Chapter 30

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The Referendum of 1997

Notwithstanding the defeat of the 1979 referendum, the people of Wales were not yet finished in their bid for a measure of home rule. The long, long struggle was still not over. In an edition of the Guardian (June, 1994), Glenys Kinnock, the Welsh-speaking wife of the former leader of the Labour Party, received great acclaim at her election to the European Parliament at Brussels with a huge majority.

The same edition mentioned that the Scottish Nationalist Party had staked its claim as force in British politics with a conclusive victory over Labour in the Scotland Northeast Euro seat. Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales did not receive a mention, yet by that time political intrigue, mistrust, and outright misrule by what is known as the system of quangos (non-elected government bodies) by 1995, had the effect of catapulting Plaid into second place among the political parties in Wales.

Plaid's success in attracting members and votes meant that Labour, which for son long had taken most of Wales for granted, now had to woo its support, a hitherto almost unheard of occurrence. They were particularly excited about the Tory government's humiliating defeat in the bye-election at Islwyn (Kinnock's constituency) when Labour received nearly 78 percent of the total votes cast.

An article in the Guardian in February, 1995 entitled "Labour Plans Welsh Pact" stated that the party was to offer Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats talks on an electoral pact to make Wales a "Tory-free zone." Senior party officials were considering deals with these two parties to try to remove the last six Tory M.P.'s in Wales (out of a total of 38 Members). Other newspapers reported that devolution appetites had been whetted by the resounding defeat of Robert Buckland, fervent pro-unionist and anti-devolutionist, who came in fourth. Plaid trebled its support to 12.7 percent, gaining second place. Perhaps even more significant, was the fact that the three parties in favor of devolution won 90 percent of the poll.

Notwithstanding the Britain-first views of Neil Kinnock (now out of the seat of power at Westminster or of Prime Minister John Major, who eventually found himself totally out of touch with the British electorate, the issue was dramatically brought to the center of the Welsh political agenda.

The results of the bye-election meant that Labour began to think seriously in terms of electoral arrangements with the other two pro-devolution parties in which they would make way for Labour in key marginal elections in return for a guaranteed Welsh Assembly. As a fair exchange, they argued, Labour would commit itself to holding the first elections to the proposed Assembly on the basis of proportional representation, ensuring a strong presence for both the smaller parties and for rural districts.

However, such proposals did not appeal to the Welsh nationalists, certainly not to Plaid, whose continuing gains had given confidence that the would soon be a Welsh parliament as the first stage to independence. Their hopes were strengthened by a speech by John Major in Glasgow during early March, 1995. He stated that this was "not the time to scratch and infect the sore of separation," and nor was it time he continued, "to stir ill feeling between different parts of the United Kingdom."

Showing a complete lack of knowledge of the history of the British Isles, and the aspirations of many of its people, Major reiterated that he believed an Assembly was wrong for Scotland, though right for Northern Ireland. His antiquated, hopelessly imperialistic views could only have given encouragement to the ever growing and for more realistic forces of devolution.

During the week ending December 10, 1995, the Guardian stated that Labour and the Liberal Democrats were offering for Scotland a devolved parliament of 73 Members headed by a Scottish chief minister. Nationalists, however, were demanding much more -- an elected parliament with 200 Members and a written constitution in addition to a Bill of Rights for a non-nuclear Scotland in which the Gaelic language would enjoy official status.

The paper commented: "What the Scots will eventually get will be decided at the next general election." And what was true for Scotland would surely be true for Wales Dafydd Wigley, the head of Plaid Cymru and M.P. for Caernarfon, was confident that a Welsh Assembly would be fully in place by the year 1998. Dafydd was a bit premature in his hopes, and the results of the elections of 1997 were very close indeed.

Chapter 30 Continued
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