From very early on we all thought that there would be a yes vote but the scale of it was surprising. Even Monmouth came within a whisker of voting Yes. In Flintshire there was a 24 per cent swing towards ‘Yes’ since the 1997 referendum and in Powys there was a 9 per cent swing thanks to a sterling effort from Lib Dem activists. The referendums were not completely comparable but the 24 per cent figure does illustrate how Welsh people have taken control of their own destiny.
The record of the Plaid-Labour Government has been mixed, with particular failures in terms of the education system, waste in the NHS, and a chaotic management of the economy brief. It is therefore heartening to see that voters saw beyond that and saw the vote for what it was: a ‘Yes’ vote for a positive technical change in law making procedure against a ‘No’ vote for the marginalisation of Wales as a political entity.
The Welsh General Election
This is the fourth in a series of articles we are publishing in the run-up to the National Assembly election on 5 May. Tomorrow David Melding, a Conservative List candidate in South Wales Central, says his party is looking forward to a Rainbow coalition.
The Yes vote will speed up the process of making laws in Wales and allow us to be more reactive. When you look at the time taken to deal with the Housing and Mental Health legislation it is pretty astonishing. It was painful to have to explain to constituents that even when we had cross party support we had to wait several years to see laws affect people’s lives.
You cannot ignore the low turn out which we all knew was coming. Putting to one side the fact that it was better than many expected and that the ‘no’ campaign made sure that neither side received funding to promote the event, we still have a problem with engagement. Part of the problem is that Wales is dominated by the London media so Wales’s stories are marginalised. You can be sure that the Welsh General Election will be dwarfed by the English slant on the AV vote.
We will fight on Welsh issues because that is what Welsh people deserve and we know Labour-Plaid are running scared of their record. If the elections were only about how each party has performed in the Assembly and what they have achieved there, then the Welsh Liberal Democrats would romp ahead of the other parties.
Kirsty Williams is often referred to as the leader of the opposition as a result of her strong performances in the Assembly. I am confident we will do well in the election because where we work we win and we are working hard across all of Wales. We are particularly looking to make gains on the South Wales Central list as well as in Ceredigion, Newport, Swansea, Pontypridd and Montgomeryshire.
It is a big concern that the number of women represented may take a dive. Many of the female candidates standing down are likely to be replaced by men. Across all parties they are individually capable but Wales has benefitted enormously from having a more balanced legislature. Half of Wales is female so we should always aim for those proportions. Unfortunately, despite the extra help available fewer women put themselves forward and I think it is dangerous to select candidates on anything other than merit. For instance, I think Cardiff Central’s MP Jenny Willott much prefers knowing that she is there because of her ability.
After the election dust has settled the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ position is very simple. We will seek to implement as many Welsh Liberal Democrat policies as possible. So two votes for us are votes for our policies. This would include a Welsh stock exchange bringing Welsh investment to Welsh businesses and a pupil premium targeting money at those who start out in education the furthest behind. This pupil premium would address the shocking £604 funding gap between Wales and England.
Despite being in coalition in Westminster we disagree with many Tory policies. They have plans to take an axe to the education system in order to protect NHS managers. They have made a pledge to ring-fence the NHS which is a tall order in Wales when you consider that 40 per cent of the entire budget goes towards the NHS. Inefficiencies in such a large part of the budget have to be looked at in any mature handling of the nation’s finances. According to experts up to one billion pounds could be better spent. To fund the ring-fencing of the NHS, massive cuts would have to be made in other budgets including education where the inefficiencies are not so large.
The next Assembly will be an extremely exciting time for Wales. I think you will see a much more assured Welsh Assembly. It will be operating with a much bigger mandate than has previously been the case. I would regret stepping down were it not for that fact that I am getting the chance to help Westminster understand the devolved UK. This seems to have passed some Labour and Conservative MPs and Peers by.
The next few months are a great chance to start making the best decisions for Wales with relative speed and a great chance for Wales to stand proudly in the world again and say ‘We can do better!’