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