Keir has awoken from his long Christmas slumber. So hello to you all and Happy New Year.
Pleasantries out of the way, now to address the first issue of 2011.
A few days back, Keir attended the launch for the "Yes For Wales" campaign in Cardiff. Both contributors here at Keir Hardie Blogs are wholeheartedly behind the campaign for a "Yes" vote in March's referendum and here's very brief summary of why.
Wales has grown in many ways since devolution was voted in so narrowly in 1997. Culturally, economically, politically...even linguistically. However, arguably the moment when the maturity of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) became clear to all was on November 30th, 2010. It was on this day when Wales took the most talked about issue at the time and, hand-in-hand with the progressive political make-up of WAG, showed that there was an alternative to the devastating Tory cuts. Leighton Andrews, the WAG Education Minister, announced that Welsh domiciled students will see no increase to their tuition fees, just days before the UK Government in Westminster gave it's blessing to Universities to raise fees to as high as £9,000 per year. Until this moment, Keir was in the "Yes" camp, but not vehemently. But after this display of political direction, that vehemence was attained.
The timing of this referendum is perfect for Wales and for "Yes" enthusiasts. Attitudes to devolution have changed massively since the narrow victory in the 1997 referendum. A survey conducted in 2003 showed that whilst only 22.4% of people saw the Assembly as having the most influence over how Wales is run, 56% thought it ought to have the most influence. In the same survey, 43% of people said the Assembly's power over Health had seen services improve whilst only 9% said they thought services had reduced in quality and 31.4% said Education had improved compared to 6.7% saying the opposite.
However, most telling, in Keir's point of view, was the impact on the identity and culture in Wales that the survey showed devolution has had. Attendance at Welsh schools is up, the take-up of Welsh GCSE and A Level is up, the number of Welsh speakers is up. And this identity growth is also reflected in the survey. In 1997, 17.2% of people said they felt "Welsh, not British," and 25.7% of people said they felt "more Welsh than British". By 2003, those figures had increased to 22.7% and 28.1% respectively. When broken down into age groups, these attitudes are even more promising. The percentage of 18-24 year olds who said they felt "Welsh, not British", was higher than the national average, at 27.4%. Also higher than the national average was the 36.9% people in that age group that said they felt "more Welsh than British". Keir would hazard a guess that now, in 2010, those percentages are even higher. The fact that the younger you go down the scale, the "more Welsh" people feel shows the impact that devolution has had on identities.
For these reasons, and others not outlined here (mainly because of laziness) Keir will be voting "Yes." And for these reasons, Keir is confident of a win for the "Yes" campaign far greater than that famous win in 1997.