Welsh voices raise chorus against devolution plan

Tony Heath
Monday 21 July 1997 23:02

The Welsh devolution battle escalated yesterday when defenders of the status quo entered the fray with the slogan "Just Say No".

The launch at a hotel on the outskirts of Cardiff included a supportive message from Viscount Tonypandy delivered via a video link - the 88-year- old peer, formerly Mr Speaker George Thomas, was not well enough to attend in person.

The campaign is being funded by the millionaire Sir Julian Hodge from his home in Jersey. His son, Robert Hodge, is leading the "No" team which opened an office in the Welsh capital last week.

Claiming that Wales was too immature to stand on its own feet, Mr Hodge, a businessman, declared: "We don't have North Sea oil and we don't have our own banking system. A Welsh assembly would just be another tier of bureaucracy. People should vote with their heads not their hearts."

Matthew Gunther-Bushell, a former speechwriter for the former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken, and one-time media spokesman for the late Sir James Goldsmith, has been recruited as spin-doctor-in-chief.

The Government is pulling out all the stops to secure a decisive victory in the referendum to be held on 18 September, a week after Scotland goes to the polls. Copies of the White Paper, A Voice For Wales, which will be unveiled in the Commons this afternoon by Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, are going on sale in newsagents at the bargain price of pounds 3.

Labour says it is heartened by the findings of a private poll which shows a steady growth in support of an assembly. Of 1,500 voters questioned, 35 per cent favoured an assembly, with 25 per cent opposed. When the "don't knows" - 40 per cent - were pressed, the "yes" vote increased to 49.8 per cent while the "no" vote rose to 27 per cent.

Peter Hain, the Welsh Office minister co-ordinating the devolution drive, said: "The `no' campaign simply parrots Tory arguments that Wales should be ruled from London. I am confident we will win decisively."

To popularise devolution, groups such as "Rugby Players Say Yes" are planned to spread the message alongside forums based on population centres.

To add fizz to the campaign, more than 100 Welsh notables, the weather girl Sian Lloyd and comedian Max Boyce among them, are invited to a celebration this evening at Cardiff Castle.

The festivities drew criticism from Llew Smith MP, devolution's fiercest opponent in the Labour Party. "Putting up celebrities, the glitz and telling people if you don't back the assembly you are criticising the Labour Government are insults to the intelligence of the Welsh people," he said.

Leading article, page 13

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