The politics of devolution
The politics of devolution

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The politics of devolution

5.3 How devolution in Scotland differs from devolution in Wales

Devolution for Wales, rejected by the Welsh in a 1979 referendum, was also part of the constitutional reform package of the Labour government. However, in September 1997, the Welsh voted for the establishment of a National Assembly for Wales. The referendum result in favour was far narrower than in Scotland. On a 50.3 per cent turn-out in Wales, only 50.6 per cent voted in favour, indicating a far less entrenched sense of political identity and difference from the rest of the UK on the part of the Welsh, particularly when compared with feelings in Scotland. Table 2 shows details of percentage turn-out at constitutional referendums and initial assembly and parliamentary elections in the devolved areas.

Table 2 Turn-out at referendums and first and second elections for devolved parliament / assemblies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, %

Scotland Wales Northern Ireland
Referendum year 1997 1997 1998
Referendum turn-out 60.4 50.3 81.1
Voting for devolution 74.3 50.6
Voting for tax-raising powers (Scotland only) 63.5
Year of first elections 1999 1999 1998
Turn-out in first elections 58 46 68.84
Year of second elections 2003 2003 2003
Turn-out in second elections 41.45 38 64.8

The very choice of name, the National Assembly for Wales, indicates a difference from the Scottish Parliament. The Assembly is comprised of 60 members, 40 from single member constituencies and 20 additional members. It too is elected every four years. In contrast with the Scottish Parliament, however, the Assembly has no-tax raising powers. The Scottish Parliament is entitled to vary the rate of personal taxation by plus or minus three per cent, although neither the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition governments (1999-2007) nor SNP governments (2007-2013) have used these powers. Obviously, legislatures with tax-gathering powers are more powerful than legislatures without such powers. Initially, while the Scottish Parliament has primary legislative powers and full executive powers, the National Assembly for Wales had only secondary legislative powers. The Westminster government only consulted the Assembly and its Executive on proposed primary legislation. Executive functions previously enacted by the Secretary of State for Wales have been transferred to the Assembly. However, following the introduction of the Government of Wales Act in 2007, the Assembly now has primary law making powers. Table 3 shows the results of the elections of 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Table 3 National Assembly for Wales election results: number of seats gained by different parties, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011

Political party 1999 2003 2007 2011
Labour Party 29 30 26 30
Plaid Cymru 16 12 15 11
Conservative and Unionist Party 9 11 12 14
Independent 0 1 1 0
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