Time for change in Wales?

The aftermath of the Scottish referendum has increased the importance of the fight for those wanting greater devolved power in Wales.

Speaking at the Conservative conference, Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb spoke of the start of “devolution with a purpose” in Wales. His speech proposed changes to the Wales Bill, a devolution settlement which is still in the process of being passed in Westminster; the most notable of which is the removal of a ‘lockstep system’, giving the Welsh Assembly greater income tax powers and flexibility. The lockstep system, if kept in the bill, would have prevented the assembly from adjusting individual income tax rates-meaning they would not be a fully accountable body.

However, there is a catch; like Scotland, Wales will need a referendum to decide whether they can use the new tax powers. Crabb spoke of the importance of devolution that works “for the people of Wales, not the politicians” and a referendum is a part of this. In the last referendum on Welsh devolution, in March 2011, 63% of Welsh citizens voted for extending the country’s powers, showing the strength of support for further devolution.

In a further success for groups such as Plaid Cymru there is the potential of a new reserved powers model of devolution, which Mr. Crabb said will be discussed in the next parliament after the general election. David Cameron has further echoed the Welsh Secretary’s views. Plaid Cymru want even more than this, proposing a system of self government with a “people led” constitution.

Pro-Welsh independence members still fear Wales being left out in the cold. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood argues Wales must fight for more powers, and be given the same rights as Scotland, otherwise they will become “spectators” sitting on the sidelines of Westminster.

Nigel Farage has also waded into the recent discussions about Welsh funding, declaring Wales gets “the worst deal out of anybody in the UK.” A BBC poll found support for UKIP in Wales has doubled from 7% to 14%, but Farage has claimed (somewhat optimistically) that his party are on their way to replacing the Conservatives as the opposition to Labour. Whether this is true remains to seen, but it further shows how Wales is becoming more and more important in the run up to the general election.

The failure to secure Scottish independence has been seen as a bitter blow to the fight for Welsh independence; however, great change is still afoot. The changes might be more subtle, and the fight less brutal, but there is still every chance more and more powers will be secured.