Wales would not re­ally ex­ist if the na­tion had voted ‘No’ 20 years ago – Car­wyn Jones

Western Mail - - NEWS - David Wil­liamson Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor david.wil­liamson@waleson­line.co.uk

WALES would have “dis­ap­peared” and would strug­gle to call it­self a na­tion if it had re­jected de­vo­lu­tion in the knifevote two decades ago, ac­cord­ing to First Min­is­ter Car­wyn Jones.

The Welsh Labour leader reck­ons that Wales would be seen as “ba­si­cally part of Eng­land” and the status of its foot­ball team would be ques­tioned.

He said: “Wales wouldn’t re­ally ex­ist.”

The First Min­is­ter also doubts that Wales would ever have hosted the Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal if the na­tion had not had its own gov­ern­ment to fight for it.

Mr Jones imag­ined a UK in which Scot­land had its own gov­ern­ment and English cities such as Manch­ester had their own forms of de­vo­lu­tion but Wales had no As­sem­bly.

He said: “We couldn’t se­ri­ously call our­selves a na­tion, let’s be hon­est, if we had less pow­ers than Manch­ester. I think we would have dis­ap­peared.

“I think we would have be­come a kind of low wage econ­omy with high unem­ploy­ment, lack­ing con­fi­dence – young peo­ple just leav­ing be­cause there was no point stay­ing here. None of these things are true in mod­ern Wales. “That’s the big dif­fer­ence.” Adamant that Cardiff would not have got to host the world’s pre­em­i­nent foot­ball event this year with­out de­vo­lu­tion, he said: “The Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal would never have come. There would have been no­body to push for it.”

He also sus­pects that if Wales was the only UK na­tion not to have its own gov­ern­ment peo­ple would ask: “Why has Wales got a foot­ball team?”

De­vo­lu­tion changed the life of Mr Jones, 50, who en­tered the As­sem­bly in 1999 and found him­self re­spon­si­ble for agri­cul­ture dur­ing the 2001 foot and mouth out­break. In 2009 he suc­ceeded Rho­dri Mor­gan as First Min­is­ter and the As­sem­bly has steadily gained new pow­ers.

The for­mer bar­ris­ter did not have a wild night on Septem­ber 18, 1997.

He re­mem­bers: “I was in the Brid­gend recre­ation cen­tre watch­ing the re­sults com­ing in from Brid­gend and then af­ter that I went home to catch up on the rest of the re­sults. I was work­ing the fol­low­ing day so I couldn’t go to Cardiff to the Park Ho­tel where the main party was be­cause I was lec­tur­ing at nine in the morn­ing.” Car­wyn on... why so many peo­ple voted No in 1997 The scale of the No vote was a source of de­spair for many Yes sup­port­ers on the night of the ref­er­en­dum count when vic­tory looked in doubt. The over­all re­sult was de­cided by just 6,721 votes.

De­scrib­ing why so many peo­ple did not back the As­sem­bly, Mr Jones said: “Some peo­ple, they said, ‘Well, we’ve got a Labour Gov­ern­ment now. Do we re­ally this?’ I had that on the doorstep.”

Mr Jones also found a lack of con­fi­dence among some vot­ers.

He said: “There were some, lit­er­ally, who said, ‘Well, it’s a nice idea. But we’re not re­ally ca­pa­ble of it.’”

He added: “Peo­ple nat­u­rally tend to grav­i­tate to­wards the status quo. If you’re ask­ing a ques­tion to change some­thing you’ve got to work much harder to con­vince peo­ple that here needs to be change.”

...on what it means for Wales to have its own democ­racy

The Brid­gend AM ar­gued that de­vo­lu­tion has brought a new era of democ­racy to Wales.

He said: “Let’s re­mem­ber, in the 1990s, we had [Welsh Sec­re­taries] – three in a row – [who] weren’t even from Wales, who didn’t even rep­re­sent Welsh con­stituen­cies.

“All the Welsh elec­tors could [vote] for one par­tic­u­lar party. It wouldn’t make any dif­fer­ence at all be­cause the per­son run­ning Wales who came down to Wales half a day a week pretty much, was some­body se­lected in White­hall by a party peo­ple didn’t vote for.

“That’s been a ma­jor dif­fer­ence. If peo­ple don’t like what we’re do­ing as a gov­ern­ment they can boot us out.

“The democ­racy is there that wasn’t there be­fore.”

...on his big­gest sur­prise about de­vo­lu­tion

Mr Jones said he was most sur­prised by “the fact that sup­port for it grew so quickly af­ter­wards”.

The 1997 ref­er­en­dum was won with a Yes vote of just 50.3%. But the 2011 ref­er­en­dum saw 63.5% vote for the As­sem­bly to gain more pow­ers, al­beit with a turnout of just 35.6%.

Mr Jones said: “In 1997, if some­body had said to be in 2011 there would be a ref­er­en­dum on law-mak­ing pow­ers – and now, of course, tax­vary­ing pow­ers are com­ing – [and] peo­ple would sup­port that by nearly two to one, it would un­think­able.”

...on the big­gest dan­ger to Wales in the next 20 years

The First Min­is­ter is in no doubt about what he con­sid­ers the big­gest risk. He is most wor­ried about “the wrong sort of Brexit”.

He said: “We need to make sure that Brexit is right for Wales. It’s go­ing to hap­pen, we know that, but it can’t be a par­tic­u­larly hard Brexit that makes it dif­fi­cult for us to sell things to the Euro­pean mar­ket.”

Car­wyn is adamant that the UK must change so it is not run from White­hall.

He said: “For me, the UK has to de­velop into a state where the UK re­flects the fact it is a part­ner­ship of four na­tions, and not one cen­tre [dic­tat­ing] to the rest.

Point­ing to coun­tries which had fed­eral forms of gov­ern­ment, he said: “Canada does it pretty well; Aus­tralia does it pretty well. They are

> Yes cam­paign­ers on Septem­ber 18, 1997. The de­vo­lu­tion ref­er­en­dum saw

> First Min­is­ter Car­wyn Jones – de­vo­lu­tion changed his life

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