The recommendation now from the Welsh Assembly Government is to have the referendum about the Assembly’s powers in March 2011. A yes vote in the Assembly will be a really important step forward for Wales, and one that I hope that voters in this area will support.
But I think we need to know what a yes vote will mean, and clear up a few myths. First of all, a yes vote is not about tax-raising powers. The Assembly cannot raise tax and it will not be able to after the referendum whatever the result. Secondly, it is not about more politicians. There will still be sixty members of the Assembly as at present. Thirdly, it is not about independence. In non-devolved areas like defence, social security and police, laws will continue to be made at UK level. Wales will still be an integral part of the UK.
So what difference will a yes vote make? It’s about streamlining and efficiency. At the moment, the Assembly can make laws in the areas it is responsible for, like health and education, but it is a two stage process – first the Welsh Assembly Government has to ask Westminster for the powers, and then, they can then go on to use them.
And even though we in Westminster have supported the requests for powers put forward by the Assembly, this two-tier process has been slow. A yes vote in the referendum would mean that we could speed things up and cut out duplication of effort and save money. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, they can simply get on with it without asking Westminster’s permission whilst Wales has this rather laborious process.
So when the referendum comes I will be asking you to join me in voting for a system of making laws for Wales that is faster, cheaper and more democratic.