Yes for Wales or no to Thatcherism?


Ron Davies is not about to give up his title.

I'm talking about the former Welsh Secretary, about his unofficial title as 'the architect of devolution' and a suggestion that it could be bestowed on another - on Margaret Thatcher.

She wasn't, as Dr Martin Johnes points out, always unpopular, nor was she by any means universally unpopular in Wales. Yet by the end of her days as Prime Minister, he argues there was such "antipathy towards Thatcher was strong enough that some started questioning the whole political system".

"They began to wonder why Wales had to endure a prime minister that only a minority of its people had voted for. Enough people were perplexed by this that the resounding No vote in the 1979 referendum on devolution was turned into a narrow Yes in 1997. That makes Thatcher one of the architects of devolution".

Ron Davies doesn't buy it. Yes, he remembers driving through the village of Nelson on the morning after the 1987 election and spotting graffiti scrawled on the bridge, large letters that said "We voted Labour, we got Thatcher." Yes, he remembers being struck that a sense of unease in Wales about being governed from Westminster was growing and there to be harnessed by those who believed in devolution.

But he'll go so far and no further. What really delivered that narrow yes vote in 1997, he argues, wasn't Margaret Thatcher. It was the strong history in Wales of people wanting to reflect their own cultural identity. It would have happened with or without her. Margaret Thatcher may have helped the process along - helped with what he called 'a little light canvassing' - but certainly wasn't the cause of it.

Light canvassing? Gerroff, is the response of one key Yes for Wales campaigner. He and his team went all out to "chime with the time" says Daran Hill and that meant using the antipathy towards Mrs Thatcher and the most Thatcherite minister campaigners could (metaphorically) lay their hands on - John Redwood - for all it was worth to squeeze that narrowest of victories.

"Who did they least like in politics? Margaret Thatcher. Who did they most like? Tony Blair. So we put an aeroplane in the sky pulling a banner saying "Vote Yes"! Vote Blair!"

It worked - just. You can then, says Mr Hill, argue Margaret Thatcher contributed significantly to the shape of devolution.


Or simplistic says Conservative AM David Melding, the party's former policy director and a man who was, over the years, instrumental in turning much of his party in Wales from the anti-Assembly camp to supporters of it. Invoking her legacy may have been a (legitimate) campaigning tool - "an idea sold effectively by the likes of Peter Hain and Ron Davies" - but

"... positive factors have to explain big political moves in my view. Negative ones are present but I don't think they are the key to motivation ... You can't go from four to one against to a yes, albeit a narrow one, unless that happens".

Incidentally he argues that had she been around in politics now, Mrs Thatcher would have "accommodated devolution". The woman who set out to change the system, he imagines, would have recognised the change from what we knew, a centralised unitary state to a devolved, increasingly federal way of governing, as a means of maintaining her belief in Britain.

Would she recognise her role in delivering devolution - whether potent player or campaigning tool? i'm not sure.

Would she recognise the irony that those who most vilified her policies had something to thank her for come the referendum? Almost certainly.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    ... who decided on how the money was used?

    Before any conspiracy theory you need to answer that question alf.


  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Then why didn't they put proper Transport links into Wales. If it was down to cost. Look what they could have saved on not paying out Benefits. They, the Westminster Governments after 1985 are to blame for the so called benefit culture today.. No I believe there was a more sinister reason. Spite and South Wales Miners showed greater courage and they wanted to destroy it and them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I can well understand why Mrs. Thatcher was unpopular here,as she believed in SOUND MONEY,and people living within their They were created by means.The person to blame for the final decline of welsh coalfields,was Mr. Scargill,who was a communist and wanted end of democracy. The miners were misled,but pits had to close anyway,so get over it. The heavy industry here was created by private capital,

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    ... alf, brushing aside the nonsense at #26 and #27, a study has been made concerning the rejuvenation of the coalfields in Britain following the mass closure during the latter half of the 20C.

    One conclusion was "geography plays a huge part in successful regeneration as do transport links, the people part of the equation was less problematic because of the miners positive work ethic".

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    There was a young man called Rory
    Who was spotty, anglicised and a bleeding Tory
    He came from the shires
    Which breeds fat cats and liars
    Would you trust them with your money, Wales and your life.. God no!
    Well... that’s another story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    #23 '
    "why did English mining areas (with minor exceptions) recover, whilst in Wales the effects are still being felt" ??'

    Well, in Somerset and the deep mines of Kent, the coal industry was always a small part of the local economy.
    Nottingham is interesting.
    But S Yorkshire and the North East and Scotland. Are you so sure that these areas have recovered?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Today most Tories would say that people on benefits are work shy, lazy and don’t want to work then on the other hand during the miners strike they actively put hard working men & women on the dole heap which lead to valley communities all but dying leaving a employment void never filled. It's ironic really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Initial locally-organised strikes across the UK became a national NUM strike in March 1984. But NUM leader Arthur Scargill decreed that NUM regions could decide whether or not to strike on an independent basis. Though 61% voted against. The South Wales miners struck over the closer of Lewis Merthyr Colliery. An excellent point John. Why indeed. Makes you wonder if it has been deliberate

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    19.John Tyler
    you need a reality check #17
    How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I suppose it could be said about the low % for Police Commissioners or many other elections. But we must accept democracy whether in Cardiff or London but demographically the people of Wales, N. Eng and particuarly Scotland did not vote as a majority for her and this was a contributory factor to devo however it was the will of the Welsh people that voted TWICE for devolved powers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    "Even their best results in Wales in 1984 only a 30% voted for her"

    presumably u mean 1983 but still That's interesting! So Maggie had the support of far more of the electorate in Wales than Plaid Cymru has ever had! :)

    I wonder what the turnout in Wales was for 1983 general elections too... I'll bet my house it was a lot more than for the recent Welsh Assembly more powers referendum!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    ... I'm not sure you are entirely correct alf, Scargill took the miners out on strike without the members being balloted.

    The issue of the aftermath is much more complex, but I would ask the question ...

    "why did English mining areas (with minor exceptions) recover, whilst in Wales the effects are still being felt".

    ... ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Djohn if you take the trouble to read my comment that Wales voted agains Striking but they did out of loyalty to the NUM. Daft perhaps but there you are. They have suffered the most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    ... my #19

    In 1979, of 339 seats

    should read ...

    In 1979, Conservatives 339 seats ...

    A victory !

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    17 Woodsey
    Strange that 30% voting in a referendum is an outstanding endorsement of devolution - yet when the same number vote for Thatcher in Wales it amounted to failure. Democracy only works when you win it seems.
    The sad truth is that we had weak Labour leaders who failed to expose Thatchers weaknesses

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    ... you need a reality check #17, the British peoples include those living east of Offa's Dyke, North of the Border and across the water in NI; the elections that confirmed MT as PM four times included those of us who might label themselves Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English.

    In 1979, of 339 seats, Labour 269, the Liberals 11, Ulster parties 12 and Nationalists 4. The British peoples spoke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Thatcher was not a geat leader however some of the comments on here are childish
    1 Woodsey - so you support the present change in the benefits system
    12 Alf all of my inlaws worked in the pits in S Wales - not one of them supported Scargill. They recognised then and now that Scargill caused the closure of the pits throughout the UK
    There will be no mourning in my house

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    People in the South East supported Maggie. Northern England, Scotland and Wales didn't. Even their best results in Wales in 1984 only a 30% voted for her. In my reckoning that's only a third. So it wasn't the Briitish People who supported her.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Support or Jingoism from her and the Media John. You know how easily led your little people are.


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