Referendum result: Wales said Yes

The results from the referendum on the National Assembly’s legislative powers are now in.  There’s a very clear mandate for the Assembly to have primary law-making powers: the vote is 517,132 votes in favour, and 297,380 votes against (or 63.5 per cent to 36.5 per cent).  There’s news coverage from the BBC here and the official results from the Electoral Commission are here.  Of the local authority areas used for counting, only Monmouthshire voted No – and that by just 320 votes.  While the Yes vote appears to have been weaker in eastern parts of the country, it varied relatively little across the country (and much less than it did in 1997).  There’s a good discussion by Roger Scully of the result on the BBC News website, available here.

Turn out was 35.2 per cent; not high, but higher than in some other referendums, and higher than some predictions.  Given the limited public visibility of the campaign (compounded by True Wales’s decision not to apply to become a designated campaign organisation), the inherent obscurity of the issue and the confusing nature of the question, that has to be regarded as a comparatively strong showing.  Rachel Banner of True Wales has accepted that it’s a clear mandate for an Assembly with legislative powers.  This result suggests strongly that legislative devolution is indeed the settled will of the people of Wales.  Perhaps the shadows created by the defeat in 1979 and narrowest of victories in 1997 will now pass into history.

Ironically, the result comes just as the Boundary Commission for Wales announces how it plans to review the Westminster constituency boundaries, so as to reduce the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 30 (the same quota as for England or Scotland).  One of the problems that hobbled No campaigners was the prospect of reduced representation at Westminster whatever happened.  If Wales had voted No, it would have faced the double whammy of that combined with limited devolved legislative powers – a sure way to minimise Wales’s overall influence over government.

The next issue is when the Assembly will assume its new powers.  That’s a matter for the Assembly Government to decide, and an early statement about its intentions would be very welcome.

UPDATE: Nick Clegg seems keen to take the wind out of everyone else’s sails.  On arriving in Cardiff for the Welsh Lib Dem conference, he decided to restate the Coalition commitment to establish a commission on financial matters and the prospect of tax powers for the Assembly (see BBC News report here) – seemingly unaware that George Osborne had realised how silly this was and moved beyond it in the Spending Review last November.  The position in the Programme for Government is more daft now than it was in May last year (when the Holtham Report was still in the pipeline).  The question shouldn’t be whether to revisit Holtham, but how to implement it. That’s what Osborne said when he presented the Spending Review – is Clegg now revising that?

FURTHER UPDATE, 5 March: Regarding commencement of the Assembly’s new powers, the First Minister has suggested that they will probably come into effect following the Assembly elections in May (see WAG news release here).  Apparently Lord Elis-Thomas has said that the order will be laid before the Assembly next week.  The First Minister has also emphasised that there won’t be a rush to legislate, though (see here).  Given the resources the Assembly Government has to support legislative work, that’s no bad thing.

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22 Comments

Filed under Devolution finance, Lib Dems, Referendums, UK elections, Wales

22 responses to “Referendum result: Wales said Yes

  1. socincludere

    Very proud of Wales for having faith in their own people. Of course this is just the beginning of a new chapter in Welsh history: Welsh people writing Welsh history. All the best!

    Lishia Erza

  2. Emlyn Uwch Cych

    Alan, he’s a question that doesn’t seem to have been addressed by the campaigns:

    Now that the NAW has powers in the 20 devolved areas, do the previously granted limited LCOs become irrelevant.

    In other words does the NAW now have the full power to legislate in all 20 areas as delimited by the 2006 Act, or only up to the point agreed by the LCOs passed in the past few years?

    EUC.

    • Lyn David Thomas

      I was rather wondering that too… though the logic is that it frees up all areas other than those reserved (of which there are several).

  3. The Assembly doesn’t get the new powers immediately – as I said in the post, the Assembly Government have to make an order bringing the ‘Assembly Act’ provisions, including the 20 ‘subjects’ set out in Schedule 7, into force. Until that order takes effect (after approval by the Assembly), the existing powers remain as they stand.

    Once the Assembly Act provisions come into force, Part 3 falls away. Existing Assembly Measures remain in force, but otherwise Part 3 is repealed. The powers conferred by LCO are only relevant to establish whether a Measure was within the Assembly’s legislative powers at the time it was made.

    The subjects set out in Schedule 7 as it was framed in 2006 didn’t perfectly map on to the various powers conferred by LCO (or primary legislation) and set out in Schedule 5. (The Domestic Fire Safety LCO was one example, and provisions for safety belts in vehicles used for school transport were another, if memory serves.) The amendments to Schedule 7 made just before Christmas last year (discussed HERE and HERE) were supposed to sweep those up, so that the Assembly won’t lose any powers because of differences between Schedule 5 and Schedule 7.

  4. Lyn David Thomas

    The Presiding Officer said that he expects the commencement order to be laid before the Assembly next week.

  5. Emlyn Uwch Cych

    So there’s still quite a strong possibilty that further powers will continue to be devolved piecemeal from Westminster to Cardiff Bay under the 2006 Act (without the need for another useless referendum)?

  6. Emyr

    Emlyn 5:12

    That’s right. Schedule 7 is really a glorified Schedule 5 – it can be added to through an Act of Parliament or (hold your breath) an LCO.

    IMHO, the Assembly may actually lose some marginal legislative powers when schedule 7 comes into effect. This is because of the difference between the way in which some of the exceptions to legislative powers are dealt with in Schedule 5 and the way that all exceptions are dealt with in Schedule 7. It gains much more, however.

    • Whatever one might call an order amending Schedule 7, it won’t be an LCO. Indeed, we’ve had two such orders made already (one in 2007 and the one made just before Christmas). Comparable orders for Scotland – moving matters into or out of the list of reserved matters in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, under powers set out in section 30 – are relatively common. One novelty of the Scotland bill is that that will make it possible for such orders to be for only a limited time, rather than indefinitely as at present. See HERE for a discussion.

  7. Siôn Jones

    Should we not now rid ourselves of the insulting name ‘National Assembly FOR Wales’ with a more dignified title that embodies its new status as a proper parliament?

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  10. Lyn David Thomas

    First of all I’d like to get rid of the title Welsh Assembly Government – lets just call it the Welsh Government or the Government of Wales. We need a clear distinction between the National Assembly (the Legislature) and the Welsh Government (the Executive).

  11. Richard

    Lyn, I suspect that you wont have to wait too long!

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  14. Hendre

    I had a bit of a ‘head in hands’ moment when I heard Clegg on the Welsh news Saturday teatime talking about a commission on tax-varying powers. He obviously hadn’t been following the arguments made by the ‘yes’ campaign.

    I’ve asked these questions elsewhere in blogosphere:

    Unlike the Scottish electorate, the Welsh electorate has never been asked a question on tax-varying powers so how legitimate is it to introduce the issue on the back of a referendum on legislative powers?

    The Northern Ireland Assembly has greater powers than the Welsh Assembly so why isn’t Northern Ireland being included?

    • Alan Trench

      There’s clearly a real tension between some (Osborne, Alexander) who are willing to debate what to do now on the basis of implementing Holtham’s recommendations; and those (including Clegg and Gillan) who are sticking to the pledge in the Programme for Government about another commission. Goodness knows where that will come out, especially as Carwyn is pushing for a ‘fair grant’ but not tax powers and he and indeed most Welsh politicians are acting as though there’s no link between them when in fact they are two sides of the same coin, while Osborne and Alexander are more interested in tax powers than anything else and reject changes to the block grant until the public finances are ‘stabilised’.

      I’ll be putting something more detailed up about this in due course.

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