The Devolution Generation: Growing up knowing nothing but, yet little about, devolved Wales

Children at the Senedd. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Bethan Phillips

I’m quite envious that I missed the historic moment when Wales became a devolved nation following the 1997 Referendum. I’m also very grateful to those who worked so hard to ensure it became a reality.

The headlines, parties and photographs demonstrate how significant this moment was for Wales and its people.

18th September 1997 seems to be one of those moments where everyone knew where they were and what they were doing when the result came in.

I wish I could tell you what I was up to in 1997, but I was only three years old! I’m part of a generation that has grown up knowing nothing but a devolved Wales.

I may not be able to relate to what happened before and immediately after but I, like many others, have a unique and singular view of devolution.

I don’t see the Welsh Assembly through the lens of a historic celebratory moment – how could I? I was too late for the party and this is the only Wales I know.

For people of my age, it’s not having a Welsh Assembly that seems unfathomable, but it not being there. It’s an inseparable part of Welsh democracy.

Ignorance

However, while I’ve grown up knowing nothing but a devolved Wales, I’ve also grown up knowing very little about it.

No one at school or college taught me or my fellow pupils what the Welsh Assembly did or what powers it had.

Then suddenly, last year, I was able to legally vote in a system I had grown up in that I knew surprisingly little about!

First time voters of the ‘2016 generation’ have had a General Election, one Assembly Election, one EU Referendum and local council elections in the space of two years.

We suddenly had to work out the difference between Constituency and Regional Assembly Members, and what a Police and Crime Commissioner was.

Not to mention working out the difference between the Senedd, Welsh Government, Westminster and UK Government.

I’m starting to suspect however that there is nothing accidental about my ignorance of these matters.

I suspect that the Welsh Establishment in the guise of the Labour Party is perfectly content with our confusion about who does what.

After all, how can the political status quo be challenged effectively if we don’t know who’s in charge?

I grew up thinking of the Labour as the party that protect us, the working class, from the Tories at Westminster.

However, as I’ve become more interested in politics my view has changed. I’ve understood more and more that a lot of the problems I see in my community are Labour’s responsibility.

The General Election in July saw a surge of support for Labour from young voters inspired by Corbyn’s message on issues such as health and education.

Many people of my generation do not grasp the relationship between the Senedd and Westminster and so do not understand that health, education and other issues are devolved.

This lack of information allows Welsh Labour to get away with the mismanagement of public funds, such as the Lisvane Land Deal. But if challenged on any aspect of their failure to improve Wales they simply say: it’s the UK Tory Government’s fault.

While Corbyn claims Labour is the ‘Party for the many’ and opposes the cruel Tory UK Government cuts, Welsh Labour increases student fees and votes to keep zero hour contracts in place. While Corbyn complains about the Tories’ education system, Wales performs worse in health and has slipped further down the PISA ratings.

While Corbyn complains about the Tories’ education system, Wales performs worse in health and has slipped further down the PISA ratings.

While Jeremy Corbyn calls for things in principle, his party does the very opposite in practice. While Jeremy Corbyn gains popularity in a UK wide context, people in Wales do not realise that his party is in power here.

Hope

I was amazed and proud when I found out I’ve grown up in the area with the highest ‘Yes’ votes in Wales (Neath Port Talbot, where 66.6% backed devolution).

Though, stumbling across this statistic was somewhat disappointing considering a growing neglect in the area, where opportunities are limited and unemployment is high.

There’s no denying I’ve benefited from aspects of devolution. I have experienced cheaper tuition fees, free prescriptions, the smoking ban (which I particularly welcomed as a young Cardiff City football fan) and an environmentally friendly 5p charge on plastic bags that set Wales aside from the rest of the UK.

However, for me, devolution has not gone far enough in delivering for the people of Wales; not least in communities like my own.

I now feel that this is because of an incompetent Welsh Labour Government that is more interested in managing decline than passing laws that could change people’s lives.

Using a football analogy, Cardiff Bay seems like a home ground for the Labour Party. They are far too comfortable there. Post-war Wales has become a Labour hegemony and that’s certainly apparent in Cardiff Bay.

Now more than ever, Wales needs a sovereign Parliament – a group of elected representatives who will serve our needs; not a home-grown establishment residing in the Bay Bubble.

The Welsh Government receive a £17bn budget from Westminster and it is fundamental that this money is spent wisely and effectively across Wales.

My dream Wales would be one that is a proud meritocracy, employing those who are capable of doing the job as opposed those in the inner circle.

My dream Wales would be one that celebrates its sovereignty and takes the opportunities available via devolution to change lives.

The formation of the Welsh Assembly was celebrated like a pillar of hope; a new world; an opportunity for the people of Wales to shape part of their own destiny.

It is pivotal that the Welsh Labour Government are held to account to serve us; the people of Wales; a sovereign Wales.

For us who have grown up in a devolved Wales, devolution is not and end in itself. We want more.

There is no denying that I have benefited from elements of devolution and I will be forever grateful to those who campaigned for a Welsh Assembly.

However, I know nothing but devolution and in my opinion, the process has far from reached its potential.

We must make the most of an institution that was celebrated to deliver promise and progressive change to all of our lives.


Notice: the_widget was called incorrectly. Widgets need to be registered using register_widget(), before they can be displayed. Please see Debugging in WordPress for more information. (This message was added in version 4.9.0.) in /var/www/vhosts/nation.cymru/dev.nation.cymru/wp-includes/functions.php on line 4231

We do not moderate comments before they appear. The views expressed in the comments are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nation. Cymru. Please read our community standards and participation guidelines before contributing.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Gillian Jones
Guest
Gillian Jones

Bethan, Many people in Wales are unaware of the complexities of devolution.They are shocked when told that thousands of English retirees settling in Wales have their pensions and health care paid by Welsh funds.This money is drained from other devolved responsibilities e.g. education. None of this is mentioned when Wales is referred to as being in “the lowest league” of health and education.

Davy Gam
Guest
Davy Gam

What are “Welsh funds” exacly ? Aren’t all state pensions paid from central UK treasury funds ? Including those of thousands of Welsh-born people who live in England ?

DG

Gareth
Guest
Gareth

Exactly. Pensions and benefits are paid for by the UK Treasury as is the WG’s block grant which is generated from taxes across the whole of the UK. If you want to say that Welsh Hospitals should only be used by Welsh Taxpayers fine just remember that English retires to Wales will be spending their pensions and wealth in our local communities. And the stereotypical English retireer to Wales is weather than a Welsh retireer so have more money to spend. I hope we’re not going to get into and English/Welsh immigration debate as there’s a danger of sounding like… Read more »

marcvjones
Guest

Interesting perspective Bethan – my kids are roughly your age and tell me that their friends are all “into” Corbyn’s Labour without ANY idea what his policies are or that Labour is currently running Wales. The biggest problem we face is a weak Welsh media and a dominant UK narrative that constantly tells us that it’s either Tory or Labour. Unsurprisingly, Wales isn’t Tory so people tend to plump for Labour. This anti-Tory sentiment has kept Labour in power for the past century now. Our challenge is to expose their lousy record in office plus Corbyn’s contradictions.

Bluebird
Guest
Bluebird

My goodness, if it isn’t one of Neil McEvoy’s staff piping up when he is indisposed. Will he be wearing his blue scarf today? He was all for the rebrand when it happened Bethan. Did he ever mention that to you? Why doesn’t Nation.Cymru do a piece discussing why the Plaid group voted unanimously to suspend Bethan’s boss? Think about this. McEvoy was found to be a bully after a case involving a woman in rent arrears on her council home. He says he was sticking up for a single parent. Fair enough. But now he wants to retain right-to-buy!… Read more »

Bethan Phillips
Guest
Bethan Phillips

It’s a real shame that you’ve judged me before even reading any of my personal views in this article. Happy to confirm this was sent in last Friday so is in no way connected to recent events. Feel free to disagree with my opinions, but I would kindly appreciate that comments are relevant to the issues I’ve raised in a personal capacity. You should be encouraging of a young female getting involved in Welsh politics.

Willia-Glyn THOMAS
Guest
Willia-Glyn THOMAS

Hi Bethan, Interesting to read your report and I accept the points you make. You are however more fortunate than my generation (born 1941). The only history I had at scool was English monarchs, no Welsh history at all. English speakers had lessons in Welsh but because I chose French and German I hD to teach myself to read and write in Welsh. Fortunately things have improved. Keep up the enthusiasm that ibviously have being Welsh. Cymru am byth oddiwrth un sydd yn byw yn Ffrainc

Hywel Moseley
Guest
Hywel Moseley

One of the problems I find is the lack of useful information from The Senedd about what is and is not devolved. Some sort of newsletter addressed to those of us who are interested would help. A newsletter sent out by email would be very welcome. By way of example only I mention the issues of Town and Country Planning and conservation of buildings (listing etc). I am a retired lawyer whose home is listed. I would very much like to know whether these issues are devolved and,if they are, would like to have the legislation identified so that I… Read more »

brighty
Guest
brighty

Can anyone point me to an explanation of what the difference is between the Senedd and the Welsh Government? This article is right on the nose – I’m really unsure of where the responsibilities lie and agree completely that it enables Welsh Labour and Corbyn to get away with blatant lies such as claiming to be the party that opposes student fees.

sibrydionmawr
Guest

The Senedd is the whole institution, that is all the politicians of all parties, in the same way that Parliament in Westminster is made up of politicians of all parties. The Welsh Government is currently, (and has been since 1999) Labour, Carwyn Jones being the current First Minister. The Welsh Government is analogous to the government in Westminster, currently the Tories. Hope that helps.

Gareth
Guest
Gareth

Probably easier to say:
The National Assembly is the equivalent of the House of Commons.(The Senedd is simply the building it meets in)
Welsh Government is the Civil Service, equivalent of Whitehall and is based in Cathays Park.

brighty
Guest
brighty

Thanks both for the explanation.

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

I believe Gillian is referring to Welsh expenditure in the GERW (Government revenue and Expenditure Wales). Indeed when an English retiree crosses the border into Wales, the state pension of that person is allocated to Welsh expenditure. Likewise they access NHS Wales without the funding required for the costs of elderly people. Of course the Wesh Government has been bleeding Welsh education funding on the cutie to finance the elderly English immigrants. We obviously need immigration control or things will get worse, the labour government is complicit in all this, without opposition.

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

the wholesale movement of ageing Anglos is only part of the problem although it does eat into the Health &Care Budgets, age and dependency/infirmity tending to correlate in some absurd way ! Of greater significance is the growing third sector activity in dealing with people marginalised in their original communities and relocated to assorted locations in Wales. Very few are serious criminals but there is a visible increase in drug related crimes, thefts and violence. Above all the major harm is done to the native culture which is even more Anglicised by people who often lack any aptitude for language,… Read more »

sibrydionmawr
Guest

Whilst I agree entirely with what you say, I think it’d be wise to refrain from describing people as ‘dysfunctional units’ as it’s dehumanising. It’s the kind of language used by those with vile intentions, which I’m sure you don’t share.

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

there’s rather a lot of dysfunction running around in Wales, some of it generated from within but of late a visible proportion moved here because their previous host community contrived to move them on. I call them units because they vary in sizes, some are individuals others are families and others are of temporary shape and form. “Dysfunctional” as there is a more frequent tendency to delinquency and other anti social behaviours of various kinds. So “dysfunctional units” serves its purpose as it differentiates from “functioning units” which thankfully most individuals, families and other units manage to be most of… Read more »

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Davy Gam probably doesn’t realise that there is a massive number of retired English people in Wales, whereas we lose young people to England. In the 2011 census there were less Welsh people in England than vice versa. The crucial thing is 24% of English in Wales were over 65 in 2011. The Welsh born population in Wales was only 17% over 65. The population of Wales only older than England because of elderly immigration from England. Our health service overloaded and not funded for these elderly immigrants hence Welsh Labour robbing education. We know there are nearly three times… Read more »

Neil McEvoy
Guest
Neil McEvoy

Bluebird has made several comments which really don’t belong here. I support Bethan’s right to her own opinion and I applaud her writing as an individual. I note that so called “Bluebird” doesn’t even reveal her/his name. I enjoyed the article and look forward to many more.

Gareth
Guest
Gareth

Shouldn’t you be working ;-p

Cofi Dre
Guest
Cofi Dre

Just a quick point about the unpleasant smearing and trolling of Bethan. The article is good, I don’t know who Bethan is, and nothing she says is offensive. It therefore ill behoves ‘Bluebird’ to come in with his innuendo and superior tone, his knowing misogynistic implications that a young woman talking about politics is obviously the mouthpiece of a man, and his pseudonymous sneer. She doesn’t even mention McEvoy.
Ideally, Bluebird would apologise before being allowed back on to comment here, or take his poison elsewhere.

Bluebird
Guest
Bluebird

I haven’t smeared Bethan at all. And to accuse me of having a “pseudonymous sneer” when you are using a pseudonym yourself is rank hypocrisy. It is interesting that McEvoy didn’t refute my assertion that he was a keen “Redbird”. Ooh and another thing…didn’t McEvoy own a house/flat, that he rented out, in Caerau? His opposition to council housing and housing associations makes more sense when one realises that he is a lobbyist for the private rented sector. He wants sex offenders executed, I think. I remember too that he was a keen supporter of UK military action against the… Read more »

Cofi Dre
Guest
Cofi Dre

Bluebird – we’re still waiting for the scoop on McEvoy: what did he do that was illegal or dodgy? What’s wrong with owning a flat and renting it out? Where does it say you can’t? He’s not against owning homes, which many of the Plaid multiple home-owners themselves are. Where’s the inconsistency? Your imputation that Bethan was speaking for McEvoy turned out to be 1) false (you ought to apologise for the false accusation) and b) a sexist sneer implying she was a mere mouthpiece for a male politician. Pseudonyms are fine. We all use them for various reasons. But… Read more »

Tame Frontiersman
Guest
Tame Frontiersman

It is disappointing if young people still aren’t receiving good civic and citizenship education. Devolution, as we are told, is “a process not an event” and the powers of the Welsh Government are therefore in flux. It might be useful in the run up to Assembly elections if households in Wales were to receive a document – possibly produced by the Assembly Presiding officer – about the Assembly and the Welsh Government. Anyone born ~1997 has not only been brought up under the Assembly, but is also of a generation who have been exposed all their lives to the online… Read more »

sibrydionmawr
Guest
sibrydionmawr
Guest
Samantha Egelstaff
Guest
Samantha Egelstaff

Thanks for that link x it will help a lot when explaining the role and powers of the Assembly, to a range of people x

daffy2012
Guest

That bitter comment from Bluebird shouldn’t have been published. Nothing to do with Bethan’s excellent article. Diolch Bethan.

I was in Asia when I heard we had a ‘Yes’ vote. I had voted myself by proxy. I screamed with joy whilst watching the result on BBC World Service. I won’t forget it.

Sam Egelstaff
Guest
Sam Egelstaff

Although a large amount of people on this comments board agree with Bethan, there is a large amount of bias and emotive language in this article. There is also a large amount of prejudice and unsubstantiated description. I feel if more research was actually done into the reasons for the zero-hour vote in the Senedd, due to legal non devolved powers, and also the way HE Education is funded, you would understand that the Welsh Labour Government does work hard to limit the adverse effects of a Tory provided Block Grant! WAG provides a large amount of bursaries and grants,… Read more »

Ad Hussain
Guest
Ad Hussain

Is the author asserting there is a deliberate and ongoing process to keep the Welsh population ignorant of the system of UK governance in order to maintain the labour parties position as the largest party in the assembly. That this position gives individuals within the labour assembly group the opportunity to enrich and protect themselves through corrupt practices. This is all carried out with the full knowledge and compliance of the Labour party, the Conservative party, The liberal democrat party, Plaid Cymru, UKIP, individual civil servants in wales and the UK, offices of scrutiny in Cardiff, London and Brussels, the… Read more »

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Sam I can’t believe what your saying. When labour were in power in London and in Cardiff they did nothing in fact Rhodri Morgon in his autobiography said that Wales was given a hard time with labour in Westminster. So English labour and English Conservatives are equally to blame. Your right about the demographics we need to cantrol immigration into Wales. We can’t afford take elderly English immigrants without limit its destroying NHS Wales and our economy. Without elderly English immigration Wales would not have an older population than England. The English Labour Party and English conservatives want to control… Read more »

Samantha Egelstaff
Guest
Samantha Egelstaff

Dafydd, I am very concerned about the implicit and explicit racism running though your comments. You have to remember that Wales receives an block grant funded by all the tax payers of the British Isles, thus English taxes also fund our (Welsh) public services. Importantly, Welsh people live in all areas of our United Kingdom, therefore they use NHS services there. We have free movement of British people throughout our wonderful isle and what you seem to be proposing, suggests, a border or a halt to movement and residency of anyone other than Welsh people into Wales. The Assembly does… Read more »

Euron
Guest
Euron

The headline to this article makes no grammatical sense.

Cofi Dre
Guest
Cofi Dre

We keep coming back to this basic issue: when Welsh people worry about the impact on their economy and culture of massive English immigration, mostly made up of people who have no interest in Wales, or where applicable learning Welsh, or even accepting they’re in a different place, it’s racist. When English people complain of tiny numbers of mostly hard-working foreigners coming here, we’re told to ‘understand their concerns’, and it’s all ‘common sense’. The politicians kowtow to them and the tabloids whip them up. But still, it’s ‘common sense’. The game is rigged and it’s rigged in favour of… Read more »

Cofi Dre
Guest
Cofi Dre

“The Assembly does not have tax wielding powers, which is partly the problem. Albeit, if there were only Welsh-born people living and working in Wales, then there would not be enough tax paid, due to population size, to sustain our country, never mind, the lack of inward investment.” Can you prove this, Samantha? Also, Welsh people in the rest of the UK work and are generally younger. Wales has the oldest and fastest ageing population in the UK. It’s nonsense to pretend that doesn’t affect services, money, health and the distribution of budgets. It’s certainly not because Welsh people live… Read more »

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Samantha to start with the Welsh population is not older than the English in England. We have an older English population in Wales, call it colonialism, these elderly English are depleting our health service for which we do not receive funding. We have to take funds from the education of our children to finance the health and social care of these immigrants. You say that we are living on English taxes, well it may come as a surprise that we pay taxes in Wales. The elderly English immigrants, and there are few other elderly immigrants, also impact negatively on the… Read more »

Samantha Egelstaff
Guest
Samantha Egelstaff

I give you credit for your spin Dafydd, Campbell doesn’t have a ‘look-in’! Your ‘them and us’ attitude can only lead to division and hatred. It is not an ideology that I would want to harbour. You have grossly stereotyped descriptions and perceptions, regardless of the way that you interpret statistics. What do you propose? Passports and walls, instead of bridges and unity..? I wish you luck in the future with your divisive politics x

CapM
Guest
CapM

“bridges and unity” The question is what part or parts of the UK are benefiting from those bridges and from that unity. If the poorest “region” of the UK (Cymru) is having to cope with extra numbers of the elderly and extra numbers of those that are having problems or are causing problems in other, richer parts of the UK then it’s pretty clear that it’s not the people already living in Cymru who are benefitting from the bridges and unity. And if you think about it a little it’s obvious that those who are most adversely affected by this… Read more »

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

I propose an adequate health and education system on a par with England, and an immigration which is suitable for Wales as the English Labour Party and English Conservative party want for their country. Nothing less.

Samantha Egelstaff
Guest
Samantha Egelstaff

I totally agree with an education and health system on a par with England, definitely! Immigration would be considered as a wholistic issue due to our United Kingdom, however I have been trying to understand your perspective and have learnt some extra aspects. After speaking to my Welsh first language husband, he has further explained to me the annoyance some Welsh people have regarding relocation to benefit from free prescriptions, as well as the cheaper priced housing being bought by holiday makers, that creates vacant communities etc.

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Samantha why should immigration be considered as a wholistic issue. I have explained that the structure of immigration into Wales is diametrically opposite to that in England. So the one system which prevails is the one that suits England only. Not the one harming Wales, in many ways. Obviously an independent Wales would address the issue.

Aled Thomas
Guest
Aled Thomas

Good write up here Bethan. Dal ati!