- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Categories: Feature, Media
So Brexit or Bremain? The portmanteaus are silly but the decision is as serious as they come. The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU will take place on 23 June. Between now and then the debate will rage. Countless arguments will be advanced and countered, innumerable threads pulled at and tangled. In the quiet of the polling booth, though, I suspect most people will be clear about what is at stake. My view? An EU without Britain would be economically weaker, politically unstable and less influential in the world. The European Project was conceived as the antidote to war, let’s not forget. Today it stands for democracy and liberal values in an increasingly dangerous world. On 23 June I shall vote for Britain to remain in the European Union.
Whatever your view, the essential thing is to vote. The UK government recently changed the rules for electoral registration, from sign up by household to individuals. Most people have been transferred automatically from the old to the new list but around one in 10 have not. Worryingly, it is estimated that 800,000 people have dropped off the register since the changes came in. That is on top of a longer-term trend of voter drop-off. In the 1950s, around 96% of people were on the voting rolls. By 2014, it had dropped to 85% with up to 7.5million people missing. The problem is especially acute for young people. Up to a third of young people are thought to be missing – as new voters must now sign up as individuals, that problem is only getting worse.
That is why I have co-signed a letter in support of the National Voter Registration Drive. We are calling on the Conservative Westminster government to move towards automatic voter registration. In the meantime, it must make it easier for people to update their registration details, do more to sign up young people and allow Election Day registration.
Your next opportunity to vote of course is the Assembly election on 5 May. Health is front and centre of the campaign. This month the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report on the quality of healthcare in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. It concluded that “no consistent picture emerges of one of the United Kingdom’s four health systems performing better than another” and highlights the “clear and consistent commitment to quality of care in all of the health systems.” It puts to bed David Cameron’s repeated and reckless nonsense about Offa’s dyke being a line between life and death. Good – many people rely on services on both sides of the border. The £5.3m investment in Llandrindod Wells Hospital will provide a modern service with excellent care. With the doctors’ strike in England – the first in the history of the NHS – still rumbling on, the Welsh Labour Government can be proud of its record of delivering improvement while firmly rejecting privatisation.
Farming will be a key battleground for both the referendum and Wales’ election. This week the Farmers’ Union of Wales came out in support of Britain in Europe. At home, from February 26, farmworkers in Wales will get a 6 per cent pay rise – their first in four years. It is a result of the Welsh Government’s decision to protect farm wages when, in 2013, the Conservative and Lib Dem government scrapped the Agricultural Wages Board. In Wales and Europe, your vote counts.