‘Devolution’ is a word we’re hearing a lot more as the Senedd Election heats up. But what does it actually mean?
Well, devolution is the process that gave us the Senedd, which allows laws that affect Wales to be made in Wales.
The devolution process first began in 1997, when the Welsh public voted in favour of creating the National Assembly for Wales, which in 2020 became known as the Senedd, or Welsh Parliament.
However, the turnout at the 1997 referendum was low – with just little over 50% of eligible voters turning out – which is still higher than the turnout in any Assembly/Senedd election since.
But with Wales setting its own rules during the coronavirus pandemic, awareness of Wales’ powers has increased. Whether this results in a higher turnout on Thursday, May 6 remains to be seen though.
Over these past few decades, devolution has strengthened in Wales, with the Senedd gradually gaining more and more powers from Westminster.
The Senedd has the power to pass laws on issues such as health and social care, education, business, economic development, transport, housing, language and culture, local government, the environment and more.
However, the UK Government still holds power over issues such as defence, immigration, the criminal justice system and policing in Wales.
Devolution is also in place in Scotland, which has its own parliament like Wales, and in Northern Ireland, which has its own assembly.
This is why Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England have often had differing rules and restrictions in place throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
But how does the Senedd work?
The Senedd is made up of 60 Senedd Members (previously known as Assembly Members).
Senedd Members are voted in by the electorate to vote on scrutinise laws proposed by the Welsh Government.
But what is the Welsh Government?
The Welsh Government governs Wales, as its name suggests. It proposes new laws, which have to be approved by Senedd Members, and decides how to spend the money it receives from the UK Government Treasury.
The amount of money allocated to the Welsh Government is determined by the Barnett Formula, which is calculated based on levels of public spending in England, weighted by the population of Wales. This formula is also used when allocating funds to the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive.
The Welsh Government is led by the First Minister of Wales, which is currently Welsh Labour’s Mark Drakeford.
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The First Minister is usually the leader of the party that has the most seats in the Senedd.
If any party has more than half of the 60 seats in the Senedd (30), then that party will form a government, with the leader of that party becoming First Minister.
No party has ever won more than 30 seats to have an overall majority in the Senedd.
In the last election in 2016, Welsh Labour was the largest party – but it won only 29 seats – less than half the seats available. This meant they had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, whose only Senedd Member, Kirsty Williams, became the Welsh Government’s Education Minister.
Former Plaid Cymru MS Dafydd Elis-Thomas became left the party to sit as an independent, and was subsequently appointed as the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism – giving Welsh Labour enough seats to form a government.
Government ministers are elected Senedd Members appointed by the First Minister to oversee particular areas, such as healthcare, education or transport for example.
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