Monday, 18 September 2017

20 years of Devolution is Great but plenty still 'wrong' with Wales's situation

In spite of Devolution, Wales remains one of the poorest nations in Western Europe
It is now 20 years since Wales narrowly voted in favour of having having its own autonomy.  Now is certainly a time to celebrate but it is also high time that we discuss where expectations have fallen short, and where, I hope, the next 20 years will prove more promising than the last.

Sure Wales may have had its own political institutions for 20 years, but it could have done a lot better at developing its own political culture and popular political engagement.

One only needs to look at turnout of the five Assembly Elections to date to see what I am talking about.  For those five Welsh Assembly elections, turnout has never been above 46%, and has fallen as low as 36%.  In Westminster Elections during the same period the turnout (for the whole UK) has largely been between 65% and 70%.  In Scotland, it hasn't been so bad, with four out of five Scottish Parliament elections having turnouts above 50%, while in Northern Ireland, all five devolved Assembly elections since 1998 have had turnouts above 50%, with 4/5 being above 60%.  

This is bad, and shows that Wales ought to be doing a lot better.  When, in my first year at Aberystwyth University, back in 2015, I asked my South Walian flatmates if they had heard of someone called Carwyn Jones, none of them had a clue.  And no, it was not because they had no general knowledge - they all knew who David Cameron was, and all voted in the UK General Election of 2015, yet they also had no clue that there even was a Welsh Assembly despite growing up so near to it.  Unfortunately, their ignorance of devolved Welsh politics appeared to be more of a rule than an exception whenever I met a lot of other Welsh students.   

I have to say that I nearly fainted when I had that conversation - I seriously doubt that there is another country in this world where the average citizen can't name his or her own leaders AND doesn't know that those leaders even exist. It needs to be asked why this all is, since the current situation is nothing less than a huge insult to Wales, and an indictment of its very state of existence.

Added to those low levels of political engagement with Wales's own national politics is the fact that Wales has effectively been a one-party state ever since the first Assembly Election in 1999.  This is not normal or good for any democracy in the world and nor is it matched within the UK - Scotland's parliament saw a transfer of power in 2007 when Labour was replaced by the SNP.  

I do not think that these two anomalies - the low levels of participation, and the 'one-party-state syndrome' are a coincidence.  If a government is not being watched by its own people or the press, then the people are hardly going to choose vote it out of office based on an informed judgement of their record like they would in a 'normal' situation.  I highly suspect that when Welsh Labour voters walk into a polling booth during Assembly Elections, they are not voting for Carwyn Jones himself, but in favour whoever is the leader of the Labour Party in Westminster.  Assembly Elections in Wales, like local council elections in England, are more a referendum on the politicians in Westminster than an informed vote for or against politicians at devolved level.  That is something which needs to change, and please, in the next ten years if possible, not twenty.


  1. Welsh devolution is incredibly weak and lacks wealth creation powers, it is seen as a talking shop by many....and yet it gets the blame for issues ruled over by Westminster.....fantastic divide and rule tactics by uk