As might be expected from the two authors, this volume conveys the results of meticulous research work on an especially timely theme – the significance of the March 2011 referendum in granting law-making powers to the National Assembly for Wales. The authors point out that the referendum need never have happened, and that only a minority of the Welsh electorate chose to participate in it. Even so, they conclude that its outcome was of signal significance for the advance of Welsh devolution.
The first chapter neatly surveys the historical background to 2011 – the referenda of 1979 and 1997 and the significance of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which provided for the convention of a referendum and proved central to the coalition negotiations between the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru after the 2007 National Assembly elections. The second chapter, also historical in nature, analyses critically Welsh constitution-building from the 1960s through to the post-2006 period.
There is a decisive change of gear in Chapter 3 which, while making use of a succession of sophisticated opinion polls, takes as its theme the evolving views of the Welsh electorate during the run-up to the 2011 vote. When, in July 2007, the coalition arrangements were ratified, the holding of a referendum was central to the tortuous deliberations. Subsequently, the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns evolved, operating at both national and local level, right through until the poll. All this activity is carefully delineated here.
In Chapter 5 the outcome of the referendum is analysed in detail and in depth, and due consideration is given to the disappointing turnout figures (which varied considerably from region to region), participation, the role of the ever-increasing opinion polls, and the geography of the results. Comparisons are drawn with the rather different outcome back in 1997, and some suggestions are made about why people now voted ‘yes’ in substantial numbers.
The outcome was significant. In consequence, the Welsh Assembly would henceforth enjoy primary legislative powers across no fewer than twenty areas of legislative policy. The future, the cautious authors tell us, will reveal quite how momentous these changes will prove to be. They also look at contemporary attitudes and developments in the whole of the United Kingdom, especially in the light of the inevitable substantial squeeze on public spending to be imposed by the UK government between 2011 and 2015 at least. They also rightly assert that the question of scrutiny of the Assembly’s multifarious activities will need to be addressed. In Scotland, a further referendum on independence is also in the offing. But the authors conclude that the March 2011 referendum in Wales, although perhaps unnecessary, represents the latest tangible blow to a policy of assimilation inaugurated and strengthened ever since 1536.
J. Graham Jones
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Chapter One: The Road to the Referendum
Chapter Two: The Unlikely Survival of the Platypus: Constitution Building in Wales
Chapter Three: The Evolution of Public Attitudes
Chapter Four: From Coalition Agreement to Polling Day
Chapter Five: The Referendum Result
Chapter Six: The People’s Choice: Explaining Voting in the Referendum
Chapter Seven: The Implications
Professor Richard Wyn Jones is Professor of Welsh Politics and Director, Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.
Professor Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics, Aberystwyth University.
Drawing on extensive historical research, Wales Says Yes explains the background to the referendum, why it was held, and what was at stake. The book also explains how the rival Yes and No campaigns emerged, and the varying degree of success with which they functioned. Through a detailed account of the results, and analysis of survey evidence on Welsh voters, the book explains why Wales voted Yes in March 2011. Finally, it considers what that result may mean for the future of both Wales and the UK.