As always, we have to wait a few days before the full details of the BBC St David's Day poll are published on the ICM website; but they're now available here. This is the BBC's report from last week:
I thought it would be good to look at the broad trend on devolution arrangements over the past few years. Click the year for access to the relevant poll.
2016 2015 2014 Independence 6% 6% 5% More Powers 43% 40% 37% Same Powers 30% 33% 28% Fewer powers 3% 4% 3% Abolish Assembly 13% 13% 23%
The percentage wanting independence has stayed about the same, and I would only repeat the point that one reason why it is so low is because of the unnecessary addition of the word "separation" to the question. Wording does matter, as the next paragraph will show.
There has been a marked decrease in the percentage wanting to see the Assembly abolished. Whether this represents a change of sentiment is debatable. Up to and including 2014, the exact working of the option was: "Wales should remain part of the UK and the Assembly should be abolished", with this being the only option to include "remain part of the UK". Since 2015 the wording of the option has been: "The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster". The change of wording is probably responsible for most of the decrease in those choosing this option, though not all of it, for the percentage wanting the Assembly to have more powers has steadily risen by some 3% each year.
For me, it would have been good to ask a question about which additional powers people wanted the Assembly to have; but the only specific question was about income tax (54% wanted Cardiff to control some income tax, with 42% against). There was, however, one question asked which wasn't featured in the BBC reports. As well as asking people whether they thought the Welsh health service was run by Cardiff or Westminster, the poll asked the same question about the welfare and benefits system. 50% thought it was run by Cardiff, with 45% thinking it was run by Westminster.
I have commented before on the high, perhaps surprisingly high, percentage in Wales that want to see control of this devolved to Cardiff. One poll showed that 59% of people thought decisions about welfare and benefits should be devolved to the Assembly, with only 23% thinking these decisions should continue to be made at Westminster. This, combined with the fact that half the people in Wales think it is already devolved, means that the subject should be very much higher up the political agenda than it currently is. If the 50% which thought it was already devolved had been made aware that it wasn't, then it would surely have increased the percentage who think the Assembly should have more powers than it has at present.
In the recent discussions over the draft Wales Bill, one recurring theme voiced by both politicians and experts has been the desire for Wales to get a stable, long-lasting constitutional settlement ... particularly in view of the fact that none of the previous settlements has lasted for more than a few years. Frankly, I don't hold out any hope of this happening.
The only possible way of creating a stable settlement would be to devolve such a comprehensive package to Wales that only a small minority (say less than a quarter) would want more. It would put any talk of further devolution off the table for maybe the next twenty years. Stability would be bolstered if our devolution settlement were to be linked to that of Scotland and the Six Counties, because that would make devolution more monolithic across the UK and therefore harder to change.
But, bless 'em, the current crop of politicians in the governments of both Cardiff and London don't think in such terms. They are primarily concerned with what suits their immediate political agenda. In broad-brush terms, this is where each of the parties stands.
For the Tories, the only thing that they really want to see devolved is tax setting powers. They have always been a party of low taxes and low spending on public services. Therefore, so long as the Welsh Government is only able to make spending decisions rather than decide how much money to spend, the Tories will always be at an electoral disadvantage. The reason they now intend to give Wales tax setting powers without a referendum is because they realize that Labour in Wales wouldn't support a Yes vote in such a referendum any time soon ... and who can blame Labour for this? Why would they want to give away their main electoral advantage to the Tories?
For Labour, devolution of more powers to Wales is more nuanced. On the one hand, they want to be in charge of more areas so that they can pursue their policy agenda in those areas in an unbroken way. At present, they can't do that in non-devolved areas when the Tories are in power in Westminster. But, on the other hand, they need to have enough policy areas reserved to Westminster for them to be able to blame the Tories in London for what is wrong in Wales.
The LibDems are more principled about wanting equality of devolution, but have dropped to such a low level of support that it hardly matters.
Plaid Cymru will say that they want everything to be devolved, although it's hard to be sure if they mean it, particularly when it comes to how things will be paid for. It's easy, for example, to be in favour of new nuclear power stations if either tax- or bill-payers across the UK are the ones subsidizing or underwriting the investment. But if these things had to be paid for only by Welsh tax- and bill-payers, they would have no choice but to pursue a less expensive, more cost effective energy policy.
I pragmatic terms, what matters is what governments in Westminster choose to give Wales rather than what the people of Wales want ... which means either Labour or the Tories. As one example, as things stand at present, the Tories are unwilling to give Wales control over policing, but Labour want policing to be devolved. This simply means that if policing is not devolved in this Wales Bill, there will be a new Wales Bill devolving policing when Labour are next in power in Westminster. This pattern will continue, requiring a new Wales Bill at every change of government.
I would say that it has now become an ingrained into our way of thinking to expect this, and it will keep the constitutional question on the agenda despite Labour and the Tories saying they wish it would go away.
Update - 15:22, 7 March 2016
Right on cue, there has been a very significant development today. The Welsh Government has published its own version of a draft Wales Bill. It's clever, in that it introduces the concept of "deferred" areas of devolution – areas that will not be devolved to Wales immediately, but will be devolved by 2026. The best document to read is the Explanatory Summary. The full draft bill is here.