ("Am weld disgyblion yn cael gwell cyfle i gael gwaith?). Scratch the "yes" (ie) panel and the answer "vote yes on 18 September" (fotiwch ie ar 18 Medi) appears. Scratch the "no" (na) panel and the words "no future for our kids" (dim dyfodol i'n plant) are revealed.

With the last major change in Wales's constitution in mind - the 1536 Act of Union - the Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, also on the campaign trail in the Welsh capital, declared: "Wales will decide and decide decisively for a Welsh assembly."

Four of Wales's 34 Labour MPs are already pledged to vote "no" on Thursday - Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent), Sir Ray Powell (Ogmore), Allan Rogers (Rhondda) and Alan Williams (Swansea West). They were joined yesterday by Sir Ted Rowlands, MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, who accused the Government of producing a seriously flawed White Paper.