Welsh referendum hit by apathy – and an inflatable pig

Voters not greatly engaged by lacklustre campaign

Matt Chorley,Political Correspondent
Sunday 27 February 2011 01:00
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Even an 8ft inflatable pink pig paraded through the streets of Welsh towns and villages has failed to generate much interest in Thursday's referendum on the future of the Assembly.

The vote is not about giving Cardiff Bay more money. It is not even about giving it more powers. It is about speeding up how existing powers are administered. Basically, Cardiff's decisions would be implemented directly without ratification from Westminster.

So far the campaign has been notable for a lack of official Yes and No camps, for accusations of homophobia on Twitter – and for apathy. And the inflatable pig. It is a DIY porcine metaphor around which opponents of the move to speed up Cardiff's law-making have gathered. Pigs might fly. Snouts in the trough. Er... Animal Farm? Take your pick.

The pig, belonging to the True Wales No campaign, was parading through the streets of Fleur de Lis village near Caerphilly on Thursday. Gripping its lead was the campaign's agricultural spokesman, Nigel Bull. "I'm an ordinary chap who feels passionately about this," he says. "Most people are like myself – just extremely disappointed with the Assembly since its inception 12 years ago."

Opponents of making life easier for the Assembly point to its record. Two in five Welsh children reach secondary school more than a year behind in their reading. Former mining communities have not seen the promised economic rejuvenation. Fears over law and order are high.

The cross-party Yes campaign, fronted by Roger Lewis, group chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, suggests the delays in wielding power are what has held Wales back. The Assembly has authority to pass laws in 20 areas, including health, education and the environment. But, unlike Scotland or Northern Ireland, to legislate on the detail it must effectively get permission from London. Wales was the first government to vote for a smoking ban, but was beaten by Scotland in implementing it.

"We can't afford to have a government in the slow lane in Wales in a fast-changing world," says Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister. He is confident they are winning the argument, and the doorstep pitch is well rehearsed. "If people want the Assembly to be doing more rather than talking about doing more, vote Yes."

Turnout is crucial. Some polls suggest it could struggle to reach 40 per cent, although the Yes campaign looks to be ahead.

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