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George Osborne: Hero of Plaid Cymru?

Avid readers of the blog – which, I am sure, is all of you – will be aware of a question that has been run regularly on all Welsh Political Barometer polls since they began some two years ago. This is a question about voting intentions in the referendum on partial Income Tax devolution – a referendum that was proposed in the first Silk Commission report and then legislated for in the 2014 Wales Act.

The specific question that we have asked was:

“If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

Here is the full list of findings in all the Barometer polls in which this question was run:

 

Poll % Yes % No % DK/ NR % ‘No’ Lead
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2013 35 38 26 3
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014 31 42 28 11
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014 33 39 28 6
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 2014 32 42 26 10
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2014 38 39 24 1
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2014 37 38 25 1
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov,  January 2015 37 39 24 2
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov,  early-March 2015k 37 36 27 -1
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov,  late-March 2015 37 40 22 3
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov,  May 2015 31 43 26 12
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June 2015 34 42 25 8
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2015 34 41 26 7

 

As can be seen, the polls generally showed a small lead for those opposed to the idea of partial income tax devolution. These results probably help explain why few political leaders in the National Assembly showed much enthusiasm for actually having this referendum – it would likely have proved a difficult one to win.

However, our regular polling on this issue has now been rather overtaken by events. George Osborne’s recent Comprehensive Spending Review statement to the House of Commons stated that partial income tax devolution to Wales would be happening without a referendum. There is doubtless much room for political disputes before this ever happens. We await final details on how exactly it is proposed that income tax be devolved. It must also be at least a possibility that, if they were not happy with the details of what the Chancellor is proposing, members of the National Assembly might seek to block the devolution of this power.

Nonetheless, with the likelihood of the income tax referendum receding ever further, we have decided to drop our regular referendum tracker question from the Barometer polls. In its place, our latest poll asked two separate questions about the issue of income tax devolution. The first related directly to the Chancellor’s announcement. This is what we asked:

“George Osborne has announced that the UK government will give the Welsh government powers to raise or lower the levels of income tax in Wales. From what you have seen and heard, do you support or oppose this decision?”

We found people in Wales split very evenly on the matter. Some 36% of Barometer respondents said that they supported this decision, while some 36% indicted that they were opposed. The remaining 28% chose the Don’t Know option. This is hardly a ringing public endorsement of Mr Osborne’s announcement; at the same time, it hardly suggests die-hard opposition to income tax devolution from the Welsh people either.

Probably more interesting, however, are how responses to this question break down by party. In the following table I show responses to this question broken down by how our survey respondents voted in the 2015 general election. (I should probably add that we see almost identical patterns for the parties if we analyse responses by current vote intention, either for Westminster or the National Assembly):

 

Vote 2015 Support Inc. Tax Devo Oppose Inc. Tax Devo Net Support – Oppose
Labour 34% 32% +2
Conservative 26% 53% -27
Lib-Dem 31% 36% -5
Plaid 70% 15% +55
UKIP 29% 46% -17

(Percentages in the table do not add to 100 because I have left out Don’t Knows)

 

It is worth remembering, when looking at the figures in this table, that people’s responses to whether or not they approve of a policy can often be very heavily conditioned by any knowledge of who is proposing or supporting the policy. Our question specifically mentioned George Osborne and the UK government. And yet we still find that opposition to the idea of partial income tax devolution is strongest amongst supporters of the Conservative party! Even when they are, in effect, told that income tax devolution is a Conservative policy, most Welsh Conservative voters still do not like the idea. UKIP supporters also tend towards opposing tax devolution, although less firmly, while opinions among Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters are almost evenly balanced.

Perhaps surprisingly, endorsement of the Chancellor’s recent announcement is by far the strongest among supporters of Plaid Cymru, who overwhelmingly back him on this issue. I rather doubt that this is because George Osborne has developed some sort of cult following among Welsh nationalists! Rather, this seems to be at least one instance where attitudes towards the substance of a policy trump immediate party political considerations. Plaid Cymru supporters overwhelmingly support greater devolution to Wales, including of taxation; notwithstanding the adoption of a more positive approach to devolution by their party leadership in the National Assembly over the last decade or so, many Welsh Conservative voters still retain a caution, if not outright hostility, towards the devolution project.

The second question we asked about tax in our recent Barometer poll was about how, if at all, people would like taxation and spending levels to change. There have been clear indications from the Welsh Conservatives that they would use the prospect of income tax devolution as an electoral weapon: that they would campaign as a ‘low tax’ party. How receptive are the Welsh people likely to be towards such a pitch. We asked respondents to our poll the following:

“Generally speaking, would you prefer taxes and spending on public services in Wales to go up, go down, or stay about the same?”

 

Overall, 23% of our respondents chose ‘Go up’, while only 16% chose ‘Go down’; the largest proportion, some 45% chose ‘stay about the same’, with the remaining 16% selecting the Don’t Know option. This does not suggest seem to suggest great potential for a tax cutting election campaign pitch by the Conservatives.

We also find that, on this question, the differences between supporters of the different parties are rather lower. The following table again shows responses classified by how people voted in the 2015 general election. Although there are some differences, and broadly in the expected directions, ‘Stay the Same’ was the most popular response among supporters of all parties.

 

Vote 2015 Go Up Go Down Stay Same Don’t Know
Labour 31% 11% 43% 16%
Conservative 14% 22% 56% 8%
Lib-Dem 22% 9% 42% 28%
Plaid 34% 13% 40% 13%
UKIP 17% 23% 48% 12%

 

Comments

  • J.Jones

    Plaid supporters aren’t very discriminating..more powers is more powers; the journey to Independence creeps ever onwards until the Union becomes a meaningless concept. Tories don’t really “get” Wales and that is how come they are out of step with their own electorate. Plaid and Labour are just hugely relieved that there will not be a referendum…imagine if it were lost; where would it end? A journey in reverse?

    People in Wales have been conned. Taxation powers were not in either previous referenda because those referenda would have been lost had Tax been an issue.

    • Alwyn ap Huw

      I’m not sure that your comment is correct. The arguments about the last referendum were based on the issue (from both sides) of Wales getting equality with Scotland, although I (as the only candidate for the no side lead, with my “No! not good enough campaign”) and my Devo supporting MP, Guto Bebb pointed out that this was incorrect; Yes won on the “Scottish powers argument”. Scottish powers have always included a tax element.

      If I had been asked the question in the poll I would have been a don’t know, without lots more details. If Wales changed it’s tax policies and raised, say ,an extra £billion, would that be offset by a reduction in direct funding? Will a “lockstep” be in place where Wales can’t use taxes to enable differentials to encourage investors or workers to move in? Where will Welsh income taxes be located, in the workplace or in the payment centre (which for many Wales based workers is outside Wales)?

    • Harryonthehill

      J Jones is absolutely correct when he (or she) says that we have been conned. Readers who cast their minds back to the last two referenda will recall that we were promised that taxation powers were not on the political agenda. The real reason for this was that had they been on offer those referenda would have been lost. In fact all sorts of other promises were made not least by the incumbent Labour administration which, before the last referenda repeatedly assured us that this was purely a ‘tidying up exercise’ and that in effect all we would be doing by voting ‘yes’ was to consolidate the powers already granted by parliament.

      What fools we must look now. The minority which supported the original establishment of the assembly (around 25% of the electorate) must be thinking how clever they have been to gain so much political ground as a result of a few verbal assurances. Our first minister even promised us that were tax raising powers being offered he would campaign against them!

      We, the often silent majority of the Welsh electorate now find we are in a hole and there are two rules when you are in a hole. The first is to STOP DIGGING and the second is NEVER TO REINFORCE A FAILURE. This is why we must put a stop to this senseless and ridiculous slide towards a separate set of tax raising powers which ultimately may lead to an even bigger political and fiscal mess than we already have.

      • Roger Scully

        Harry – You seem to have misunderstood the purpose of this blog. If you wish to campaign for the abolition of the National Assembly, please do so elsewhere.

        • Harryonthehill

          Roger, I am rather offended by your retort as are at least two of my friends. I was simply commenting that I am in agreement with J Jones (Dec 10th) that we, the Welsh electorate, has been conned.
          Is that not a point of view that can be expressed here? If not then why not? It rtelates directly to the content of your blog and I do NOT mention my support for any particular political party. Is this not freedom of speech?

        • Harryonthehill

          Roger, Perhaps you would kindly let me have some idea of what I am and am not allowed to say on this site? Surely you can reject anything of which you do not approve? Why can I not support the views of another respondent? Your mildly offended, Harry on the Hill

          • Roger Scully

            Harry – Your views are, of course, a perfectly legitimate part of political debate in Wales. As I have pointed in out various posts discussing public attitudes towards devolution, there remain a significant number of people in Wales who would prefer that the Assembly did not exist. Their views should be treated with the same respect as those of anyone else.

            I was simply trying to (politely) point out that you seemed to have chosen a rather inappropriate forum for expressing your views. As I say in the ‘About Elections in Wales’ section of the Blog: “Elections in Wales is not concerned with trying to advance the interests or electoral popularity of any particular political party. There are plenty of other places you can go to for that. The blog sometimes takes positions on controversial issues. But it is fundamentally about trying to provide a forum for the understanding of elections and voting, and not about trying to bang the drum for one or other party. If you have a hard time grasping that, please go elsewhere.” What goes for political parties also applies to constitutional positions.

            I merely suggest to you, as I have to a few other commenters in the past (of various stand-points) that there are much more appropriate places for them to engage in the sort of debate that they seem to wish to do. Apologies for any offence, which was not my intention.

          • Harryonthehill

            Dear Roger, Thank you for your prompt response; I think I see what you mean although as your blog is called ‘Elections in Wales’ my concern was, and is that in these elections there is a very limited choice of opinions for which one might vote. As Rachel Banner once said:
            ‘I have been left with nobody I can vote for’.
            As your blog is entitled ‘ELECTIONS IN WALES’ I took it an appropriate place to raise this as a problem for the Welsh electorate many of whom have nobody for whom to vote, and to support J Jones in their opinion. Wales is in danger of becoming a ‘one party state’ in that all the political bubble want to retain the assembly.
            I enjoy your blog and was in no way trying to hijack it. My apologies if I have misunderstood the nature of your blog; in no way was I trying to be offensive; just pointing out the truth of the matter.

          • Roger Scully

            Thanks, Harry. I also very much see the point by Rachel (whom I know and like). I may write something about this in the new year.

      • Alwyn ap Huw

        Sorry Harry the majority of those who voted, voted Yes. You can’t claim ownership of those who didn’t vote as opponents. I didn’t vote in 1997, because I was unexpectedly in hospital on the day. Not being able to vote on the day doesn’t make me an opponent of Welsh self determination!

  • leigh richards

    Perhaps the other stand out figure is that nearly 30 percent of ukip voters support wales getting powers to vary income tax. And while Gideon obviously wont be applying for plaid membership anytime soon its interesting he’s been part of governments that gave wales a referendum on primary law making powers and is now giving wales real fiscal powers. Certainly food for thought.

  • Harryonthehill

    Is it not a case of ‘Divide and Rule’? To have Welsh income tax rates at variance with English ones would be stupid as the next step would be for the UK treasury to reduce the block grant and say to Cardiff: ‘Raise your own funds’! Also who would pay what? If I live in England but work in Wales; or maybe the reverse? What happens if I work for a Welsh company but am in charge of a depot in England? This is ridiculous. Let’s get rid of the assembly thereby removing a layer of politics; give more powers to local authorities and thereby return local powers to local people.

    “There is only one thing worse that being rules by Westminster; that is being ruled by Cardiff Bay!”

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