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Opinion

The lesson from 25 years of devolution is that only independence can secure Welsh democracy

19 May 2024 4 minute read
Picture by YesCymru

Phyl Griffiths, Chair of YesCymru

It’s frightening to think about how close we came to not getting our own national parliament when the referendum was held in 1997.

With 50.3% of those who voted saying they wanted devolution, the margin between continued disempowerment and a historic step forward was a small one.

In the end, there were only 6,721 votes in it, but thankfully that was sufficient to get us over the line.

The rest is not quite history because there is much more of it that is yet to be written.

The question is, who will do most of the writing?

Will it be us, the people of Wales?

Or will it be written for us by the Westminster establishment?

Self-governance

Where opinion in Wales is heading on this is abundantly clear. It is heading decisively towards more self-governance.

A further referendum was held in 2011, and in that the result was far more decisive, with 63.5% of voters supporting more powers for what was still at that time called the National Assembly for Wales.

The appetite for more self-governance has only grown since then.

For example, a YouGov poll commissioned by YesCymru last year suggested that over 75% of Welsh residents favour control of the Crown Estate being handed over to Wales.

There is also a clear direction of travel on the question of independence.

In 2014, the year YesCymru was launched, a poll conducted by ICM Research showed support for independence to be as low as 3%.

Remarkable

The turnaround in public opinion since then has been nothing short of remarkable, with a recent poll by Redfield & Wilton indicating that support for Welsh independence is at 35%

What this demonstrates is that the Welsh public is rapidly losing faith in the Westminster establishment to govern in its interests.

This is a reaction to the fact that Westminster has made a complete hash of things.

The economy has tanked, living standards are falling, public services are a mess, poverty is endemic and our people are suffering as a result.

Though the vast majority of the Welsh people and the overwhelming majority of their representatives in the Senedd firmly support Wales getting more powers, it is abundantly clear that there is significant reluctance to this in Westminster.

Though our national parliament has been invested with further powers over significant areas of legislation over the last quarter of a century, the flow of power has not gone in one direction only.

Backlash

In the last few years, we have seen a backlash in Westminster against this emergent self-determination.

Through the anti-devolution and anti-democratic Internal Market Act, establishment politicians in London have moved to claw back powers over swathes of important regulations and billions of pounds of funding.

Through this law, they have made overruling the Senedd in its areas of competence a regular occurrence.

The strict limitations that constrain the Senedd and thusly the ambition of our nation are clear to see.

Under the Westminster system, there is much that remains outside the reach of our people and the Senedd that represents them.

We do not control the vast majority of our taxes or our finances. We don’t control our welfare system. We do not control our justice system. We do not control our foreign policy.

Westminster

Under the Westminster system, we do not control whether the powers the Senedd currently has will remain in place in the future.

We do not control whether our Senedd will even exist in the future. A majority vote in the Westminster parliament could easily be used to scrap it. There would be absolutely nothing we could do under the current constitutional arrangement to stop it.

Though the Senedd is now secure in the hearts and minds of the Welsh people, its future remains under threat.

The great strides our young democracy has taken forward since its birth in 1999 is something to take pride in. But this is not a time to over-celebrate, to back-slap or rest on our laurels.

Not at a time when our democracy remains fragile and our country faces enormous and deep-seated challenges.

This is a time to renew our commitment to Welsh self-government as well as our determination to secure its future.

The lesson from 25 years of devolution is that only independence can guarantee Welsh democracy will continue to exist.

It is time for those who believe in a free and independent Wales to campaign with renewed vigour – not for its own sake, but to empower us to build a nation that reflects our values of fairness, equality and justice – a nation that is ambitious not for a lucky few but is ambitious for the betterment of all.


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Garry Jones
Garry Jones
19 days ago

It’s for future generations we march towards Indy Cymru. 
Age demographic change shows us the way. 

Morfudd ap Haul
Morfudd ap Haul
19 days ago
Reply to  Garry Jones

Absolutely we have made a success of health, no longer do you see Welsh ambulances queuing up at English hospitals. Our education system is the best in the UK and transport in Wales including Rhoose are on the up. We have a proven record in Government and could see Wales become a wealthy powerhouse.

Rob
Rob
19 days ago

This isn’t because of devolution it’s because of the Welsh Labour Government in regards to Cardiff Airport however it would be in a much better position if Air Passenger Duty was devolved to Wales, but the Tories are more interested in keeping Bristol Airport happy.

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
19 days ago

Phyl, you have clearly demonstrated the folly of remaining under British suzerainity. Devolution is not enough! Only real independence from England will give Cymru the freedom and national sovereignty that 59 other countries have sought, have often fought for and now enjoy. Cymru was the first colony, and may be the last unless we work together to defeat the unionist parties in the upcoming elections. Corruption, croneyism and complacency must have no place in our country. Democratic reform, transparency and accountability in our governance, taxation reform, better wages and benefits, an effective NHS, a country of sanctuary and peace… This… Read more »

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
19 days ago

The Disunited kingdom are lap dogs of the U S A and we in Wales are lap dogs of the English the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland are treated differently have more powers and are funded more than Wales the Welsh Torie have tried to shut down Cardiff Airport the Westminster government will not give it powers to compete with Bristol or Birmingham Airport because they say it will damage them but its ok to Damage Cardiff Airport look at the H S 2 debacle Scotland and Northern Ireland where given BILLIONS to compensate for H S 2 Wales… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
19 days ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

Punctuation?

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Pathetic

Garycymru
Garycymru
18 days ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

Referring to this shambles as a “union” is like locking a woman and her children in a basement, and calling it a “family”
Well said.

Jeff
Jeff
19 days ago

Turnout (less than 50%) should give you an idea of how much work there is still to be done. At the moment one party in the Senedd for indy, gonna need more political clout, take is as read that the Tory party as it stands will no go for it and Labour look to be the same. I wasn’t indy curious until brexit, and on the fence with regards devolution, there will be a lot like me (I am leaning towards indy) and many more not bothered (see turnouts, not who won, not broken 50% yet?), you have to carry… Read more »

CapM
CapM
19 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

“I wasn’t indy curious until brexit,”

Eight years is a long time to exist in a state of curiosity.

What does being “indy curious” mean in your case?
What is your tipping point which would change your “leaning towards indy” to backing independence?

Jeff
Jeff
19 days ago
Reply to  CapM

I am not the one to worry about. The over 50% that have not voted in all Senedd elections and over 50% that did not vote for devolution. Take them with you or alienate them.

CapM
CapM
19 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

Well I’m not worrying about you specifically.
You keep repeating that you might be persuaded to support independence but avoid saying what argument/ arguments could persuade you.

May I suggest you be less coy. Your view would be illuminating and might be something that applies to other who are indy curious and those not motivated to vote at all.

Jones
Jones
19 days ago

Really surprised to see a YesCymru article on Nation.

It was only a couple of months ago some of their directors were calling for Nation to be defunded, supporting misogynistic attacks on their staff and labelling it fake news.

A change of heart, I wonder. I hope it was accompanied by an apology.

Garycymru
Garycymru
18 days ago

A scarily accurate, and well thought out piece.
One barrier in particular stands out to me. The Welsh have had generations of brainwashing to make them feel servile, it’s sadly seen as comfy and conforming to believe and spread the lies that we’re “not big enough” or ” not rich enough”.
Until the population realises that they’ve been duped and brainwashed over years, and they learn to find their own information, I don’t see the poll results changing too dramatically.
I do hope to be proven wrong.

John Ellis
John Ellis
13 days ago

As someone who grew up in the north-west of England and who came to live in Wales at the age of 19 – way back in 1964, and solely then because it was a Welsh university which made me the most tempting offer! – I grew to like Wales and increasingly to feel at home here. To such an extent that I ended up staying on to live and work here right up until I was nearly forty, when complicated family circumstances drew me back to live in my native south Manchester once again. But the lure of Wales stayed… Read more »

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