A Downing Street inquest into New Labour’s narrow 1997 Welsh devolution referendum victory, suggested the “language mafia” had an impact on the result, newly released memos show.

Plans to decentralise power away from Westminster in September 1997 were dealt a blow following the wafer-thin Yes vote in Wales.

Civil servants in the aftermath appeared to disrespect Welsh devolution as comments have emerged about a “Welsh language mafia” putting people off voting for devolution.

The comments have been revealed in newly released documents from the UK's National Archives, which also show the Queen was advised not to attend the opening of the new Welsh Assembly in 1999 as it was “subordinate to Westminster.

A UK Government mandarin wrote the Assembly would be "wholly subordinate" to Westminster and there would be "no question of direct relations with the sovereign would arise”.

However the Queen did attend the opening of the National Assembly for Wales in June 1999, as she did for the opening of the Scottish Parliament the same year.

The 1997 referendum, which took place in two weeks after Princess Diana’s funeral, saw the pro-devolution side narrowly win, with 50.22 per cent of the vote.


The newly released documents highlighted an “absence of clear political direction”, “no clear campaign strategy” and the accusation that the Welsh Assembly - since renamed the Welsh Parliament/Senedd - would create “jobs for the boys”.

The memo also suggested the campaign failed to adequately counter the accusation from the 'no' campaign that people “will be forced to speak Welsh”.

Sarah Rees, the acting chair of Yes Cymru, slammed the comments.

She said: “Wales is an afterthought, it’s the bottom of the pile. It’s not about what’s best for us, it’s about what’s best for the Westminster agenda.

“I think using words like mafia do not help, it puts us as a nation a backfoot. I don’t think talking about the Welsh language in terms of illegality is helpful to anyone.”

Peter Hain, parliamentary under-secretary for Wales, was said to be “particularly concerned about the need to reform Wales’ Labour Party” to ensure it was both “better at campaigning” and offered “proper opportunities for women candidates”.

And Pat McFadden, a Downing Street aide who would become a Labour MP in 2005, said attacks over cost and allegations of an Assembly creating “jobs for the boys” were successful, “because we could not advance a good positive reason for having an Assembly”.

He said: “In other words, the cost would have been more defensible if it was for something people thought was worth having.”

He added, in his note to Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff: “On the Welsh language you know my view – this scared people in much of Wales who already resent the language mafia.”

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