Public opinion in Wales seems to support a referendum

BBC News has a report today on public opinion in Wales, drawing on the new Welsh panel that YouGov have established.  From my point of view the interesting finding (not the first) is the strong support the poll shows for the Assembly having further legislative powers, by 42 per cent to 37 per cent – and the five-point gap is particularly important.  What’s even more interesting is that support grows to 63 per cent if the option is for ‘Scottish powers’.

What will be on offer for Wales in the referendum that can be called (on bringing in Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006) are not Scottish powers.  They are significantly more limited – there’s no general power to legislate, there’s no power to vary income tax (if only by 3 per cent), and policing, criminal justice and the courts will remain under Westminster’s control. They’re unquestionably better than the status quo – not just  because they mean ‘more powers for the National Assembly’, but because they will create a better system of government in which the powers of each level are clearer, and it’s easier to see who is responsible for which decision or policy.  The 2006 Act a complicated piece of legislation that creates fundamental uncertainty about the powers of the National Assembly, and a complex relationship with UK Government and Parliament about the development of those powers.

The differences between the two sets of survey results aren’t really that surprising; they reflect a desire to ensure parity of esteem for Wales, reflecting how the issue is framed, and also reflect the fact that people simply don’t understand what the 2006 Act means.

Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales, is giving a speech at Cardiff University on Thursday (29 October: 4.15 pm in the Bute Building) where he’s likely to make the case for postponing a referendum – and, implicitly if not explicitly, for the status quo.  Today’s findings suggest strongly that he’s running against public opinion in doing so.  As a committed supporter of devolution, it’s odd that he now seems so timid about it.

UPDATE 28 October: the full results of the poll are available on the YouGov website here.

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4 Comments

Filed under Public opinion, Referendums, Wales

4 responses to “Public opinion in Wales seems to support a referendum

  1. Interesting! I notice that a lot of people (42%) see Wales in 10 years time governed by “a devolved parliament that has powers like those of the Scottish Parliament”. Do you have any idea of the historical trends for these types of questions?

  2. Dru Brooke-Taylor

    The issue that concerns me about devolution as it operates in the UK at the moment, is that England is not devolved. It’s not the Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish question, but the English one. England is under direct rule, and one gets the impression that its citizenry consistently gets a worse deal being governed by Westminster than Wales gets. I’m less aware of how things are in Scotland because from where I am (Bristol) Wales is near and Scotland is not. However, even before devolution, Wales was better run with one Welsh Office in stead of a whole lot of different bits of the Civil Service to deal with, and even then not subject to as much pointless meddling and short term initiatives from central government. Whether its because the members of the Imperial Parliament have their eyes most of the time on greater things, or whether they take England for granted, I don’t know. But in many ways, to me, the issue with devolution is what it does about England.

    Unlike most other countries that have some sort of federal structure, what the UK has been given at the moment is asymmetric, which is inherently unstable. So it is more likely to tip from devolution into dissolution than states that are designed that way like Australia or Germany.

  3. Elin

    Here is what Peter Hain is going to say (from Western Mail) http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2009/10/29/peter-hain-bids-to-stop-drive-for-referendum-on-devolution-91466-25041985/
    A bit disingenuous to compare progress of LCOs with Westminster bills as the Assembly Measures have to be passed after the LCOs which add probably another year to the process. Therefore about 2-3 years to get a proper piece of Welsh legislation passed – considerably longer that most Westminster legislation.

  4. russell mellett

    Congratulations Alan on starting up this blog on the institutional aspects of UK devolution in a comparative context. Good idea to share your expertise and promote dialogue on this important topic. I will be following your blog from Canada. Saludos: Russ Mellett.

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