Welsh assembly referendum: 'Dr No' now says Yes

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Senedd building from the air
Image caption,
Voters decide whether to increase the assembly's law-making powers on Thursday

Dr Tim Williams, who campaigned against devolution for Wales in the last referendum explains why he has now changed his view, and will be supporting a Yes vote in this Thursday's referendum. The opposing view can be seen in a separate article by Nigel Dix, of True Wales.

I was one of the leaders of the anti-devolution campaign in 1997. Indeed, at one point I was characterised as "Dr No". I believe the Labour Party did some research afterwards showing that I had played a role, as a Labour Party member myself, in persuading a number of Labour voters to vote No.

In this referendum I am supporting a Yes vote. I will explain why.

Whatever one's view in 1997, the issue now is in ensuring Wales has a system of governance in which its problems can be addressed and solved.

It seems to me that as the status quo ante 1997 cannot be restored and the current settlement does not give Wales the tools it needs to transform the country, the only serious option is to acquire those tools and powers. We have to go forward to a more self-governing Wales

Those who opt for the status quo or even hanker for an impossible return to the world before 1997 need to understand this.

England, which is struggling to sort out the problems of its own communities outside the south east, has lost the habit of governing the UK well. It has very little interest now in Wales or much understanding of or sympathy for its challenges. This isn't a party political matter.

This is just about the gravitational pull on Westminster and Whitehall of the dominant English element within the polity and the relative importance accorded to it by increasingly anglo-centric political parties and civil servants east of Offa's Dyke.

Yes, much of this was brought about by the 1997 vote but the issue here is not history but our nation's future. That increasingly will lie in Welsh hands whether or not there is a Yes vote in this referendum. The need in those circumstances is to ensure those who care about and are accountable to the Welsh people have sufficient powers to deal with the country's challenging problems.

I write this not just as a former leader of the No campaign but also someone who has worked as a special or policy advisor to five ministers in the last Labour government.

In their bones English ministers now simply do not think of Wales when framing laws and policy interventions. Someone needs to. That would be us, then.

I say this without delusion or a lack of realism. The experience of the first decade or so of devolution has been less exciting than many of its advocates had expected.

But the greatest achievement has perhaps been under-estimated. That has been to show that in a very basic and big picture way the Welsh could run their own show. The challenge now is to go from demonstrating capacity to really breaking through - to the game-changing interventions which will lift Wales out of its current struggling economic trajectory.

We are a poor nation getting poorer and the main task of a post referendum Wales is to focus determination, policy and resources on reversing that trend, decisively.

I believe that England will be focused for the next decade ahead - at the very least - on sorting out its own problems in the wake of the global financial crisis.

So we have to find more of our own solutions within Wales - and many of them will involve hard choices and sacrifices - around welfare reform and making our communities less dependent, making Wales a welcoming place for private enterprise and around the educational revolution which as someone working as a consultant, internationally, I see as patently required to make Wales competitive again.

A Welsh democracy with the powers it needs can make those choices with more legitimacy and, I think, effect than anyone else.

To those who like me said No last time, I urge them to vote Yes this time. My aim remains the same as it always was and in this I think I share the feelings of many. We wanted then, and want now, effective government for the Welsh people. We haven't changed. The realities have.

I know in saying this I will be criticised by those who thought me a traitor in 1997 and those who think I am a traitor now. I have always ploughed my own furrow and do so now. I care passionately about Wales and have always done so. This has led me to my current position.

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