What has devolution ever done for us?

18 September 2017

Senedd building

New data released to coincide with the anniversary of the devolution referendum has revealed that, twenty years on, many Welsh people are markedly unimpressed by the difference that devolution has made to their daily lives.

Published by the Wales Governance Centre, the findings examine public attitudes towards devolution since 1997. They show that although there continues to be majority support for devolution, when it comes to perceptions of it having actually enhanced delivery of significant policy areas, the majority of people feel that it hasn’t delivered the improvements expected.

The findings draw on previously unpublished data from the 2016 Welsh Election Study, and the most recent Welsh Political Barometer Poll.

The data shows that:

  • Over the last 15 years, attitudes to devolution have remained fairly stable. It shows that since 2001, at least 65% of people have supported devolution.
  • There is majority support for devolution to at least its current level, or support for more powers to the National Assembly for Wales, particularly in the area of policing, which is not currently devolved to Wales.
  • When asked about the impact devolution has had on living standards nearly two-thirds (65%) feel there has been no difference, with less than a fifth (19%) believing there have been improvements.
  • When asked about the impact devolution has had on education, 60% of those polled feel that no difference has been made to this devolved are of policy, with more feeling that there had been a decline (22%) than believing that devolution has improved standards (18%).
  • When asked about the health service, while half (50%) of respondents feel there has been no noticeable difference, almost a third (32%) think that devolution has generated a decline, while only 18% detect a positive impact.
  • The data reveals a surprisingly strong correlation between a how much devolution people want and how much they believe has actually been delivered. Those opposed to devolution are far less likely to believe the Assembly to be a powerful body than are supporters of greater Welsh political autonomy.
  • That despite the question marks over how well devolution has impacted daily lives, politicians in Cardiff Bay are more trusted to care about Wales’ problems than their counterparts in London.

“Performance of government in London is poor”

Commenting on these new findings, Professor Roger Scully, said: “This latest data strongly confirms the picture established in previous research: that devolution is the settled will of the Welsh people. But what we have been able to reveal is that we appear to have reached this point despite people being markedly unimpressed with the actual policy achievements of the last 20 years of devolved government. But then many people also think that the  government in London is poor...”

“The difference is that politicians in Cardiff Bay are, at least, more trusted to care about and be focussed on the problems of Wales – even if people don’t think that much of their efforts to solve those problems.”

Professor Roger Scully, Professor of Political Science

The findings were presented by Professor Roger Scully at the “Wales Said Yes”: 20 years since the Welsh Devolution Referendum, which was run by the IWA in partnership with the Wales Governance Centre.

The Welsh Political Barometer poll is a joint poll undertaken by Yougov on behalf of ITV Cymru Wales and the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

The 2016 Welsh Election Study was conducted by YouGov and supported by the ESRC.

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Wales Governance Centre

Undertaking innovative research into all aspects of the law, politics, government and political economy of Wales, as well the wider UK and European contexts of territorial governance.