Wales devolution: Is Anglesey connected to the assembly?

By David Deans
BBC News

  • Published
Elin's Tower, Holy Island
Image caption,
Elin's Tower, Holy Island

Twenty years ago the people of Anglesey and the rest of Wales went to the polls to decide whether they should be governed from Wales or Westminster.

Voters delivered a night of drama - a tight win for devolution that was not settled until the final declaration - but it was Ynys Mon that delivered the result closest to the overall Welsh total.

The island voted 50.9% to 49.1% for yes, compared to 50.3% to 49.7% for Wales as a whole - a 0.6% difference.

Now, in 2017, some on the island say that while devolution has been accepted the sense of distance from Cardiff remains a problem yet to be resolved.

For one Yes campaigner, John Wynne Jones of Beaumaris, the drama of the early hours of 19 September had been all too much, and before the last result he switched the TV off.

"I didn't want to see it," the Plaid Cymru activist said.

The BBC English-language results programme's computer had been forecasting that Wales would reject the assembly.

"I was so depressed," Mr Jones said.

That changed to jubilation after he got a phone call, alerting him to what was going on in Carmarthenshire - the result that tipped it for Yes.

Mr Jones has kept his diary from the 18 September, referendum day. "One of the best days in my life", he wrote in capital letters.

Some campaigners had expected more of a swing to Yes on Anglesey - more than the 15,649 who ultimately backed devolution there.

John Chorlton, who was leader of the Labour group on the county council at the time, was quoted in the press that he thought the county's result would have been more "decisive", "taking into account its strong Welsh culture and tradition".

Twenty years on, what are attitudes like now to devolution?

"I think on the island there is now an acceptance about having the assembly as a permanent thing," Mr Jones said.

"But there's a very large number of people, including Plaid Cymru people, who feel that north Wales is being forgotten."

He said he has been "seriously shocked", when out canvassing, by the "negative feeling towards Cardiff and the assembly, because it was so Cardiff-centric".

Image caption,
John Wynne Jones said he didn't think the current Welsh Government had "much ambition"

That is not an argument Mr Jones has much truck with, making the case for resources to go where most of the population is located, although he says he thinks the present Welsh Government "doesn't have much ambition".

One of the tangible differences on the island made by a decision down in Cardiff is the air link - the subsidised passenger flights which cut journey times by several hours, which Ynys Mon MP Albert Owen said he had pushed for.

Mr Owen, who had also campaigned on Anglesey for Yes in 1997, said he wasn't surprised by how tight the result was there.

"Plaid were blinded... by the nationalist fervour of it," he said.

"Most people weren't - they were basically saying we've got a lot in common with Manchester, Liverpool, and we have very little in common with Cardiff, and that remains today."

Has devolution delivered enough for Ynys Mon? "Probably not," said Mr Owen. "But the expectations are too high.

"If you look at Parliament, it took hundreds of years to develop, where we are only talking 20 years. In the scale of history that's nothing."

Mr Owen said there was still some way to go to "convince people in north Wales that the assembly is for the whole of Wales, and that will take time".

He suggested the assembly could be brought to north Wales to meet for a couple of times a year.

"I do think there's a greater sense now of transport in the north getting back on the agenda, which is what we need," he said.

But if there was a referendum tomorrow the MP said he did not think the assembly would be "done away with" - "and that says a lot."

There are people who have jobs that can be directly linked to devolution.

Communities First was a flagship Welsh Government anti-poverty strategy that funded a series of groups across Wales, but is now being wound down.

Alun Roberts works for the group that received the cash in Anglesey - Mon Communities Forward - although it has diversified and is raising funds from other sources.

He voted Yes in 1997 because he felt "it was important that as a nation we took a bit more control over what happened in our country".

"One thing I've seen personally is that I've had quite a lot of interactions with key persons in Welsh Government, be it officials or the politicians themselves," he said, saying he felt "connected to the decision making process".

But has devolution shaped everyone's life on Anglesey? "No," he said.

"If you stood out in the street today and stopped most local people and asked them what difference devolution has made to them personally, they would struggle."

But he said that was fine, as long as the Welsh Government was meeting people's needs.

"When you've got people living on the breadline, below the breadline, they don't care who is running the country," he said.

Image caption,
Peter Rogers voted No in 1997 and has not changed his views

One of the 15,095 people on Anglesey who voted No was Peter Rogers. Now an independent councillor, he served as a Conservative AM in the first term of the assembly.

The farmer, from near Brynsiencyn, has not changed his views. "I couldn't see any sense in having a government that was going to be based in Cardiff," he said.

He said he was lucky to have had the chance to have been an AM, when he focused on the foot and mouth crisis, but he said Anglesey had been "forgotten".

"To be living in a lovely rural area, and to have deprivation - I've got villages here who are in the third generation of living off benefits," he said.

Would Anglesey be better off being ruled by London? "Gosh, yeah," he said.

"It's too far," he said of Cardiff. "You can be in London far easier."

That did not appear to be a view shared by Clare Price, who runs Clare's Shoes on Market Street in Holyhead - an area that had a revamp thanks in part to a Welsh Government project, allowing people to park outside the shops.

"In many ways it's been a good thing," Ms Price says of devolution.

"I don't understand enough about it all, if I'm honest, but when you look at some of the benefits, the Welsh Government were the ones that helped us open the street up," she said, also pointing to the introduction of free prescriptions.

But she also complained that a lot of "funding and jobs" was going to south Wales and Cardiff.

"We are lacking in jobs," she said. "The opportunities aren't here for the young."

Image caption,
Anwen McCann said people should be "realistic"

Another Market Street trader, Anwen McCann, of Gwynfair Antiques, said she had backed devolution in 1997.

"I can't see it has done us any harm.

"It probably has done us a little bit of good," she added, praising free prescriptions as something she had benefitted from.

She said people should be "realistic" about resources going to "bigger areas" of population in south Wales.

"There's more population down there," she said.