Wales votes in favour of greater law-making powers

Welsh Assembly will no longer need ratification from Westminster -- but what will this mean in pract

The Welsh Assembly will gain greater legislative control, after the country overwhelmingly voted "yes" in a referendum on direct law-making powers.

21 out of 22 Welsh counties voted in favour of the Assembly having power to pass laws without needing the green light from Westminster.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said that this would make the process more efficient and effective. He said:

To demand respect, you must first display self respect. Today we have done just that, and the rest of the world can now sit up and take notice of the fact that our small nation, here on the western edge of the continent of Europe, has demonstrated pride in who we are, and what we all stand for.

Some have raised concerns about the low turnout - just 35.4 per cent. However, 63.5 per cent of those votes were in favour, making this a more resounding victory than the 50.3 per cent on which the Assembly was established in 1997.

The "yes" result is being hailed as a positive across the board, with Labour MP Paul Murphy describing it as a "ringing endorsement of devolution". However, over at Left Foot Forward, Ed Jacobs flags up an ICM/BBC poll which showed that 48 per cent of voters in Wales felt they didn't have sufficient information to make a proper choice in the referendum. He warns:

Whilst the Assembly will now get the full law making powers enjoyed by Holyrood and Stormont, the low turnout and lack of understanding over the issue should spur those at Cardiff Bay to prove why it was worth giving them the powers to legislate without needing Westminster's permission.

Taking away the need for ratification from Westminster should streamline the system -- it currently costs in the region of £2m each year for laws to be okayed. As Jones said, it will also make it easier for politicians to speak in terms of what they will do, rather than what they will do once they have permission. What remains to be seen whether it is used to make a practical difference to the lives of Welsh citizens, or as Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain suggested it might, to "stand up to the Tory-led Government in Westminster".

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.