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Does Wales Want to Abolish the Assembly?

The voting intention figures produced by the first ever Sky Data Welsh opinion poll have caused quite a stir. The projection from the poll for the Abolish the Assembly (ATA) party to win two regional list seats was the first time ever that the party had been projected to win representation in the institution that it is dedicated to getting rid of.

Amongst the online discussion provoked by this finding has been much speculation that the advance in support for ATA indicates a broader surge in support for getting rid of devolution in Wales. Some were drawing broader conclusions about attitudes to the Assembly being part of the broader ‘populist wave’ that has also been associated with the Brexit vote, the success of Donald Trump, and advances for other populist political forces.

I think much of this discussion has been misplaced. Some people have been making quite dramatic inferential leaps – drawing sweeping conclusions from a very small fragment of evidence. We have seen ATA make some advances in public support as UKIP have faded; the demographics of the support of the two parties are very similar, with their voters disproportionately being older men who have not attended university. We also know from years of detailed evidence that there has remained a constituency of support for abolition of the National Assembly. But a rise in support for ATA does not necessarily indicate that support for their main cause has also risen.

Fortunately, the new Sky poll also included some questions directly relevant to this issue. First, the poll repeated a question that has been used in many previous studies, which asks respondents “Which of these statements comes closest to your view?” and then presents them with a series of options about how Wales might be governed. Below is the pattern of responses that Sky found:

 

There should be no devolved government in Wales: 18%

The National Assembly for Wales should have fewer powers: 4%

We should leave things as they are now: 23%

The National Assembly for Wales should have more powers: 40%

Wales should become independent, separate from the UK: 8%

Don’t Know: 7%

 

As can be seen, there is some support in these figures for the National Assembly being abolished. But it is very far from a majority position. Actually, these findings are typical of studies conducted by various survey agencies throughout the last decade and a half which, on various such questions, have tended to find between ten and twenty percent of people choosing the ‘abolition’ option in any given survey. Sky’s findings are also typical in showing support for independence on such questions in the five to ten percent support range. The clear majority position, as it has been in every such poll of which I am aware of for more than a decade and a half, is for some form of devolution within the UK.

The one thing that is somewhat unusual about Sky’s findings in this new poll is the balance of opinion among those favouring devolution; this is tipped rather further towards the ‘more powers’ end of the spectrum than has been typical in recent years. Such a finding is not obviously consistent with a surge in anti-devolutionist sentiments.

 

However, as well as this question, the Sky Data poll also asked the following question:

 

“If there were a referendum tomorrow on the issue of the abolition of the National Assembly for Wales, how would you vote?”

 

Such questions have been asked only quite rarely, and perhaps provide a more direct test of support for ATA’s core policy objective. This is the pattern of responses that Sky obtained:

 

I would vote in favour of the National Assembly for Wales being abolished: 22%

I would vote against the National Assembly for Wales being abolished: 58%

I would not vote: 6%

Don’t Know: 14%

 

Unsurprisingly, when respondents are given a simple choice, support for abolition is rather higher than in the multi-choice question we looked at previously – slightly more than one-fifth of this sample of people in Wales. Far more people currently reject abolition of the Assembly. But the result does reinforce the point that there is a constituency of support for ATA to tap into. And, of course, most polls were showing leaving the EU to be a distinctly minority position for many years prior to the June 2016 referendum.

The Sky poll included one other question that is also relevant to the current topic. As well as a hypothetical referendum on abolishing the Assembly, we asked about the polar opposite proposition: independence for Wales. Specifically, respondents were presented with the following question: “If there were a referendum tomorrow on the issue of Wales becoming an independent country, how would you vote?”

Responses to this question were as follows:

 

I would vote in favour of Wales becoming an independent country: 17%

I would vote against Wales becoming an independent country: 67%

I would not vote: 4%

Don’t Know: 13%

 

This reinforces the findings from the first question above. Independence, just as with abolition of the Assembly, remains the position of a distinct minority in Wales. These are not insignificant minorities; their opinions are just as entitled to be respected as those of others; and of course the balance of opinion can change over time. But at present, as has been the case for well over a decade, the clear majority position in Wales, however we ask people and whichever company is asking the questions, is to support devolution for Wales within the United Kingdom. There is no clear evidence of significant change in those attitudes. The Abolish the Assembly party may be advancing in support, but support for their core policy position does not seem to be similarly moving forwards.

 

 

Sky Data interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,014 Sky customers in Wales online 7-14 December 2018. Data are weighted to the profile of the population. Sky Data is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Tables for these results can be found here.

Comments

  • Leigh Richards

    Should be pointed out the Abolish Wales Party (to give them their proper name) will be scrapping with Kipper leader Gareth Bennett for the small anti devolution vote. There’s every chance they’ll take votes off each other and that neither of these nakedly anti welsh parties will be in the senedd in 2021.

  • Harry on the Hill

    Why do you say these parties are ‘anti Welsh’? I don’t know anyone who lives in Wales who is ‘anti-Welsh’. Just because they may not agree with you does not make them ant-Welsh.

  • Barbara

    I was saddened to see political abuse raising its head almost immediately. It does not help a sensible debate about the future when the platform for the debate becomes merely a ‘political point scoring’ slot. As a statistician I would like to see some more information regarding how Sky customers have been selected etc etc etc. However, I suggest that for many, the idea of independence for Wales is quite a novel idea and such ideas take time to bed in. It is early days and there are two major parties who have counted on Welsh seats to gain power. They will use some muscle (discretely) to keep things as they are. The so-called Two Party system has a remarkably fragile history. The current ruptures over Brexit are nothing exceptional. Party splits etc etc have always played a part in the United Kingdom, long before before devolution. It does not look as though it will settle down soon, so how can the voters actually make up their minds if the parties cannot?

  • Petroc ap Seisyllt

    Felly 48% am gynyddu pwerau a 30% niwtral (status quo/dim yn gwybod)
    Eitha siwr bod ponl ym mron pob plaid yn erbyn y Senedd felly anhebyg bydd llwyddiant i protest grwp arall.
    Mae rhwyg y Blaid Werdd Englandandwales wedi ei phleidlais diweddar am “Blaid Werdd Cymru” yn dangos yr un rhaniad.

  • Dafydd Wigley

    At one time there was a question in such polls along the lines “Which do you trust more to safeguard the wellbeing of Wales – the National Assembly o’r the House of Commons?” Does such a question get asked these days and is there any sequence of results on a consistent basis of questioning? Dw

    • Professor Roger Awan-Scully

      Diolch am y sylw, a’r sylwadau, Dafydd.

      That wasn’t quite the wording, but I know the questions you are referring to. They were actually in the original draft of this poll, but ended up having to be cut: the standard problem of having more questions than we have space in the survey to ask.

      Those questions have been run in various longer surveys: the last one of which I am aware was after the general election last year. Had we infinite amounts of survey space I would love to run those, and other, survey questions much more regularly. But we don’t live in that world.

  • J Roberts

    In future, it might be interesting to ask “would you abolish the UK Parliament”. Don’t know why you ask this about the Assembly but not the former…

  • Richard Suchorzewski

    The interesting take I’ve noticed from your article is
    ‘these findings are typical of studies conducted by various survey agencies throughout the last decade and a half which, on various such questions, have tended to find between ten and twenty percent of people choosing the ‘abolition’ option in any given survey.”

    If this is generated/translated in to votes at the next Assembly elections – how many seats will Abolish The WELSH assembly receive if it’s
    10%
    20%

    Either way it’s followers will have a platform and after all – isn’t politics all about giving a voice to those who have alternative arguements and propositions to put forward?

    Further I applauded one of the commentators who criticised the level of verbal abuse from some quarters. Surely we should all be adult and mature enough to disagree without abusing one another?

    Finally if I was a Plaid or Labour supporter I would welcome the achievement of another referendum especially as they appear to be so confident that the Welsh people not only want the Assembly but a strengthened Parliament – and it looks like only The Abolish Party will grant that referendum.

  • Nic

    I read all the comments and cannot see any ‘abuse’. One contributor expresses his opinion that to be anti-devolution is to be anti-Welsh. That’s his opinion and Whatever you think of that opinion, it really cannot be classed as ‘abuse’, political, verbal or otherwise. You may be offended by it, but that’s not the same as ‘abusive’. In fact, I think it would make for a very challenging subject for students sitting a political exam. I’d be very interested in reading any arguments theorising that abolishing the assembly would actually be pro-Wales or pro-Welsh.

  • J Davies

    On one hand giving the abolish crowd a platform will allow people to easily dissect their flawed view.
    – anti-Welsh autonomy is regressive
    – being governed by people who never lived or spoke to people in Wales leads to policy that does not consider the views from our country: how many Welsh MPs per party to get the views of the entirety of Wales across?
    – against democracy, grievance seems to stem from the Welsh labour run government. They can’t offer an alternative without scraping the whole system, can’t beat the other voters, brexit parallels anyone?
    – Just to save millions that will just be handed back to the UK government who will distribute that money as they see fit, no guarantee or requirement that goes to Welsh council authorities. Thus no certainty of improvement.
    – Nationalised institutions such as the NHS will be under English authority. A future privitised NHS England will mean a privitised Welsh NHS.

    On the other, it can allow them to spout populist views without being held to such scrutiny outlined above.

  • Richard Suchorzewski

    Nic,

    I wasn’t specifically talking about abusive comments on Roger’s blog – as in fairness he appears to moderate it fairly – the abusive comments I’m referring to are on twitter which are quite vile and accusatory. The majority of which are obviously from Welsh Assembly supporters – which is a shame as both sides have arguments to debate and should be carried out with civility.

  • Richard Suchorzewski

    Harry,

    I completely agree with you.

    Unfortunately those with the weakest arguements or with a poor ability to convey that arguement, frequently adopt the practice of abuse and name calling when actually they should engage in constructive and reasoned debate. What I have began to witness in Wales, especially over subjects such as the Assembly and Welsh language, is not dissimilar to what has been happening in the US since Donald Trump has become President.

    Intolerant factions have, and are, occuring, and unfortunately have tended to come more from the supporters of the Assembly than those against it. By all means hold ones views dear and debate them, but intolerance of others views is a slippery slope which frankly serves no benefit to anyone.

  • Rob

    There is ignorance & intolerance on both sides. I do think however the anti-Assembly side can be very disingenuous when they blame the Assembly for the failures of the Welsh Labour Government, comments such as “Wales is in such a bad state, time to get rid of the Assembly”. Whats even more annoying is when I hear this off Labour supporters, when its their party in power. It is certainly logical for one to be in favour of devolution yet oppose the Welsh Government’s policies, or be opposed to devolution yet supportive their policies.

    This kind of attitude creates more division because A) it lets the Labour administration off the hook and B) anyone who disagrees with their policies could come across as being ‘anti-devolution’ or even ‘anti-Welsh’ when its not necessarily the case. There is plenty to criticise don’t get me wrong, however thats an issue for Assembly elections & not in a referendum. Any constitutional referendum should be about determining how we are governed and not who should be governing us.

    In the 21st century we have a Scottish Parliament, a Northern Ireland Assembly (albeit suspended), & even English votes for English laws in Westminster. If we ever voted to abolish our Assembly we would become the only nation in the British Isles that would not have the ability to make our own decisions. I am not a nationalist, but I do believe that the Union would be far more secure of all four of its nations were treated equally in terms of power & autonomy. If the abolitionists wanted to get rid of devolution across the UK (ie, get rid of the Scottish Parliament, NI Assembly as well & return to direct London rule for the whole UK), then that would be an opinion I could respect even though I would disagree with it. But the idea that we in Wales are less capable of governing ourselves than the other UK nations I don’t think I could stomach that.

  • Harry on the Hill

    It has been said that the measure of a true democracy is how it treats minority interests. I would not argue with this but the level of abuse used by certain people against anyone who wants to change the current system is not acceptable. Typically the terms ‘Far Right’, ‘Fascist’ and ‘Extremist’ have been used to slur someone who sits in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat!
    It would seem that if you were not born in Wales to two parents and four grandparents and eight grandparents who were also born in Wales you are not really ‘Welsh’. It really is rather sad, these people let themselves down by saying such things.

  • kenneth vivian

    ‘The measure of a true democracy is how it treats minority interests’ – Harry on the Hill. How fortunate we Welsh are that the English leviathan cares so much for the well-being of little Wales. Surely the assembly is a superfluity?

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