Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - DAVID WIL­LIAMSON Po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor david.wil­liamson@waleson­

MON­DAY will mark the 20-year an­niver­sary of Wales’ his­toric devolution ref­eren- dum.

The vote to cre­ate an As­sem­bly in 1997 was a vote to make de­ci­sions in Wales.

The As­sem­bly now has rad­i­cally more pow­ers than the in­sti­tu­tion which was launched in 1999.

The dif­fer­ences in ev­ery­day life be­tween Wales and Eng­land could be about to get much big­ger as politi­cians use tax pow­ers and make laws in more ar­eas.

But since the early days of devolution, As­sem­bly Mem­bers have used what­ever pow­ers they have had at their dis­posal to change Wales – they hope for the bet­ter.

1. Free Pre­scrip­tions

This is one of the mo­ments when people sat up and took notice of the As­sem­bly.

There were only 517,132 Yes votes in the 1997 and there has yet to be an As­sem­bly elec­tion in which even half the elec­torate has taken part.

One of the chal­lenges for AMs has been get­ting the mes­sage across that health and ed­u­ca­tion in Wales are no longer run from West­min­ster.

The in­tro­duc­tion of free pre­scrip­tions in 2007 showed that de­ci­sions made in Cardiff Bay can have a di­rect ef­fect on your life.

North­ern Ireland fol­lowed Wales’ lead in 2010 and Scot­land in 2011.

2. Free travel for older people.

Older cit­i­zens gained the free­dom to travel for free by bus in 2002. Pen­sion­ers and people with qual­i­fy­ing dis­abil­i­ties were not lim­ited to travel within their lo­cal au­thor­ity – or within off-peak times – but could use their pass any­where in Wales at any time.

In July this year free week­end bus travel for ev­ery­one was in­tro­duced in a pi­lot scheme on the TrawsCymru routes, which it is hoped will lead to more people vis­it­ing the Bre­con Bea­cons.

3. The ban on smok­ing in a pub­lic place.

This came into force in 2007 and meant that a night out no longer means com­ing home stink­ing of smoke.

AMs would have prob­a­bly pushed for­ward this cul­turechang­ing pol­icy much ear­lier – pos­si­bly as early as 2003 – but they only gained the pow­ers through 2005 leg­is­la­tion.

Scot­land was the first to in­tro­duce a ban in March 2006, ahead of Wales and North­ern Ireland in April the fol­low­ing year, with one com­ing into force in Eng­land in July 2007.

4. The bon­fire of the quan­gos.

Devolution gave politi­cians in the As­sem­bly power to do much more than give away things for free.

They could also crank the levers of power so that Wales would run in a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent way.

Rho­dri Mor­gan saw that much of pub­lic life was man­aged at arm’s reach from politi­cians and de­cided it was time for a “bon­fire of the quan­gos”.

The Welsh Devel­op­ment Agency (WDA) had long been one of the in­flu­en­tial bod­ies in Wales, famed for its ef­forts to win in­vest­ment from around the world.

Like­wise, the Wales Tourist Board worked to per­suade people to hol­i­day here and Elwa was re­spon­si­ble for post-16 ed­u­ca­tion.

All of th­ese bod­ies were brought into the civil ser­vice in 2006.

The abo­li­tion of the WDA in par­tic­u­lar proved fiercely con­tro­ver­sial; this was a shak­ing of Wales’ es­tab­lish­ment that demon­strated that the As­sem­bly Gov­ern­ment, as it was then called, was the new centre of grav­ity.

5. The car­rier bag charge.

Wales be­came the first na­tion in the UK to in­tro­duce a com­pul­sory charge for sin­gle-use bags in 2011.

The Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium de­nounced the pol­icy as “dis­pro­por­tion­ate and dra­co­nian” but the 5p charge has proven pop­u­lar. The Welsh Gov­ern­ment says use of the bags crashed by 71% be­tween 2011 and 2014.

A sim­i­lar charge was in­tro­duced in North­ern Ireland in 2013, in Scot­land in 2014 and in Eng­land in 2015.

A made-in-Wales pol­icy was em­braced by the whole coun­try.

6. Or­gan do­na­tion.

If in­tro­duc­ing a charge on car-

rier bags could trig­ger de­nun­ci­a­tions, what would hap­pen if AMs de­cided to leg­is­late con­cern­ing what hap­pens to our bod­ies when we die?

Wales truly blazed a trail in 2015 when it leg­is­lated for an opt-out sys­tem for or­gan do­na­tion.

It is pre­sumed that the per­son was in favour of do­nat­ing their or­gans.

There were in­tense de­bate and deep con­cerns were voiced but the BMA is now push­ing for other UK na­tions to fol­low Wales’ lead and move away from the old sys­tem where the onus was on a per­son to reg­is­ter his or her con­sent.

The im­pact of the change will be closely stud­ied around the world.

In 2016 there were 39 or­gan trans­plants in Wales through deemed con­sent.

7. What hasn’t hap­pened.

Cathy Owens, who was a Labour spe­cial ad­viser from 2003 to 2006, ar­gues that what min­is­ters chose not to do has been “as sig­nif­i­cant” as the poli­cies they pur­sued.

In key ar­eas, min­is­ters in Cardiff chose not to fol­low the lead of West­min­ster gov­ern­ments led by Labour or the Con­ser­va­tives.

For­mer First Min­is­ter Rho­dri Mor­gan talked of “clear red wa­ter” sep­a­rat­ing the poli­cies of Wales and Eng­land.

Ms Owens said: “We didn’t in­tro­duce com­pe­ti­tion in pub­lic ser­vices.

“We didn’t in­tro­duce acad­e­mies or free schools or gram­mar schools...

“We tried to main­tain in­vest­ment in char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions and third sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions which do good in this coun­try.”

The As­sem­bly will likely soon be re­named a par­lia­ment and the trans­fer of tax pow­ers to AMs means the Welsh Bud­get will not just be about how money is spent but how it is raised.

There are pro­pos­als for a new Welsh Lan­guage Com­mis­sion and a fresh gen­er­a­tion of AMs have ar­rived in Cardiff Bay who will want to put their ideas into ac­tion.

The prospect of Brexit has trig­gered de­bate about the bal­ance of pow­ers that should ex­ist be­tween the dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments of the UK, and as more Welsh laws are passed there are strength­en­ing calls for a Welsh le­gal ju­ris­dic­tion.

De­mands may also in­ten­sify for the devolution of re­spon­si­bil­ity for polic­ing, and pres­sure will build for an in­crease in the num­ber of AMs.

One of the most dra­matic chap­ters in Welsh pol­i­tics could be about to be­gin.

Free pre­scrip­tions

Car­rier bag charges

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