Lawful Assembly

So there we have it. Yesterday’s votes are all counted and we have the results. Here’s a quick Friday afternoon round-up before I go to the Pub.

The biggest issue of the day involved Referendum on extending the law-making powers of the Welsh Assembly, in which the “yes” vote won by 517,132 votes to 297,380.  This means that the Welsh Assembly will henceforth be able to make laws directly concerning those matters already devolved to it (including Health and Education). Contrary to popular myth, it does not broaden the Assembly’s power to cover new policy areas neither does it allow the Assembly to raise taxes. What it does is eliminate a bureaucratic bottleneck that previously required the Welsh Assembly to ask Parliament in Westminster every time it wanted to enact a law.

I think the “Yes” vote is a good thing, and the majority (63.5%) is healthy enough that there should be no griping about the outcome. In fact all but one region – Monmouthshire – voted in favour of the new powers, and Monmouthshire voted “no” by a mere 320 votes…

The only really disappointing thing was that the turnout was dismally low – only about 35%. Those that didn’t vote, however, have even less justification for complaining about the outcome.

On a smaller scale, the by-election for my local Council ward resulted in a gain for Labour from Plaid Cymru:

Steve Garrett (Plaid Cymru): 1,099
Iona Gordon (Labour): 1,700
Gwilym Owen (Liberal Democrat): 187
James Roach (Conservative) 369
Yvan Maurel (Green party): 277

Turnout was about 40%.

Pontcanna has been a Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalist party) stronghold for quite a while, so I was moderately surprised at the result. I was personally quite pleased that Plaid Cymru lost this seat because of their support for the over-development of Bute Park, but I’ve no idea whether that issue contributed significantly to the result. I voted for the Green Party, incidentally, and was glad at least to see them beat the Liberal Democrats into 5th place. The new Labour councillor Iona Gordon is however a prominent campaigner on environmental issues and I wish her well.

The other major electoral result in the UK was a Parliamentary by-election in Barnsley, which saw the Liberal Democrats ending in a humiliating sixth place and losing their deposit. The only real question in my mind is why anyone would find that surprising given their track-record as part of the coalition government?

In a  couple of months we’ll be voting again, this time for the Welsh Assembly. A great deal will depend on the eventual composition of the Senedd, especially for Welsh universities…


6 Responses to “Lawful Assembly”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    I have a tremendous feeling of relief after the referendum result in Wales. There are real practical advantages to the changes approved in yesterday’s referendum.

    However, the result is just as significant for the authority it confers on the National Assembly for Wales, and therefore on devolved structures in Wales. It gives the devolved ministate stability within the broader United Kingdom.

    The very comfortable majority today for simplifying Welsh law making must be seen in the context of the extreme difficulty that was encountered in trying to establish an Assembly for Wales. People campaigned for a devolved Welsh parliament within the United Kingdom from the late 19th century through the 20th. Only in the early 1970s did a political party with a real chance of governing commit itself to establishing an elected assembly. The Labour Government of 1974-1979 attempted to create it, but was forced by backbench rebellions to put the issue to a referendum. By the time that referendum came in March 1979, that government was deeply unpopular, severely divided over the devolution policy and Wales rejected the proposal with a crushing 4 to 1 vote. The second attempt in 1997 only succeeded in achieving approval in a referendum by a 50.3% to 49.7% vote.

    To me, the stakes were extremely high. Wales when I was a child in the 1970s was totally different to what it is today. There was a strong tension between those people who did and did not speak Welsh. The Welsh language could be used for very few official purposes and appeared virtually nowhere in public. The number of people able to speak Welsh was in rapid decline and the language appeared on its way to extinction. There were few Welsh institutions, while the United Kingdom as a state was very powerful. There seemed an incompatibility between Wales and the United Kingdom. Some people with an attachment to Wales felt humiliated. There were parallels with the divisions in Northern Ireland. A terrorist campaign began in Wales in late 1979 in which about 200 English-owned holiday homes were destroyed in arson attacks.

    When I started to think about these issues in the early 1980s, I became very concerned that Wales would not die quietly as a nation: it would instead go the way of Northern Ireland. I became convinced that strong reform was needed to remove the incompatibility between British and Welsh identities. That meant giving Welsh speakers rights to use the language for official purposes. It required the establishment of an elected devolved parliament for Wales within the United Kingdom.

    The Welsh Language Act 1993, the 1997 referendum and yesterday’s vote achieve the necessary reforms. There is no longer any significant incompatibility between Wales and the United Kingdom. Devolved Wales can exist as a stable society at peace within the British state.

    That is the greatest reason why I feel such profound relief today.

    • Although I have no personal experience which parallels yours, your analysis makes sense to me. (I might ask the question whether complete independence from England, i.e. no more UK—especially within the context of the EU—might make more sense for Wales and Scotland (Northern Ireland is more complicated).)

      In Germany, I am a big critic of the extreme form of federalism which exists, which is a stumbling block in many areas, particularly education and research. (I think this extreme federalism is due to the influence of the winners of WWII as an effort to weaken post-war Germany, which to some extent succeeded, at least in some of the areas crippled by federalism.) However, Germany is not the UK. In particular, my impression is that many (most?) people from Wales and Scotland think of themselves as Welsh or Scottish first and UK citizens second, whereas in Germany that is not the case (even though united Germany in something like the present form goes back only a bit over 100 years).

      There are many reasons for this, including the language. No country other than the UK speaks English, except for former colonies (direct or indirect), and the UK has a significant number of speakers of other languages such as Welsh (though I suspect that all speak English as well). Apart from Germany, German is an official language in Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein and Belgium (though spoken almost exclusively in the eastern part of the country which belonged to Germany until after WWI) and although there are other languages in Germany (having official status in some areas) such as Danish and Sorbian, the number of speakers is very small.

      Thus, the UK and Germany are hardly comparable on this issue.

      Nevertheless, I hope that more devolution in the UK doesn’t lead to problems with education and research as has been the case in Germany, making it difficult to coordinate things and difficult for pupils, students and teachers to move from one region to another. (Rather ironic is that the federalism with respect to teaching and research was increased a few years ago, reducing mobility in Germany, around the same time as the Bologna process was supposed to increase it within Europe (a desirable goal, even if the implementation of the Bologna agreements leaves much to be desired in many countries).)

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      One curious feature of the United Kingdom is that Scotland does have a different education system to the other parts. The qualifications are different, of a different level (a lower level in Scotland, with people going to university a year earlier to follow longer courses). The reason is historical: it dates back to a time when different policies were introduced by British government ministers: Scotland had its own Secretary of State appointed by the British Prime Minister from the 1880s (the Scottish Parliament was only set up in 1999). However, this does not usually cause significant problems for people moving from one place to another.

      A particular problem in Wales historically was that schools policies did not give significant recognition to the particular needs of Wales, and were mostly English policies for the convenience of central government. This lessened over the past 30 years, even before the National Assembly for Wales was set up.

      Research in Britain is a central government activity. So all parts have the same research policy. All astronomers, particle physicists and nuclear physicists across the United Kingdom have to deal with the STFC!

      The German and British systems are very different, although democratic devolution in the United Kingdom is still quite new in its present form (12 years old only), and may change with time. I can see the importance of common standards, though I would prefer some coordination at the European level. However, European integration is a particular problem for some people in Britain in a way that it is not in many other European countries.

  2. “I voted for the Green Party, incidentally, and was glad at least to see them beat the Liberal Democrats into 5th place.”

    Suppose you prefer the Labour candidate to the Plaid Cymru candidate, and the former lost by just a few votes, perhaps those you and others cast for the Green Party. Alas, without PR, one is often forced to vote for a party which is not one’s first choice or risk the vote being wasted. Even without PR, there are systems which at least avoid the waste of votes.

    To me, the line is really between PR and other forms of democracy; just because a country calls itself a democracy doesn’t mean that it is, as numerous examples illustrate.

    The race between W. and Gore in 2000 was close. So close that Gore probably would have won had the votes been counted in a manner one expects of a civilised country. (The fact that this was the fourth time that the result was opposite to that of the popular vote is neither here nor there; this is an inherent weakness in the system (which probably less than 1% of US citizens even know exists).) But, and this is the really sad thing, Gore would have won in every sense, including the one of actually becoming the POTUS, had Ralph Nader not collected a non-negligible fraction of the popular vote. While I admire Nader’s work as a consumer advocate, one has to ask the question of whether such a candidacy—where Nader realised what was happening and wanted to demonstrate the weaknesses of the two-party system—was worth what came out of it (8 years of W. as opposed to a future Nobel Peace Prize winner as POTUS (though whether he would have won the Nobel Prize had he become POTUS is another question)).

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t regard my vote as being wasted. It’s just that my candidate didn’t win. I know it’s “first past the post”, but it’s not a horse race.

    • Actually, it’s more important than a horse race.

      The presidential election in France, being a personal election, doesn’t have PR, but at least it has a runoff. The person with the relative (but not absolute) majority in the opinion polls right now is the leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen (daughter of long-time party leader Jean-Marie). With PR, since most people don’t want her, she wouldn’t stand a chance. In first-past-the-post, she would be the next president of France. With the run-off system, if there are, say, 3 “left” candidates and 2 “centre or right” candidates”, then the runoff will probably not involve any “left” candidate at all, even if a substantial majority of the population prefers a “left” candidate. How one can call this democracy is beyond me; that’s like saying homeopathy is science, just different from our kind of science and we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to judge it. Rubbish. If the runoff is between a centre candidate and Le Pen, and Le Pen can mobilise her voters, and the left-voting population can’t stomach being forced to vote for the lesser of two evils (especially since a centre-leaning winner would spin this as massive support), and the centre doesn’t turn out because they are unhappy with Sarkozy (whether or not he or someone from his party is the candidate), then we have a right-wing, in some views extremist, president of France. It would be rather unconvincing to criticise their non-democratic system after the fact.

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