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.