Critics learn bitter lesson of history

Devolution for Wales: Government faces first serious backbench rebellion as White Paper is unveiled
Click to follow
If a week is a long time in politics, 18 years is a veritable aeon, the Secretary of State for Wales was forced to admit yesterday. For Ron Davies, now charged with piloting Welsh devolution through the Commons, was one of its strongest critics in the 1970s.

"I have learned a very bitter lesson since 1979, that rule by the people of Wales... is a far better prospect for our people than rule by Conservative secretaries of state who represent no one other than their own vested interests," he told the House of Commons.

Ironically, Mr Davies' reversal was pointed out yesterday by Sir Ray Powell, the member for Ogmore. In the 1970s, Sir Ray was a strong supporter of devolution but today he opposes it because he is against proportional representation.

Although this government will face a backbench rebellion over its proposals, Mr Davies knows that the trouble ahead will be a mere ripple in comparison to the storm faced by James Callaghan's government over the same issue.

The then Prime Minister had to endure a brilliant campaign of opposition led by a bright young MP named Neil Kinnock. Mr Kinnock's campaign was so successful that 80 per cent of the Welsh people voted against the idea, and as a result the government fell.

Things have changed since then. Yesterday even Mr Kinnock's former constituency, Islwyn, had swung round to support the Government's proposal. Tony Wilkins, the local agent who underlined its opposition to devolution as recently as two years ago, is now running the campaign for a "yes" vote in the area.

Although support for devolution is still not as strong in Wales as it is in Scotland, opinion polls indicate that the referendum result on 18 September will be in favour of the change.