Wales

Welsh referendum analysis: Wales 'united in clear vote'

Welsh assembly
Image caption Direct law-making power passes to the assembly after the Yes vote

Professor Roger Scully, of the Institute of Welsh Politics, Aberystwyth University offers an analysis of the Yes vote in the Welsh assembly referendum on direct law-making powers, and what it means.

The votes are now counted; the decision has been made. Wales has voted Yes. But what does a closer look at the final figures tell us about the 2011 Welsh referendum?

One obvious number to stand out is that for turnout. Only 35.2% of registered voters took part. While this was not quite as low as some had feared, it is still much lower than the 50.1% who took part in the 1997 devolution referendum and the 58.8% in 1979.

While voter turnouts have generally been falling across the democratic world, and participation in referendums tends to be lower than in elections, this is still a low figure - below the 47.7% who took part in the north east England devolution referendum of 2004, although slightly better at least than the 34.1% turnout for the 1998 referendum on creating a London mayor.

Whatever the reasons for this low turnout, it can hardly be something to celebrate.

Turnouts did differ to some degree across Wales. The highest figure was in Carmarthenshire, at 44.0%; the lowest was Wrexham, at 26.8%.

But there was no obvious relationship between turnout and which way people voted: areas with higher Yes votes did not necessarily turn out in greater numbers.

Clear verdict

The six areas with the highest turnout figures included some of those with notably strong Yes votes - particularly Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire - but also some of those with among the weakest Yes majorities - Powys and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Among those voting, the verdict was clear. In 1997, Wales divided down the middle on devolution, with 50.3% saying Yes and 49.7% No. Eleven areas produced a Yes majority, eleven voted No.

In 2011, there was no such division: 21 voted Yes, helping to produce the overall Yes figure of 63.5%. And even the single area that voted No - Monmouthshire - did so by only the wafer-thin margin of 320 votes, compared with 1997 when the No majority was one of almost 12,000 votes.

There were variations in the Yes vote, from 76.0% in Gwynedd to 49.4% in Monmouthshire. However, it is notable that the differences in voting behaviour in 2011 are of a significantly lesser extent than in 1997.

Then, the difference between the highest Yes vote share (66.6% in Neath Port Talbot) and the lowest (32.1% in Monmouth) was 34.5%; this time around the gap was 26.6%.

This is in line with opinion surveys in recent years, which have also found a tendency for attitudes to devolution to have become more homogenous across Wales. Opinions are certainly not uniform across Wales.

But the extent of our regional differences has reduced to some degree. And in general there was far less of an geographical split in the results than was the case in 1997. Not only was the overall result of the 2011 referendum a clear one; it was one on which Wales was very much united.

Across the north, south, east and west, Wales in 2011 said Yes.