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.