2.4 A very close vote
The Yes vote was carried but by the narrowest of margins – 0.3% or 6700 votes on a turnout of a little over 50%. To put this into context, that’s about the same as the population of Flintshire village, Sandycroft.
Contrast this to Scotland which had gone to the polls two weeks previously, where a 60% turnout had delivered a 74% majority.
This slender margin created difficulties from the very beginning. Unlike colleagues in Scotland, the architects of the early Welsh devolution settlement could not point to an impressive and decisive result to drive forward change. They could only inch forward.
As Martin Shipton argues in his book on the first decade of devolution in Wales, ‘Poor Man’s Parliament’, Wales was created inferior to the bodies proposed for Scotland and Northern Ireland. He attributes this to hostility amongst Welsh Labour MPs to idea of devolution.
The brakes were well and truly applied, and the message was clear: this would be an inferior body that barely deserved to be designated as a legislature.
Both the 1997 and 1979 referenda were essentially asking the same thing: ‘should there be an elected Assembly to represent Welsh interests?’ but the language used in the questions is very different. Do you think this had an impact on the outcome?
The Electoral Commission – the body which sets standards for how elections and referenda should be run – says that questions put to voters must be clear, simple and neutral. The nature of the question can influence the outcome. Matt Qvortrup, professor of applied political science at Coventry University, says that long questions can cause voters to become mistrustful. He also says that the nature and timing of the campaign is likely to be more significant than the wording of the question. A short, positive campaign held shortly after an election victory is more likely to be won by the government of the day.