Daily Mirror - Print Edition

Wales elects first Black First Minister in Europe

20 Mar 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Growing support for more devolution of power to Wales and even independence from the UK

“Devolution - Welsh solutions to Welsh problems - that’s in my priority,” Gething declared.



Vaughan Gething, who was elected as First Minister (Chief Minister) of Wales last week, is the first Black to head a government in Europe. He is the fourth non-White head of government in the British Isles.
The politics of the British Isles is now truly multi-racial, a major and unprecedented development in British politics.



The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is an Indian. The Scottish First Minister is Hamza Yousaf, a Pakistani. The Irish Prime Minister (called the Taoiseach in the Irish language) is Leo Varadkar, who is part Indian. And now, the Welsh First Minister, called “prif weinidog” in the Welsh language, is Vaughan Gething, a half Zambian, the father being White and the mother a Black African.  
In his acceptance speech, the 50 year-old Gething said: “Today, we turn a page in the book of our nation’s history.”  

Gething became Wales’ First Minister after narrowly winning the ruling Welsh Labour party’s leadership election with 51.7% of the votes polled. He had experienced racial discrimination in the early days of his life in Wales. But undaunted by it, he shone in the University both as a student and a student leader. He was known for getting along with people, a trait which paved the way for his entry into politics.  

Gething was a practicing lawyer before being elected to the Welsh Parliament called the Senedd in 2011. He earned a name for himself as the Education Minister and also as Health Minister who tackled the Covid 19 pandemic.

Votary of Power Devolution

An important announcement which Gething made on being elected is that he is committed to attaining further devolution of power to Wales from the government of the UK in London. Devolution has been a long standing issue in the British Isles. 
“Devolution - Welsh solutions to Welsh problems - that’s in my priority,” 
Gething declared. 

In 1997, the then Secretary of State for Wales in the UK government, Ron Davies, referred to devolution as “a process, not an event.” Indeed, Wales got its present devolved powers over a long period of time, fighting hard for it. Wales’ struggle for devolution should be of interest to South Asian countries where there is a 
thirst for devolution.      

In a pamphlet published ahead of the first elections to the then National Assembly for Wales in May 1999, Ron Davies said: “Devolution is a process. It is not an event and neither is it a journey with a fixed end point. The devolution process is enabling us to make our own decisions and set our own priorities, that is the important point. We test our constitution with experience and we do that in a pragmatic and not an ideologically driven way.”
According to an official House of Common document on Wales, the first phase of devolution to Wales was in the period 1964-1999 which saw Administrative Devolution. In the second phase, between 1999 and 2007, secondary law-making powers were given. Executive devolution with enhanced secondary powers were given between 2007 and 2011. 

Legislative devolution under a “conferred powers” model was given between 2011 and 2018. After 2018, legislative devolution under a “reserved powers” model was given. Under this scheme the Wales legislature could pass laws on any matter not expressly “reserved” to the UK Parliament.

However, even under the new “reserved powers” model, the UK Parliament – as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland – remains legislatively supreme in relation to all UK law. This means the UK parliament retains the right to legislate, should it wish to do so, on all subjects relating to Wales.
However, by convention, the UK Parliament does not normally pass laws on devolved areas without first obtaining the consent of the Senedd via a mechanism known as a Legislative Consent 
Motion (LCM). 

There are a number of examples in recent years where the Senedd has voted against giving consent to UK Government Bills which have then been passed by the UK Parliament. 

Relations Between UK and Wales 

The union of Wales with England was one of the first stages in the formation of what is today known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Under the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542, England and Wales became a single state. The law of England became the only law of Wales, and English – rather than Welsh – the only recognised language in the union.
Political demands for Welsh autonomy were first articulated in the late 19th century, although it was not until the 1960s that constitutional debate led to the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Constitution (which reported in 1973). 

The phrase “administrative devolution” has been used to describe the process by which government administration – rather than legislative control – was transferred from Whitehall to Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th century. The same was true of Wales, although the process moved more slowly in the latter case. 

There was little change in the interwar years (1918-1939). In 1940 the Welsh Board of Health took over responsibilities for housing, water and other local government services. In October 1964, shortly after the Labour Party was returned to power in London, at that year’s general election, the post of Secretary of State for Wales was created. The Secretary of State for Wales was authorised to exercise “oversight” within Wales of the execution of national policy. 

However, gradually, the Welsh Office accumulated greater responsibilities. In 1974, the Labour Government published proposals for a “directly-elected assembly” in Wales with only executive and not legislative powers. 
A referendum on this took place on 1 March 1979. But only 20.3% of the electorate in Wales voted demanding legislative powers. However, debates about devolving power from Westminster to Wales continued throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. 

The opposition Labour Party produced proposals for a Welsh Assembly – again with executive rather than legislative powers. After the 1997 general elections, a White Paper “A Voice for Wales”’ was published on 22 July 1997, setting out proposals for an “Assembly for Wales” with 60 members.
A referendum was held on 18 September 1997 – a week after a referendum in Scotland on devolution. This time, 50.3% said “Yes” to devolution. 

On 3 March 2011, voters in Wales were asked: “Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?” In response, 63.49% answered “yes”. 
The Welsh Assembly assumed its new powers on 5 May 2011, enabling it to pass primary legislation (without recourse to Westminster) in all 20 areas already devolved to Wales. 



Call for Independence of Wales

The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, said in its manifesto for the 2017 UK general election that: “It remains our ambition for Wales to become an independent nation, standing on its own two feet.” But at that point, polling suggested support for Welsh independence was 10% or less.

In November 2019, Plaid Cymru established a commission to “look at the detail of how an independent Wales could work”. Polling during 2019 suggested support for Welsh independence had increased. A YouGov survey commissioned by Plaid found that 24% would vote “Yes” in an independence referendum. It was speculated that it would be 33% if it meant Wales could remain part of the EU.

Plaid Cymru firmly believes that “Wales should become an independent member of the European Union” by 2030. In the run up to the 2021 Senedd elections, some polls put the percentage of people who would vote “yes” in a Welsh independence referendum at between 30 and 35%.

In July 2021 the Welsh Government set out plans for an Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales. The Commission published its interim report in December 2022 which said that there could be three options for Wales: (a) entrenched devolution, (b) a federal structure and (c) independence