Friday, 11 February 2011

So, what’s this Welsh Referendum all about then?

On the 3rd March there is a National Referendum taking place in Wales, but what exactly are the Welsh heading to their polling stations for? The Referendum formed part of the One Wales coalition deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru following the 2007 Assembly election. The vote essentially boils down to devolving a bit more power to the National Assembly. At the moment some laws the Assembly make require agreement from Westminster before they are implimented. This vote is being held to decide whether to keep this oversight, or to remove it to speed up the law making process.

The actual Referendum question is a little long winded perhaps, but it does get the message across:

The assembly has powers to make laws on 20 subject areas, such as agriculture, education, the environment, health, housing, local government.

In each subject area, the assembly can make laws on some matters, but not others. To make laws on any of these other matters, the assembly must ask the UK Parliament for its agreement. The UK Parliament then decides each time whether or not the assembly can make these laws.

The assembly cannot make laws on subject areas such as defence, tax or welfare benefits, whatever the result of this vote.

If most voters vote 'yes' - the Assembly will be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for, without needing the UK Parliament's agreement.

If most voters vote 'no' - what happens at the moment will continue.

Polling for the Referendum is consistently showing the Yes campaign way ahead, and that seems unlikely to change as we get closer to polling day. Yes For Wales is the 'official' YES campaign and all four main political parties in Wales are in favour of the change. True Wales is the 'official' NO campaign, and the most notable political party against the move UKIP. It is clearly at a disadvantage against the full might of the established political parties.

You may be wondering why I am putting apostrophes around the word official. This is because there aren't actually any official campaigns thanks to what is probably the most noteworthy move made in this Referendum. True Wales refused to apply for 'lead campaign' status, and by doing so prevents any group on the YES side doing so. Both sides required to register an official campaign to receive the public funds entitled to them, so True Wales are claiming to have saved the taxpayer £140,000. Whilst this may be true it doesn't represent the actions of a campaign that thinks it can win this referendum. As a YES win looks almost certain at the moment two mail shots were probably an unnecessary expense. As Westminster is currently considering a far more significant devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament than this referendum will for the Welsh Assembly you get the feeling this whole process is just a expensive rubber stamp for something that was bound to happen anyway…!


  1. I am a member of the YES campaign in Ceredigion, and I have not seen a single NO campaigner anywhere in the county. The biggest concern I have though is turnout. In 1997, turnout was 50% (which led the NO camp to say "Only a quarter of Wales wants an assembly"). If the turnout is worse than that (less than 33%), then the NO camp will be able to say "Look at the waste of money, this referendum has been. We may have lost, but have won a moral victory!"

  2. I personally think turnout will be very low- sub-30% perhaps even. Frankly these powers should have been given to Wales on the foundation of the Assembly, at least.

  3. I am a Labour party member in Conwy, and I have not seen a single YES campaigner anywhere in the county. I share with Harry Hayfield a concern about turnout. I don't see much interest, for or against. People seem content with things as they are.

  4. If people were content with things as they are Bill then they'd be voting No.

    People seem to be thinking that this is a tidying up exercise that is nothing to get worked up about and why on earth does it need a referendum?

  5. There's a great deal of activity on the Yes side in Meirion Dwyfor and Arfon - leafleting, public meetings etc.

    Nothing whatsoever from the No side.

  6. Sorry, there a few factual inaccuracies in this article:
    - Most importantly, the idea that laws passed by the Assembly 'go to Westminster for final approval' is completely untrue. Westminster's role is to decide on which exact subjects within the 20 areas the assembly can legislate, before the laws are framed. MPs have no say on the content of the laws themselves.
    - UKIP has dedcided to stay out of the campaign, for reasons I can't fathom. Also, the Tories are officially agnostic and their members can campaign either way.
    - Holding the referendum may have been part of the One Wales coalition agreement, but the provision for it to happen sometime was always in the 2006 Government of Wales Act. The resons for this rather pointless referendum are to be found in the internal politics of the Labour Party around that time.
    - True Wales's claim to have saved the taxpayer £140,000 is dubious at best. Being the official campaign doesn't mean that you HAVE to take the cash, and as there's no official campaigns the Electoral Commission will have to spend more on public information.

    It's weird having a campaign where one side ('no') is entirely absent on the ground. I agree that turnout will be very low.

  7. I live in Pembrokeshire and work in Swansea and I can tell you that in both areas there is a very strong groundswell of NO voters. The Assembly is a complete waste of money, no more usefull than the Transgender officers etc we see being employed. We don't need another layer of bureacracy, we simply need a Welsh Secretary who is a Welsh MP - 50 million saved, no one but Nationalists and seperatists upset. I live in the UK, not the DK

  8. The nationalists won’t be satisfied until they can have their “Independent Wales within Europe” (They know they’ll need subsidies from somebody; simply better if they don’t come from the hated “English”). Sadly they seem to be conning others into supporting them; non nationalist AMs are happy to support the “Yes” campaign, in order to enhance what some may see as a cushy number, whilst by the subtle linking nationalism, to outwardly benign things like rugby and a contrived cosy image of “Welsh culture”, some voters maybe conned into naively seeing politics almost as an extension of the rugby field.

    The truth is that Wales is not a cohesive political entity. The north has stronger links with Merseyside etc (Via the A55), than it does with the south, just as the south is more closely linked (Via the M4 & M50) with the M4 corridor and the Midlands, than it is with the north of Wales.

    The nationalists have been able to place themselves in places of influence, over many years. This has enabled them to gain a level of influence beyond the level their showing in the polls might suggest. By creating the cosy myth of a unified nation, they hope to dupe those, not of a nationalist persuasion, to back them. The truth is that, in their ideal independent Wales, there would be little place for those not of their persuasion and I fear there would be linguistic apartheid.

    Naturally in the years running up to this vote (And especially after the banking crisis showed the Irish “Economic miracle” to be a myth) Plaid Cymru have played down the separatist card. However be under no illusion, if the Assembly get more powers, they will want more and Plaid Cymru won’t be satisfied until Wales ceases to be a part of the UK. To them, this referendum is simply a stage in that process. I urge all those worried by this to get out and vote “No”. The nationslists have been anticipating this day for many years and will be out in forse. Don’t do their dirty work for them by absention!!

    Like most, who live in “Wales”, I am a mixture of at least two thousand years of British history and development. I don’t know where my ancestors are from entirely but I know of one who came from Cardigan and another from Somerset; therefore I am British. Some may suggest I should be “Proud to be Welsh”, to which I would ask “Why?” If I am to be proud of something, I should prefer it to be of something I achieved, not of something over which I had no control. I would also ask those same people to give me a meaningful defintion of Wales (Beyond the contrived nationalist myth).

  9. "The truth is that Wales is not a cohesive political entity"

    I think it's an "opinion" rather than a truth. I think the opposite and believe that Wales IS a cohesive political entity but I'm not so self-important as to believe that all my opinions are "fact"

    "Some may suggest I should be “Proud to be Welsh”, "

    Some may suggest you should be a Nobel Prize winner, or a gardener or an international hockey player. What does what some imagined person suggests you should be have do do with anything?

    What's good about the current system of passing laws in the Assembly? That's what you're asking us to vote for.

  10. To imply that the appliance of devolution is a staging post towards independence makes some broad assumptions about what devolution’s ‘aim’ is, and how it ‘affects’ those that live within its governing boundaries.
    For every example that is given to how self determination has been a slippery slope towards independence, another example can be provided that counterbalances this argument, and which indicates that devolution can act as a bulwark against such aspirations. In the UK context one need look no further than Northern Ireland where both the Unionists and Republicans embrace devolution but see the end game in a different light. To build a case that the aim of devolution per se is stage one of independence is not a creditable argument and implies that the ‘affect’ of enhanced self government is applied against a society that has a catatonic response towards separation. – This is simply not true, and is derogatory and patronizing to the Welsh public.
    Devolution and the democratization of political institutions are set within the context of a rapidly changing world and by which people the world over hope to see more accountability, fairness, and cooperation, and thus build a new relationship with their governments. Regrettably the No campaign seems to focus on the staid and vacuous mantras oscillating around arguments pertaining to cost, tradition, conservatism, or god forbid a return to the constitutional status quo that was pre 1997.