The principle of self government has now been widely accepted by the people of Wales, according to new research undertaken by the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University.
The research, revealed in full on S4C documentary Datganoli (Devolution), broadcast on Monday, 17 September at 9.00pm, shows that 83% of the Welsh electorate backs some form of self government, with support among young people particularly high.
Half of all 18-34 year olds support a Scottish-style parliament, compared to 35% of those aged over 65. By contrast, only 14% of those aged between 18-34 are opposed to any form of devolution compared to 24% of those aged over 65.
Women are also significantly more supportive of devolution; a reversal of the situation in 1997. At the time of the referendum, women were about 5% more likely than men to oppose any form of self government. Research now shows that women are 5% less likely to oppose self government than men.
While the principle of self government has been accepted, the form it should take remains in doubt. While support for both independence and the present form of devolution – an Assembly with limited law-making powers – has remained more or less unchanged over the past decade (at 12% and 28%, respectively), support for a Scottish style parliament has more than doubled since 1997 (from 20% to 43%). A Scottish style parliament with both primary law-making and tax-varying powers is now the most popular option for Wales’ constitutional future.
Political expert Dr Richard Wyn Jones is the presenter and author of S4C’s three-part documentary series Datganoli, which marks a decade of Welsh devolution. Dr Wyn Jones is also Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics. He explains, “Back in 1997 the Welsh people were deeply divided on the issue of devolution. Only a quarter of the electorate voted in favour of establishing an Assembly with another quarter voting against. The remaining half didn’t care enough to vote at all.
“The majority in favour - 6,721 - was tiny, representing only 0.3% of the Welsh electorate. In all of this the contrast with Scotland could not have been more marked. As predicted by former Labour leader John Smith, when given the opportunity, Scottish voters conclusively demonstrated that establishing a Scottish Parliament was their ‘settled will’ by returning an overwhelming Yes vote in their referendum.
“Ten years on, however, and it’s clear that devolution is the ‘settled will’ in Wales too. Indeed, given the shaky foundations provided by the 1997 referendum, as well as the faltering progress of devolved government, the massive surge in support for the principle of devolution is quite remarkable. No one can seriously doubt that the vast majority in Wales want devolution. The only question is what form that devolution should take. And the fact that a Scottish style parliament is now the most popular option for Wales’s constitutional future, especially among the young, is particular striking.”
Professor Roger Scully, also from the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University, collaborated closely with Dr Wyn Jones on the research. He adds, “The numbers of young Welsh people who don’t remember life before devolution grow every day. To them, devolved government and multi-party politics are normal; it is government from London and sustained one-party domination of Wales that will increasingly come to be as alien to them as the Age of Empire and the White Man’s Burden are to us.
“Traditionally, women have been marginalised in Welsh politics; the typical face of politics in Wales was a male face. But women have been represented in far greater numbers in the Assembly and its government. And women have responded to this. Having started off as far more cautious about devolution, they are now more ready than men to accept and even embrace self-government for Wales.”
• The research for S4C’s documentary series Datganoli was carried out by the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University in cooperation with the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), and funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
• Ten years after Wales went to the polls in the 1997 Referendum, S4C’s Datganoli assesses the first decade of devolution. Dr Richard Wyn Jones travels the length and breadth of Wales in order to measure the impact of devolution - in terms of health, education, the economy and Welsh language. Drawing evidence from a series of public attitudes surveys he discusses the change in attitudes that has taken place over the last decade, with the principle of devolution now widely accepted throughout Wales.
The headline figures for constitutional preferences reported in the programme are as follows:
Wales’s Constitutional Future (%)
1997 1999 2001 2003 2006
Independence 14 10 12 14 14 12
Parliament 20 30 39 38 41 43
Assembly 27 35 26 27 23 28
No Elected Body 40 25 24 21 21 17
S4C 17 September 9.00pm
English subtitles available
Also available to view outside Wales on Sky 134
Also available to view on broadband at s4c.co.uk
A Ffilmiau’r Bont production for S4C