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Welsh devolution referendum, 1997

Welsh devolution referendum, 1997
Question: Do you agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly as proposed by the Government?
Votes Of total
Yes 559,419 50.3%
No 552,698 49.7%
Valid votes 1,112,117 99.64%
Invalid or blank votes 3,999 0.36%
Total votes 1,116,116 100.00%
Voter turnout 50.22%
Electorate 2,222,533
Results by unitary authorities
Referendum held: 18 September 1997, 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. 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.


  • Background 1
  • Campaign 2
  • Results 3
    • Results by unitary authority 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


A referendum was held in 1979 (with a parallel referendum in Scotland) proposing the creation of a Welsh Assembly, under James Callaghan's "Lib-Lab pact" coalition 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 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.


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 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


The referendum asked voters:

  • I agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly.
  • I do not agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly.

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%)

Turnout (%): 50.1

Results by unitary authority

Unitary authority Yes vote (%) No vote (%)
Anglesey 50.9% 49.1%
Blaenau Gwent 56.1% 43.9%
Bridgend 54.4% 45.6%
Caerphilly 55.7% 44.3%
Cardiff 44.4% 55.6%
Carmarthenshire 65.5% 34.5%
Ceredigion 59.2% 40.8%
Conwy 40.9% 59.1%
Denbighshire 40.5% 59.5%
Flintshire 38.2% 62.8%
Gwynedd 64.1% 35.9%
Merthyr Tydfil 58.2% 41.8%
Monmouthshire 32.1% 67.9%
Neath Port Talbot 66.5% 33.5%
Newport 37.5% 62.5%
Pembrokeshire 42.8% 57.2%
Powys 42.7% 57.3%
Rhondda Cynon Taff 58.5% 41.5%
Swansea 53.0% 47.0%
Torfaen 49.8% 50.2%
Vale of Glamorgan 35.5% 64.5%
Wrexham 44.3% 55.7%

See also


  1. ^ "UK Election statistics 1945-2003" (PDF). 
  2. ^ "John Redwood mimes the Welsh National Anthem". 
  3. ^ "Labour Party 1992 election manifesto". 
  4. ^ "BBC 1997 election coverage - Parties". 
  5. ^ "1997 BBC election coverage - Dissent in the Labour Party". 
  6. ^ "1997 BBC referendum coverage". 
  7. ^

External links

  • BBC coverage of results
  • BBC coverage of the final referendum result
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