The people have spoken, the votes have been counted and now its official: the people of Wales have voted yes. The Welsh have given birth to the UK’s newest, real legislator, able to make laws without the need to get permission from Westminster.
Whilst the turnout of 35.4 per cent has disappointed many, the result itself was clear, with the yes campaign taking 63.5% of the votes cast compared with 36.5% who voted against. It’s a result which, despite the low turnout, is far more emphatic than the 1997 vote which saw the Assembly established based on just 50.3% of the total votes cast.
Reaction across the political spectrum has been positive, with first minister Carwyn Jones speaking for all those parties represented in the Assembly in declaring:
“Today an old nation came of age.”
However, despite conceding defeat, Rachael Banner, who headed the no campaign, warned the vote should not be seen as a “ringing endorsement” of the Assembly and its performance.
Concerns have also been expressed within the yes camp itself, after polling by ICM on behalf of the BBC revealed 48% of voters in Wales felt they didn’t have sufficient information to make a proper choice in the referendum, while the Assembly’s Presiding Officer, Lord Elis-Thomas, expressed concern at the level of debate.
Whilst the Assembly will now get the full law making powers enjoyed by Holyrood and Stormont, the low turnout and lack of understanding over the issue should spur those at Cardiff Bay to prove why it was worth giving them the powers to legislate without needing Westminster’s permission.
Speaking from the Senedd, shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain appeared to recognise the need to prove the Assembly’s worth and go beyond the constitutional navel gazing which the campaign has sometimes looked like.
“There’s a big responsibility on AMs now to deliver. Now they can go full speed ahead. But ‘delivery, delivery, delivery’ now has to be the watchword.”
“I’m very pleased because this shows that Wales is voting decisivley to have a stronger assembly with more powers to stand up to the Tory-led Government in Westminster and protect Wales against some of the policies that are coming down the M4 at us.
“What is also very clear is that there’s been a huge turnout of the Labour vote in Wales saying that we don’t want these policies in Westminster and we want an assembly that can give us the kind of protection that we feel we deserve in Wales.”
Meanwhile, calls have been made for Wales to now firmly focus on reforming the discredited Barnett Formula which continues to underfund Wales, as previously reported on Left Foot Forward.
“I think that’s one thing they have got to look at very seriously. Whatever people feel about the Assembly, in Wales I think there’s a deep desire that Wales should be treated no worse than the Scots.”
Whilst those involved in the Yes campaign should rightly be pleased with what has been achieved, it is now time to demonstrate to the people of Wales how things will be different with a strengthened Assembly and government.