Wales is a “devolved” country. To find out what that means and get answers to some of the other big questions you might have about politics in Wales — read on.
What does “devolved” mean?
It means that Wales has a limited form of self-government and control over some policy areas. It has a Welsh Parliament (Senedd Cymru) made up of 60 politicians. The biggest party forms the Welsh government.
So it’s separate to the UK government?
Yes. Think of it as being a bit like a state in America or India. London and the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson still control things like defence, tax, the economy and foreign policy for the whole of the UK. But Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all now have devolved governments that control some significant policy areas.
The Welsh government has control over things like health, education, transport and agriculture. So, for example, how money is spent on the NHS in Wales is decided in Cardiff, not London.
What about the Welsh language?
The Senedd works in English and Welsh. Most of the politicians (and the rest of the establishment) in Wales speak Welsh and the aim is to get one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
How do you know who controls what?
It can be confusing. There is a long list or powers that are “reserved” to London. You can see that list here. If it’s not on the list, it’s *probably* devolved. There’s lots of other useful information here. The London-based media often gets it wrong. This Twitter account points out the mistakes.
Is everybody happy?
No. The Welsh Conservatives tend to be the most sceptical about devolution, saying we need less, not more government. The Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru would like Wales to be fully independent. The Welsh Labour Party would like more powers. They’ve been in control ever since Wales got devolution at the end of the last century.
What are the pictures?
An obvious building to illustrate your stories about devolved issues is the Senedd – the Welsh Parliament building in Cardiff Bay. It takes half an hour to walk there from JOMEC. It is free to visit and you can watch the politicians doing their thing. If you’d rather stay at home, visit the website. (While you’re on that page, it’s worth looking at what petitions are active. These often make good stories. There’s a link at the bottom.)
How many politicians does the Welsh Parliament have?
There are sixty Members of the Welsh Parliament. They’re referred to as being an MS (Member of Senedd). As of 2021, thirty of them are Labour (one short of a majority) sixteen Conservative, thirteen from Plaid Cymru and one is a Liberal Democrat. The Labour party decided to form a government without an overall majority, but has now formed an alliance with Plaid Cymru.
Who’s the boss?
The Welsh First Minister is Mark Drakeford, who is the Labour MS for Cardiff West.
How do they all get elected?
It’s complicated. Forty are from geographic constituencies — like Cardiff North. They get elected in a first past the post system. Then there are an additional twenty MSs from “regional” seats. They are elected in a slightly different way. So when people vote in a Welsh election, they vote for two members: one for their constituency and one for whatever region of Wales they live in. There’s an election every four years. The next one is due in 2025. More on all of this here.
I’ve heard people talk about the National Assembly for Wales. Is that different?
The Welsh Parliament was called the National Assembly for Wales until 2020 when it decided on a name change. Lots of people still call it the Assembly.
Does Wales still have MPs?
Yes, just like Scotland and Northern Ireland. At the moment* there are forty UK Parliamentary constituencies in Wales. Each has its own Member of Parliament. (They represent the same forty geographic areas as the Welsh Parliament members who aren’t from the regional seats. So there are four MPs in Cardiff, just as there are four members of the Welsh Parliament.) At the moment, there are 22 Labour MPs, 14 Conservative ones and four from Plaid Cymru.
So many politicians to choose from. Can I interview them?
- Some Welsh Parliament members will give interviews to student journalists. Ask me for advice.
- It can be more difficult for student journalists to get interviews with MPs, partly because they’re in London a lot of the time. But you can look at their Twitter accounts to see if they’ve said anything about the stories you’re covering.
- Bear in mind that all politicians are more likely to be willing to talk about the things they want to talk about. Finding out what these things are is one of the ways in which Twitter can be useful.
- All politicians are more likely to do an interview if you grab them at an event they are attending. All of them normally work in their constituencies on Fridays and Saturdays.
- They are also more inclined to do interviews the closer we get to an election, for some reason.
Find out who the four Cardiff MSs are. Follow them on Twitter.
Find out who the four Cardiff MPs are. Follow them on Twitter.
Full independence for Wales would need a yes vote in another referendum (like the one for Brexit). There can’t be a referendum unless the UK government agrees to it (though, as in Scotland, this law has never been tested in the courts). A recent (February 2021) BBC opinion poll suggests around 14 percent of people in Wales would like full independence (which is about the same number of people who would like to see the Welsh Parliament abolished.) Other polls have put the pro-independence number higher.
The referendum on devolution for Wales in 1997 had a turnout of 50.22%. Yes won with a majority of 6,721 votes.
In 2011 there was a second referendum on greater powers, with 63.49% of voters in favour and 36.51% against. The turnout this time was just over 35%.
*The number of parliamentary seats in Wales is currently under review. You can read more about that here.