The St David's Day Poll

The BBC never did explain their decision not to publish the results of the annual poll it commissions from ICM until after the referendum had taken place, and although it was mentioned in this article, the answers to the non-referendum questions did tend to get lost in the excitement of the referendum itself ... which is quite understandable. So I thought now would be an appropriate time to look at them. The results can be downloaded from here:

     ICM Poll for BBC Cymru Wales, March 2011

These are the responses to the three usual questions, compared with the responses in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

   
Which one of these levels of government do you think presently has MOST influence over Wales?
  2008  2009  2010  2011
The European Union8%8%6%11%
The UK Government35%29%40%47%
The Welsh Government40%40%36%24%
Local Authorities10%15%7%6%
   
Which level of government do you think SHOULD have most influence over Wales?
  2008  2009  2010  2011
The European Union2%2%1%1%
The UK Government22%21%24%27%
The Welsh Government61%61%62%58%
Local Authorities11%14%7%7%
   
Which one of these statements comes closest to your view?
Wales should be / have ...
  2008  2009  2010  2011
Independent, outside EU5%5%4%4%
Independent, inside EU8%8%7%7%
Assembly with full law and (some) tax powers37%34%40%35%
Assembly with full law and no tax powersn/a10%13%18%
Assembly with limited law powers only26%21%18%17%
No Assembly20%19%13%15%
   

The trend of answers to the first question is very interesting. It shows that people now think the Welsh government has less influence than they thought it had before, with Westminster having correspondingly more influence.

To my mind the explanation for this is that Labour were until recently in power in both Cardiff Bay and Westminster, and it was therefore very difficult for people to distinguish between what Labour's MPs and AMs were doing. This was not helped by Labour's claims about the economic benefits that devolution would bring, particularly in increasing Wales' GVA per head relative to the UK as a whole. It led people to think that the Welsh government was more responsible for the economic performance of Wales than was in fact the case. But in fact nearly all the levers that effect our economy were and still are very firmly in the hands of the UK government at Westminster.

At a time when very large sums of public money were being spent, it is understandable that people thought the money that was allocated to things like new schools and hospitals was because of the Welsh government at Cardiff Bay. But Wales was only responsible for allocating how the money it was given by Westminster was spent, not how much it was being given. Now that the effects of the financial crisis are beginning to be felt, is it hardly surprising that people in Wales are beginning to realize that the decisions made by Westminster have a lot more importance than they previously thought. And of course the fact that the UK government making those decisions is now a coalition of the two parties that are not in government in Wales makes the distinction much more apparent than it was before.

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But even so, it is remarkable and encouraging that the people of Wales still think that our own government in Cardiff Bay should have most influence over Wales, as opposed to Westminster (with the other two options attracting negligible support). Yes, the margin has gone down a little, but is comfortably more than two-to-one. This shows that there is still plenty of appetite in Wales for more areas of responsibility to be devolved from Westminster to the Senedd. Two very obvious things are police and the justice system, which is supported by 57% with 29% against according to the rmg:Clarity poll produced last week for the Western Mail. Additionally, the poll I mentioned in this post found that 59% thought that decisions about welfare and benefits should be devolved to the Assembly, with only 23% thinking these decisions should continue to be made at Westminster.

We would be very unwise to ignore this, particularly because of the news today that massive cuts are going to be made in policing which will make the case for amalgamating smaller forces all the more urgent. Now would seem to be the perfect time to look at either an all-Wales police force, or some way of combining the administrative and technical functions of the four Welsh forces to make better use of money and resources. On top of this, the ConDem coalition is seeking to replace police authorities with elected commissioners against the wishes of the majority in Wales ... and are having great difficulty in finding a way of holding these commissioners accountable in Wales. One obvious solution is to devolve policing to Wales and let us decide how to make the police democratically accountable.

However it would be wrong to ignore that fact that the percentage in favour of the Welsh government having most influence over Wales has gone down, even if only slightly. I think the reason for this is an increased sense of dissatisfaction with the way Welsh governments have dealt with some crucial areas which are devolved to Wales. As we all know, some aspects of our education system are deteriorating ( ... although not all, because the Foundation Phase and Welsh Baccalaureate are likely to be great improvements). So are some aspects of our National Health Service. Wales has only ever known devolved government in which all or part of the policy agenda has been set by the Labour party, so it is inevitable that people should be asking whether the way some things are done in England is better than the way we have chosen to do them here. But the answer to that is for us not to blindly elect yet another Assembly in which Labour are the biggest party in May.

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Finally, we turn to the question about which governance model is right for Wales. In some ways this question is now out of date, since we have just given our approval to the Assembly getting primary lawmaking powers in the areas devolved to it. But the trend shown over the past few years is still very informative, with fewer of us wanting to abolish the Assembly and fewer of us wanting an Assembly with only limited lawmaking powers. Now that we are going to have primary lawmaking powers, I'd expect there to be a shift in expectations in next year's poll. Most people who want Wales to move forward will prefer to take one step at a time, rather than two.

So the next big question for us is whether the Assembly should have tax setting powers, especially because this always has been and still remains by far the most popular model. Yet in just the same way as Labour did all they could to avoid moving to an Assembly with lawmaking powers, by setting the requirement for what most people now see as an unnecessary referendum; they seem just as reluctant to stop us moving to an Assembly with tax setting powers. It seems clear from what people like Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones have said recently that Labour want to shy away from the responsibility of the Welsh Government being responsible for raising even a modest part of the £15bn it spends each year; and in my opinion, this is why they are so keen to insist on placing yet another obstacle in the way in the form of yet another referendum.

Now I agree with Carwyn Jones that our first priority should be to get a fair funding formula for Wales as a replacement for the Barnett formula. If he had shown any degree of foresight, he would have made sure that the Labour Government in Westminster replaced it when they were in power. Instead, Labour ridiculed us for making the missing £300m a central plank of Plaid Cymru's manifesto in 2010 ... only to have undergone a dramatic conversion now that Labour aren't in power. Leadership requires greater foresight than he or Rhodri Morgan before him have shown.

The Tories, now they are in charge at the Treasury, are doing exactly what Labour did when they were in charge. They are telling us that they think Wales is fairly funded, and that we have nothing to complain about. So we would be fools to expect any major change to the way the block grant is calculated. Instead, we would be wise to look at what is happening in Scotland, where the basic recommendation of the Calman Commission was to reduce the block grant, but make Scotland responsible for raising whatever it thinks it needs to make up for it by setting its own rate of income tax, together with responsibility for a few minor taxes.

With a few modifications (improvements, in my opinion) the Holtham Commission has recommended that the Welsh block grant should be similarly reduced and that the Welsh government should set a level of income tax to make up for it. It may not be perfect, but it is a practical and workable step in the right direction, because it is irresponsible for any government to simply spend money without accepting any responsibility for how that money is raised. It is clear to me that Westminster (whether the Tories or Labour are in power) is not going to reform the Barnett Formula without at the same time addressing how each of the devolved administrations in the UK can become responsible for raising at least some of the money they spend. And should Labour in Wales try to backtrack on this issue, it is worth reminding people that they were one of the parties that set up the Calman and Holtham Commissions. Why spend all that money on them only in order to ignore what they recommend?

There is no great issue of principle at stake that would require a referendum on tax setting powers. Every local council can set the rate of taxes or levy a precept. The Assembly already has responsibility for setting the multiplier that determines non-domestic rates for businesses. So tax setting powers for the National Assembly is an already overdue step, and something the people of Wales have the right to expect to see implemented.

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14 comments:

Gwilym ap Llew said...

You're right that there is "an increased sense of dissatisfaction with the way Welsh governments have dealt with some crucial areas which are devolved to Wales." Indeed the recent referendum reveals that dissatisfaction, where the majority of voters stayed at home.

Owen said...

The Welsh are becoming more comfortable with our own institutions. That's the trend I see and that's the most important thing and an important step forward for nationalists.

When the Assembly begins to pass more laws, a seperate legal juristiction will be unavoidable as a matter of process. It already exists to a certain extent as this BBC article illustrates.

MH said...

I see you're still trying to make out that the referendum was about something other than primary lawmaking powers. Haven't you been beating that dead horse for rather too long?

The time to register any dissatisfaction with the way this or previous Welsh governments have performed is in May. But the only way of making a difference is by voting for a party you think will do better, not by staying at home.

Anonymous said...

I think you're right MH.

The Labour government's record of running the Assembly is not good. The two departments which they have virtual complete control and leverage of Health and Education (unlike the Economy where the minister can't decide on taxation, interest rates, borrowing, inflation, quantative easing etc).

The record on Health and Education isn't a very good one. I acutally feel that Leighton Andrews is at least getting to grip with Education - it's a pity he wasn't there earlier.

Health - a totally wasteful reorganisation some 7 years ago. Education - pandering to the teaching unions who've then failed to deliver and/or too many 'inivitatives'. Too much talk of 'skills' (whatever that means) and not enough of facts. Whilst we're glad to see our kids can spell basic words, kids in English private schools are learning Shakespeare. We've got no chance.

Welsh Dad

Anonymous said...

In the third question, I think there should be an intermediate option between some tax raising powers and independence within the EU (something like "full lawmaking powers and full fiscal autonomy within the UK" - home rule with only defence and foreign policy etc at UK level). Given that many people seem scared of full independence, the absence of an intermediate option might skew the results in favour of the status quo.
Efrogwr.

Taffia Don said...

I voted yes to get rid of schedule 5, and would vote yes to get tax powers for the assembly. But I believe that since the referendum was about such an abbreviated subject that there should be a further referendum for tax powers - even though it is not strictly necessary.

Labour are the worst thing to happen to Wales, they continue to be the dominant political force her on the sole basis that they have done nothing. They portray themselves as the champions of the poor and under-privilidged yet in 100 years of labour representation, 12 years of a labour / predominatly labour government they have done nothing to improve Wales. Its time for a change.

MH said...

Now that we've made the big step to primary lawmaking powers, the "options" will I'm sure be refocused for future polls, Efrogwr.

Nobody really wants what we've just voted to get rid of. So the "Assembly with limited lawmaking powers only" and "No Assembly" groups will merge into one "No Assembly" group with maybe 25% support. For, let's face it, most of the people who just voted No probably wanted to get rid of the Assembly altogether.

I think taxation powers are inevitable. In the next year or two, the ConDem coalition will put forward a proposal either based on Holtham, or by setting up an "Ap Calman" ... and I'm sure it the core of that proposal will be a 50%-50% income tax split. Remember that Calman was supported by all three Unionist parties. So the options will be either an Assembly with limited taxation powers or one with extensive fiscal autonomy, called "Devolution Max" in Scotland, or a "Federal UK". If that option is put into the mix in Wales I guess we'd get these percentages:

Independence ... 10%
Federal UK with large degree of fiscal autonomy ... 15%
Assembly with same devolved areas as Scot/NI and some taxation powers ... 35%
Assembly with existing devolved areas and some taxation powers ... 15%
No Assembly ... 25%

Then the same pattern would be repeated over the next few years: with support for independence staying where it is or going down a little, support for the then status quo or recentralization of the UK gradually falling, and support for taking one or two steps forward growing. I think there's a general appetite in Wales to move forward, but people will always prefer to take it one or two steps at a time than jump the whole way in one go.

The question is which of these steps would requires would referendum. No doubt there will be some who want a referendum for every little step, primarily because they want to slow the process down, perhaps hoping that the EU will collapse or that another war will make us want to rely more on being part of the UK. I'm not against referendums in principle, but we should surely have learned that people on both side of a referendum question will try and make the referendum into something other than what it's actually about.

There's a very interesting piece here on Click on Wales, which mentioned that the original intention was for Wales to get an Assembly in 1997 without a referendum at all. I'm not sure I'd have agreed with that, but it does show that quite major changes could have been introduced by electoral mandate. Tax setting powers for the Assembly are quite minor compared with that.

Owen said...

IMHO the next referendum in Wales should be on a Government of Wales Act (201x) that includes:

- Devolution of Criminal Justice, Policing and Prisons with the creation of a seperate Welsh legal juristiction.
- Tax varying powers in line with those in the Scotland Bill
- Increased devolved powers in line with Scotland (i.e speed limits)
- A rise in the number of AM's to 80, perhaps with a change in the voting system to reflect changes at UK level (STV? Multi-member D'Hondt? AV for local constituencies?).

Of course not all of them strictly requires a referendum. Some of them could be devolved with little fuss in the same way criminal justice was to Northern Ireland. I imagine there will be a lot of resistance amongst Welsh MP's (especially Conservatives) to that, so it would probably be an Assembly-pushed agenda.

Now that there is solid support for a "Parliament", we need to let the new powers bed in, see where that goes for an Assembly term or two. Then we can see if we have support for a "Scottish-style Parliament". Scotland of course could already be independent by then or even further along the Devo-Max route.

I'm willing to bet that either devolution of Criminal Justice or tax-varying powers at least will be a red-line for Plaid in any possible One Wales Part II.

Taffia Don said...

Devolution of crimial justice and the creation of an independent legal system for wales would be the most logical next step for the Assembly and Wales.

I don't think that we should have such a jealous eye on what powers the scots have, we're trying to build our own identity political and legally for the first time in a millennium, there is no reason for us to take off tweed and put on tartan. We have to be mature and push for what is right for wales.

Can I ask a question and I would be very interested to know the answer (I asked peter black on his blog but he didn't tackle the issue) does anyone know what powers / responsibilities have to be devolved to have a parliament, or is it just a title that is awarded?

DaiTwp said...

"I'm willing to bet that either devolution of Criminal Justice or tax-varying powers at least will be a red-line for Plaid in any possible One Wales Part II."

I'm not so sure tax powers will be. Plaid ministers have already been saying that they would be against tax powers without the reform of Barnet. (I'm not saying I think their wrong or right by the way, just that it's more likely that any impetus for this will come from Westminster).

Devolution of Police and justice is more likely to be Plaids "next big thing" in any one Wales mk2 (is my guess). Along with the feasability of creating a Wales wide legal juristiction. (Which as Syniadau mentioned in a previous blog was supposed to be part of the present agreement although precious little seems to have been done or said about it since). Maybe Plaid will push this much harder this time.

As far as when to call a body a parliment rather than an assembly, I'm not aware of any hard and fast rule. I'm sure I remember some of the AMs (off all parties) discussing the possibility of changing the title (to Senedd rather than parliment) if there was a YES vote a couple of months ago. All seems a bit premature to me. The N. Ireland ASSEMBLY has much more power than our assembly so would seem a bit carried away to change the name yet even after the recent referendum.

Owen said...

You're probably right Dai Twp, but judging by some of the comments by the likes of Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, tax varying may be on the agenda whether Plaid, or the public at large, want it or not. Though in my opinion it should be our decision if we want it or not, whether it's via an Assembly vote or another referendum. It shouldn't be "forced" on us.

TaffiaDon - I don't think there's any rule as to when a legislature becomes a Parliament. The Assembly is now a stand-alone seperate legislature, with no deference to the UK Parliament on devolved matters and runs as a parliamentary system of government. As soon as the powers are transferred, the Assembly becomes a parliament in that respect.

I'm quite happy with the name "National Assembly" though, it's something different from the rest of the UK and it's already in the vernacular. "Senedd" is fine too, perhaps we can be represented by Seneddwyr instead of AM's. Unionists would be frothing at the mouth.

I don't think they should go about changing the name for the sake of it.

The only changes I'd want to see are "Welsh Assembly Government" replaced by "Welsh Government" or "Welsh Executive" and the Assembly becoming the National Assembly OF Wales not FOR Wales.

Anonymous said...

Dai Twp - It's a question of semantics, really, and the social construction of language. I remember Prof James Mitchell giving a guest lecture at Aberystwyth some years ago mentioning that some French people he'd met couldn't understand why Scotland had only been given a Parliament, but Wales had a National Assembly! As the French lower house and the Québecois legislature are both called 'L'Assemblée Nationale', it sounded much more prestigous for them.

However, problems could arrise in Welsh as I can't think of many suitable synonyms. Senedd coulde refer to the Westminster Parliament, the Assembly building (or the legislature itself), or a future reformed house of Lords. Similarly, 'Senedd Gogledd Iwerddon' could have referred to the Northern Ireland Parliament (1922-72) or its upper house; with calls for a second, revising chamber to be added from some quarters, such a confusion may arise. 'Cyngres' or 'Cynulliad' are alternatives. Words, of course, are not static, and take on the meanings we attribute to them.

Anonymous said...

On the name of the institution in Welsh: I don't see a problem with Senedd Cymru (the Welsh Parliament/Parliament of Wales) and Senedd y Deyrnas Unedig (the UK Parliament). The historian John Davies advocated the name "Cymanfa" back in '99, if I remember correctly.
In any case, National Assembly/Y Cynulliad Cenedlaethol has always seemed more prestigous to me as well, on the French model. I was amazed Labour agreed to this name back in '99.
On National Assembly OF or FOR Wales, I take it that the sensitivity is that Labour does not want any suggestion that anything springs from the Welsh people as a separate nation/Wales as a separate political entity with its own claims on people in Wales, rather than just a geographical expression?? For the same reason we have some institutions called the "Wales" this or that, rather than "Welsh". Rhodri Morgan's naming of the WAG was very politically incorrect from this perspective. These debates on naming go back to the 1970s referendum campaing at least and are discussed briefly in Foulkes/Jones (ed), The Welsh Veto (1983).
Efrogwr

MH said...

I'm sorry that your comment at 18:33 on 8 March has only just appeared, Owen. It had been caught in the spam filter.

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