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‘A state of almost surreal vice versa’: the devolution referendums in Wales, 1979 and 1997

Gooberman, Leon ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2570-4704 2024. ‘A state of almost surreal vice versa’: the devolution referendums in Wales, 1979 and 1997. Contemporary British History 38 (2) , pp. 299-320. 10.1080/13619462.2023.2239157
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Abstract

Referendums in 1979 and 1997 asked if an elected Assembly should be created in Wales to oversee some government responsibilities. The proportion of voters supporting devolution grew from 20.3% in 1979 to 50.3% in 1997. Growth was concentrated within Welsh identifying Labour voters, but the literature lacks a multicausal explanation of this shift. This article compares the circumstances surrounding both referendums to make two arguments. One is that three factors reversed: the dominant industrial role of the UK state receded under Conservative Governments to prompt deindustrialisation; the growing profile of Wales-specific governance structures exposed their control by Conservative politicians lacking a direct electoral mandate; and, voters were more positive towards Labour in 1997 than 1979. The other is that these factors impacted most on Welsh identifying Labour voters clustered in deindustrialising areas, who no longer trusted the UK state to represent their interests. Their class-based political identity evolved to include a greater sense of Welshness, increasing their support for devolution when offered by a trusted Labour Government. This sequence was prompted and sustained by deindustrialisation, echoing Tomlinson’s arguments that it undercut political assumptions and structures to provide the best underpinning narrative for late twentieth-century Britain.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Publisher: Taylor and Francis Group
ISSN: 1361-9462
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 18 August 2023
Date of Acceptance: 18 July 2023
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2024 16:41
URI: https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/161918

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