Wales celebrates 20 years since historic 'yes' to devolution

Reporter:

Staff Reporter

Wales was today marking the 20th anniversary of the historic vote to say 'yes' to devolution.

On September 18 1997 the country went to the polls and voted to establish the National Assembly for Wales.

The margin of those in favour over those against was just 6,721 votes (0.6%) - a narrower percentage margin than by which last year's EU referendum was decided.

An earlier referendum under the previous Labour Government in 1979 saw devolution for Wales overwhelmingly rejected by a four-to-one majority.

It was Tony Blair who, after sweeping to power in 1997, arranged for referendums on devolution to be held in both Scotland and Wales.

The 'Yes' vote secured a narrow victory as seen on a scoreboard at the referendum count HQ in Cardiff 20 years ago.

In Scotland the ballot - held a week earlier - saw a much more decisive victory with 74.3% in favour of a Parliament.

In the 20 years that have passed, the Assembly has gained primary law-making powers through the Government ofWales Act 2006. And in 2011 Wales voted again to unlock further powers from Westminster.

Wales Acts in 2014 and 2017 have seen the Assembly's responsibilities widen further to include tax-raising powers for the first time in almost 800 years and responsibility for creating laws in over 20 areas of public life.

Landmark laws passed by the Assembly include adopting a system of presumed consent for organ donation and minimum staffing levels on hospital wards, while a petition calling for a ban on single-use carrier bags led to a 5p charge which has greatly reduced their use and been adopted across the UK.

Wales was also the first UK nation to vote in favour of restricting smoking in enclosed public places and now all new homes built are required to be fitted with a sprinkler system.

And in 2013 the Assembly passed a law that cemented both English and Welsh as the Assembly's official languages placing a statutory duty on itself to provide services to Members and the public in the official language of their choice.

Further developments in Wales have been the signing of two City Deals and the scrapping of the Severn Bridge tolls.

Elin Jones AM, the Llywydd of the Assembly, said: "Support for devolution and the National Assembly has grown significantly in Wales.

"In 1997 the vote in favour was very close, but a BBC Wales St David's Day poll in 2017 had 73% of people either saying the Assembly's powers should be increased or were sufficient.

"Our priority for the future is to ensure that we have a parliament that is well-equipped to represent the interests of Wales and its people, make laws for Wales and hold the Welsh Government to account; a parliament that is an equal of its counterparts across the UK."

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns added: "Devolution in Wales has come a long way over the 20 years since the referendum.

"The Senedd is now an established part of our constitutional landscape - taking critical decisions on matters that affect everyday lives.

"We are now in another period of change for Welsh devolution - the devolution of powers that are repatriated when we leave the EU."

See full story in the Free Press

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