Understanding devolution in Wales
Understanding devolution in Wales

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Understanding devolution in Wales

8 End of course summary

Devolution in Wales got off to a rocky start. The idea was rebuffed by the electorate in 1979 and then barely approved in 1999.

Initial arrangements were devised quickly and proved ineffective in practice. It was difficult for AMs to effect any real change and there was a lack of genuine scrutiny.

Limited enthusiasm from many politicians and the electorate hampered the early years of the Senedd, and it has proven very difficult to reverse that cynicism and spark interest and engagement.

There have been persistent concerns about the numbers of MSs, Wales’ lack of a separate legal jurisdiction and strained inter-institutional relationships.

The pattern of review, report and reform observed between 2004 and 2016 often sucked the energy out of the ordinary business of government?

That said, the Senedd is now more than 20 years old and it has achieved much to be proud of:

  • In 2003, the National Assembly for Wales was the first legislature in the world to elect 50% female and 50% male representation.
  • In 2007, Wales was the first part of the UK to introduce free prescriptions for all. This was intended to reduce health inequality.
  • In 2011, a 5p levy on carrier bags was introduced. This resulted in an estimated 70% decrease in single use carrier bag consumption between 2011 and 2014.
  • In 2013, the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act introduced a system of ‘deemed consent’ meaning that an individual has to opt out of organ donation as opposed to opting in. The aim of the Act is to increase the number of organs and tissues available for transplant.

And although change was difficult, constitutional progress was made. The Assembly was granted law-making powers in many areas of Welsh life. It also gained some tax-raising powers. To reflect its growing stature, it changed its name from Assembly to the Welsh Parliament or Senedd.

But what comes next? By the early 2020s, the UK finds itself on a constitutional precipice with relations between the nations sorely tested.

Northern Ireland has been caught in the rip-tides of Brexit and Scotland looks set for a second independence referendum.

If the UK is redrawn, as seems increasingly likely, the Welsh position may well shift again. After all, devolution is a process and not an event.


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