Welsh devolution referendum, 1997

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Welsh devolution referendum, 1997
Do you agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly as proposed by the Government?
Location Wales Wales
Date 18 September 1997
Votes  %
Yes 559,419 50.30%
No 552,698 49.70%
Valid votes 1,112,117 99.64%
Invalid or blank votes 3,999 0.36%
Total votes 1,116,116 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 2,222,533 50.22%
Results by unitary authorities
Welsh devolution referendum, 1997.svg
  Yes —   No
Saturation of colour reflects the strength of the vote.

The Welsh devolution referendum of 1997 was a pre-legislative referendum held in Wales on 18 September 1997 over whether there was support for the creation of an assembly for Wales with devolved powers. The referendum was a Labour manifesto commitment and was held in their first term after the 1997 election under the provisions of the Referendums (Scotland & Wales) Act 1997. Unlike the referendum in Scotland a week earlier, there was no proposal for the assembly to have tax-varying powers. This was the second referendum held in Wales over the question of devolution, the first was held in 1979 and was defeated by a large majority.

The referendum resulted in a small majority in favour, which led to the passing Government of Wales Act 1998 and the formation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999.


A referendum was held in 1979 (with a parallel referendum in Scotland) proposing the creation of a Welsh Assembly, under James Callaghan's Labour government. The referendum stipulated that a Welsh Assembly would be created if supported by 50% of votes cast and 40% of the total electorate. The Scottish referendum achieved the first condition but not the second, while the Welsh referendum was defeated by almost a 4:1 majority. Indeed, although the Labour Party had committed itself to devolution in 1974 (following the advice of the Royal Commission on the Constitution) several Welsh Labour MPs (including Neil Kinnock) were very much opposed.

The 1979 referendum had been such a resounding defeat that it killed off any prospects of devolution in Wales for a generation. The almost wholly anti-devolution Conservative Party won the 1979 general election (though they only won 11 out of 36 seats in Wales[1]) and remained in power until 1997. Over this time, the Conservative government became increasingly unpopular in Wales. The Conservatives mostly appointed English-born MPs representing English constituencies to the post of Secretary of State for Wales, including William Hague and John Redwood (who famously attempted to mime the words to the Welsh national anthem at the 1993 Welsh Conservative Party conference[2]).

A commitment to the creation of a Welsh Assembly with executive powers was again put into the Labour Party's manifesto for the 1992 general election.[3] The Labour party shaped its policy of a Welsh Assembly under the guidance of Shadow Welsh Secretary Ron Davies and Welsh Office spokesmen Win Griffiths and Rhodri Morgan. In March 1996, Ron Davies signed an agreement with Alex Carlile, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, which committed both parties to support a Yes vote in a Welsh devolution referendum in the event of a Labour victory in the 1997 general election. The agreement was made in the context of a potential Lib-Lab pact should Labour not win an overall majority.

There was no inter-party Constitutional Convention in Wales to define devolution as there had been in Scotland. Labour's initial proposal to elect a Welsh Assembly using the traditional first-past-the-post system was reversed in late 1996 in favour of the Additional Member System. This change was vital in order to gain the support of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the event of a referendum.

Referendum question[edit]

Unusually for a referendum just as in the 1997 Scottish devolution referendum the electorate was asked to vote on two statements rather than a question which corresponded to the following proposal. The statements were issued both in English and Welsh.

Parliament has decided to consult people in Wales on the Government's proposals for a Welsh Assembly:
Mae'r Senedd wedi penderfynu ymgynghori pobl yng Nghymru ar gynigion y Llywodraeth ar gyfer Cynulliad i Gymru:

I agree there should be a Welsh Assembly
Yr wyf yn cytuno dylid cael Cynullied I Gymru


I do not agree there should be a Welsh Assembly
Nid wyf yn cytuno dylid cael Cynullied I Gymru

(To be marked by a single (X))


The official Yes campaign, Yes for Wales, was supported by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, though they also ran their own individual campaigns.[4] Labour anti-devolutionary MPs (including Llew Smith, among others[5]) were subject to a tight parliamentary whip to ensure that the Labour Party was seen to be publicly behind the campaign. Yes for Wales placed a large emphasis on grassroots involvement in the campaign, with sectoral groups such as "Pensioners say Yes", and local branches throughout Wales.[6]

Prominent campaigners for a Yes vote included Labour politicians Leighton Andrews, Ron Davies, Alun Michael, Rhodri Morgan, Andrew Davies, Peter Hain, Hywel Francis, Edwina Hart and Val Feld; Liberal Democrat politicians Michael German, Jenny Randerson, Kirsty Williams and Peter Black; Plaid Cymru politicians Dafydd Wigley, Cynog Dafis and Leanne Wood; and academic Russell Deacon.

The official No campaign, Just Say NO, was chaired by Nick Bourne, then the Conservatives' "Chief Spokesman in Wales". The No campaign lacked the structure and finance of the Yes campaign, and suffered from the fact that the Conservative defeat in the 1997 election meant there were no Conservative MPs (and therefore no MPs supporting the No campaign) in Wales. Additionally, the No campaign in 1997 did not have the support of local authorities; the fact that the Conservatives had reduced layers of local government from two to one in 1994 meant that this was not an issue as it had been in 1979.

A map showing the strength of the 'No' votes cast in the referendum by unitary authority.
  30.1–39.9% of vote
  40.1–49.9% of vote
  50.1–59.9% of vote
  60.1%+ of vote


Welsh devolution referendum, 1997
Choice Votes  %
Referendum passed I agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly
Yr wyf yn cytuno dylid cael Cynullied I Gymru
559,419 50.30
I do not agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly
Nid wyf yn cytuno dylid cael Cynullied I Gymru
552,698 49.70
Valid votes 1,112,117 99.50
Invalid or blank votes 3,999 0.36
Total votes 1,116,116 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 2,222,533 50.22

The overall result was declared in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. The proceeding officer was Professor Eric Sunderland. The results of all 22 local authority areas were announced individually, and the result was close enough that everything in fact hung on the announcement from Carmarthenshire, which carried the 'Yes' vote.[7] The difference between the 'yes' and 'no' vote was 6,721.

Agree :
559,419 (50.3%)
Disagree :
552,698 (49.7%)

Results by unitary authority[edit]

Council Area Turnout Votes Proportion of votes
Agree Disagree Agree Disagree
Anglesey 56.9% 15,649 15,095 50.9% 49.1%
Blaenau Gwent 49.3% 15,237 11,928 56.1% 43.9%
Bridgend 50.6% 27,632 23,172 54.4% 45.6%
Caerphilly 49.3% 34,830 28,841 55.7% 44.3%
Cardiff 46.9% 47,527 59,589 44.4% 55.6%
Carmarthenshire 56.4% 49,115 26,119 65.5% 34.5%
Ceredigion 56.8% 18,304 12,614 59.2% 40.8%
Conwy 51.5% 18,369 26,521 40.9% 59.1%
Denbighshire 49.7% 14,271 20,732 40.5% 59.5%
Flintshire 41.0% 17,746 28,707 38.2% 62.8%
Gwynedd 59.8% 35,425 19,859 64.1% 35.9%
Merthyr Tydfil 49.5% 12,707 9,121 58.2% 41.8%
Monmouthshire 50.5% 10,592 22,403 32.1% 67.9%
Neath Port Talbot 51.9% 36,730 18,463 66.5% 33.5%
Newport 45.9% 16,172 27,017 37.5% 62.5%
Pembrokeshire 52.6% 19,979 26,712 42.8% 57.2%
Powys 56.2% 23,038 30,966 42.7% 57.3%
Rhondda Cynon Taff 49.9% 51,201 36,362 58.5% 41.5%
Swansea 47.1% 42,789 39,561 53.0% 47.0%
Torfaen 45.5% 15,756 15,854 49.8% 50.2%
Vale of Glamorgan 54.3% 17,776 30,613 35.5% 64.5%
Wrexham 42.4% 18,574 22,449 44.3% 55.7%

See also[edit]


External links[edit]