Overwhelming Yes in Wales Referendum
07 March 2011
On Friday 3rd March 2011, Wales voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Assembly being granted direct law-making powers. "To demand respect you must first display self-respect," said the Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones. "Today we have done just that."
The result means that the Welsh Assembly will be empowered to pass laws - to be known as Assembly Bills - within specified subject areas such as health, education, housing, transport, culture and the environment. The relevant commencement order is expected to be made in May and once the new powers come into force, the Assembly will be on an equivalent status to its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Decisions on issues such as defence, foreign affairs, policing, employment and criminal justice will continue to be the responsibility of Westminster. Further, the referendum result does not confer tax raising powers on the Assembly.
In the lead up to the referendum, the Yes campaign was eager to stress that a vote in favour was not a vote for independence, but should be seen as liberating the Assembly from an excessively complex and time-consuming process where legislative competence had to be obtained on a case by case basis. The referendum decision, its supporters maintain, simply allows the Assembly to focus on the issues. At present, the Welsh Assembly Government has to apply to Westminster for a Legislative Competence Order (LCO) for primary law-making power within the devolved subject areas. Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, has compared this system to having his hands on the steering wheel but with someone else pressing the pedals.
Although turnout was relatively low the overall percentage in favour was a clear majority, at around 64%. Remarkably, only one of the 22 electoral constituencies voted against, much to the disappointment of the No campaign leaders.
The crucial issue however is how the Assembly will utilise its new powers, and to what extent those powers will be used to change Wales for the better. With increased powers, Assembly Members will of course be subject to greater scrutiny and will be far more accountable for their actions.
"We now have the tools to do the job," said the Welsh Conservative Leader, Nick Bourne, "but we must deliver."
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