Monday, 18 September 2017

Twenty years on from the referendum vote for a Welsh Assembly: my recollections

My article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian looks back at the referendum vote for a Welsh Assembly, which took place on 18th September 1997. I was fortunate to actually be in Cardiff and here are my recollections.

Twenty years ago this week, the people of Wales backed the creation of their National Assembly in a referendum.

It was a momentous vote. It secured national government for Wales and, over the last two decades, the Assembly has grown massively in stature and authority, achieving some law-making powers, control over a range of taxes, and it is soon to be renamed as a Parliament.

The significance of the vote was such that the present First Minister of Wales has even questioned whether Wales would have been able to call itself a nation if it had rejected devolution two decades ago.

And yet, it could have been so very different. The ballot was extremely close with 50.3% of voters backing devolution.

The votes were counted in 22 different council areas and, as the results were announced during the night of the 18th and 19th September, the NO camp built up a lead in the popular vote.

But that all changed when the final result came through from Carmarthenshire. There was a massive YES vote in the county, which tipped the result in favour of devolution. The overall majority across Wales was just 6,721 votes.

I have wonderful memories of this particular night, because I was in the Welsh capital for a Channel 4 programme about the outcome of the referendum, which was broadcast from Cardiff Castle.

For me, it was the first time that I had been invited to take part in a live television debate, but it did not work out as I had anticipated. I was there to comment on the implications of a YES vote for the rest of the United Kingdom but, as it was looking like a NO vote, they did not bother to use me. The programme then ended, ridiculously, before the last regional results were announced and the final outcome known.

At that time, it would be accurate to say that I was less than happy to have travelled all the way to Wales and not even participated in the debate.

But Channel 4 had booked me a room at the Park Hotel, where the YES camp was based and had planned their celebratory party.

When I got there, the mood was dark and sombre, as the campaigners – many of whom had dedicated their lives to the goal of greater self-government for Wales – feared their dream of devolution would not be realised.

I was present when the final result came in, along with a few others from Cornwall, complete with flags of St Piran. I will never forget the raw emotion of that night, the explosion of sheer joy when everyone realised that they had indeed won the vote, and I am grateful that I was able to be there. Thank you Channel 4 for my night in Cardiff.

The campaign for Welsh devolution continues to be an inspiration for me. I just hope that we can replicate their success here in Cornwall.

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