Wales gives narrow approval to home rule
Cliffhanger victory for assembly
September 19, 1997
Web posted at: 12:03 a.m. EST (0503 GMT)
CARDIFF, Wales (CNN) -- In a cliffhanger ballot not decided
until the very last district reported, the voters of Wales
have apparently approved a plan to set up their own governing
With more than 1.1 million votes cast in a referendum
Thursday, the margin between yes and no was a razor-thin
As reporting of returns progressed throughout the evening and
into the early hours of Friday morning, the yes vote had
trailed the no vote. At one point, the British Broadcasting
Corporation even projected that the proposal for limited home
rule -- into which new Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair had
invested much political capital -- had been defeated.
But in a dramatic finish, when the last of the 22 districts
reported, the outcome tipped the other way.
However, Welsh voters were apparently not that excited by the
prospect of creating their first independent legislative body
in nearly six centuries. The BBC was reporting that the
overall turnout was just 51 percent, compared to nearly 74
percent of Welsh voters who turned out in May's general
In contrast, 62 percent of Scottish voters turned out last
week to give an enthusiastic thumbs up to a separate
parliament with tax-raising powers.
Still, Blair hailed the victory.
"I am very pleased that the people of Wales have said yes,"
Blair said. "We were elected on a pledge to modernize our
constitution, and, thanks to the people of Wales and
Scotland, we have taken two big steps along that road."
The opposition Conservative Party, which opposed the home
rule measures for both Scotland and Wales, took some comfort
from the closeness of the vote in Wales.
"It is not an endorsement whatsoever of that major
constitutional change. [The Blair government] should think
very carefully indeed," said lawmaker Nigel Evans, the
Conservatives' spokesman on Welsh issues.
Voters were asked to approve a proposal for a 60-member Welsh
Assembly, which would open in 2000 in Cardiff. It would be
less powerful than the Scottish parliament, with no authority
to raise taxes.
The assembly would only decide budget matters related to
education, health and transportation in Wales, which is
located to the west of England. All other matters would still
be decided by the central parliament in London, in which
Wales would retain its 40 representatives.
The Welsh Assembly would not be able to overturn legislation
passed by the London parliament.
Blair championed 'devolution'
Blair made decentralization of government, or "devolution" as
it's known in Britain, a centerpiece of the last election
campaign. Separate assemblies in Scotland and Wales were the
first steps along that road.
The Labor government was joined in the campaign for a yes
vote by Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party that
supports eventual independence from the United Kingdom.
The Conservatives, who lost all of their seats in Wales
during their stunning defeat in the general election, were
the only major party to campaign against the assembly.
Opponents of the assembly believe that it could lead to
demands for independence and the eventual breakup of the
United Kingdom, which consists of England, Wales, Scotland
and Northern Ireland.
While Wales is officially bilingual, only about 20 percent of
the population of 2.9 million can speak the Welsh language.
Most of those are in northern Wales, where nationalist
support is strongest.
The more populous and more English-oriented south, which
includes the capital, Cardiff, was less receptive to the idea
of devolution. About 56 percent of the voters in the capital
Wales came under England's control in 1404 and was formally
integrated by a parliamentary Act of Union in the 16th
century. Unlike Scotland, the legal and educational systems
of Wales are intertwined with those of England.
Correspondent Richard Blystone and Reuters contributed to this report.