- September 22, 2017
- Posted by: Lesley Griffiths AM
- Category: Latest News
Twenty years ago this week, the people of Wales voted to create a National Assembly for Wales.
In spite of the narrow endorsement of 50.3% of the vote, over the past two decades attitudes have shifted and the National Assembly is now an established institution.
Nobody helped champion the Assembly more in its infancy than the late, great Rhodri Morgan. Welsh Labour’s father figure ensured devolution worked for the people, with his passion and personality allowing the concept to develop and mature.
I certainly believe Wales is a stronger, more confident country thanks to devolution. People have more of a say in the services they receive and it has given our nation a voice and a degree of control that did not previously exist.
In celebrating its twentieth anniversary, it is right to reflect on some of the National Assembly’s achievements – free prescriptions for all, free breakfasts for primary school children and free travel for older citizens. Wales led the way in becoming the first country in the UK to introduce a carrier bag charge, to ban smoking in public places and to launch a system of deemed consent for organ donation. Another important milestone will be reached next year when we see the introduction of the first Welsh tax in almost 800 years.
This also highlights an important point that devolution as a concept and process is still evolving. Whilst the National Assembly’s profile has strengthened, more needs to be done. There are testing times on the horizon, particularly in the form of Brexit, and there can be little doubt that continued cuts to the Welsh budget by successive UK Tory Governments, driving forward their austerity agenda, has made the Welsh Government’s task more challenging.
The notion of a North/South divide is a difficult perception to counteract but I firmly believe the level of investment experienced in Wrexham and the surrounding areas is greater than if we’d have voted ‘no’ in 1997. For example, I remain unconvinced a Wales Development Bank, town centre business hub and North East Wales Metro would have been instigated in Wrexham without a National Assembly for Wales.
Support for devolution has developed significantly in 20 years and the next 20 years promise to be just as eventful.