Wales finds its voice

John Osmond says today’s emphatic referendum Yes campaign victory declares the Welsh people want to be citizens of their own country

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

Wales voted overwhelmingly, by nearly two to one, in favour of full primary legislative powers for the National Assembly in Thursday’s referendum. Barring Monmouth which, after a recount only narrowly failed to approve the change, every county in Wales voted Yes. This unity will be extremely important for the future of the National Assembly. It can now move on, confident that it has backing from every corner of the country.

Area Yes No Turnout
Wales 517,132 (63.5%) 297,380 (36.5%) 35.4%
Blaenau Gwent 11,869 (68.87%) 5,366 (31.13%) 32.44%
Denbighshire 15,793 (61.85%) 9,742 (38.15%) 34.47%
Wrexham 17,606 (64.09%) 9,863 (35.91%) 27.04%
Anglesey 14,011 (64.77%) 7,620 (35.23%) 43.83%
Pembrokeshire 19,600 (54.98%) 16,050 (45.02%) 38.73%
Powys 21,072 (51.64%) 19,730 (48.36%) 39.68%
Conwy 18,368 (59.72%) 12,390 (40.28%) 33.79%
Merthyr Tydfil 9,136 (68.86%) 4,132 (31.14%) 30.12%
Neath Port Talbot 29,957 (73%) 11,079 (27%) 38.00%
Newport 15,983 (54.76%) 13,204 (45.24%) 27.90%
Caerphilly 28,431 (64.35%) 15,751 (35.65%) 34.55%
Flintshire 21,119 (62.06%) 12,913 (37.94%) 29.45%
Vale of Glamorgan 19,430 (52.54%) 17,551 (47.46%) 40.10%
Swansea 38,496 (63.21%) 22,409 (36.79%) 32.90%
Ceredigion 16,505 (66.24%) 8,412 (33.76%) 44.07%
Bridgend 25,063 (68.11%) 11,736 (31.89%) 35.64%
Torfaen 14,655 (62.78%) 8,688 (37.22%) 33.82%
Carmarthenshire 42,979 (70.82%) 17,712 (29.18%) 44.36%
Rhondda Cynon Taf 43,051 (70.71%) 17,834 (29.29%) 34.62%
Monmouthshire 12,381 (49.36%) 12,701 (50.64%) 35.83%
Gwynedd 28,200 (76.03%) 8,891 (23.97%) 43.39%
Cardiff 53,427 (61.39%) 33,606 (38.61%) 35.16%

The turn-out was not the disaster that some had predicted. Overall it was 35.2 per cent, safely above the 30 per cent that some commentators have argued would undermine the legitimacy of the result. Cardiff, the final county to declare yesterday afternoon, came in at 35.16 per cent. Cardiff was also significant since, as with most of the eastern counties it voted No in 1997. Its 53,217 Yes votes pushed the total Welsh Yes above a symbolic half-a-million.

In 1997 Wales was divided between east and west, with west Wales and the Valleys combining to deliver the narrowest of victories. In 2011 there is now a pro-devolution consensus across the whole of Wales. Counties like Flintshire, Powys, Pembrokeshire, Cardiff and Newport which voted No in 1997 this year voted Yes by a margin.

As in 1997 the strongest support for devolution is in west Wales and the Valleys where the highest turn-outs and highest proportion of Yes votes were to be found. But the swing to the Yes side in former No voting counties along the border was truly remarkable. Even in Monmouthshire the swing to the Yes camp was 17 per cent, with a wafer thin 320 majority for the No campaign.

All this is a major boost for the National Assembly and for Wales’ standing in the world. As Roger Lewis, chair of Yes campaign, put it at the end of the count, “Wales has found its voice.”

This will now be used to shout loudly for a fair funding formula to be applied to calculating the block grant that is handed down from Westminster.  Following publication of the Holtham Commission’s report last year no-one at either end of the M4 is now denying that Wales is losing out badly as a result of the Treasury’s Barnett formula which operates on the basis of a head count and fails to take account of need in distributing money to the devolved institutions across the UK. Significantly, the London coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats only committed to addressing this if there was a Yes vote in the referendum. This has now been delivered.

The underlying agenda of the No campaign in the referendum was to dispose of the Assembly altogether. The naysayers were the remnant of the 1979 and 1997 No campaigns, whittled down to their last redoubt in Newbridge.

Wales has told them where to go. Devolution is here to stay. As I argued here yesterday, this referendum represents an existential affirmation of the road Wales now wants to travel. The choice is to build a country which has strong civic foundations, headed by what we can truly call the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. Wales has its Parliament. Our people want to be citizens of their own country. That’s what they voted for yesterday, in large and overwhelming numbers.

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