By Dewi Morris | Political Editor
This election was always going to be interesting; after 22 years of devolution in Wales, and 22 years of Welsh Labour being in power, the Senedd’s achievements over the past two decades have been in the spotlight over the campaign. Wales’ response to the pandemic has also cast a light onto the devolution process and the number of key areas such as Health and Education ruled from Cardiff Bay.
This Senedd election is set to have a much greater prominence as COVID-19 has illustrated how politics in Wales differs from other UK nations. The past year has also raised the volume on the debate over the constitution, with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Green Party, Propel, and Gwlad campaigning for Welsh independence. On the other hand, UKIP and the Abolish the Welsh Assembly party stand for just that – closing the Senedd. Labour have called for a reformed constitution which the Conservatives oppose. The Liberal Democrats campaign for a federal UK. And Reform UK want to reform the way that the first minister is elected. Apart from independence, the continued response to the pandemic as well as COVID-19 recovery are major campaigning points; whether Labour increase their seats, remain in power, or are challenged may become testament to whether the public agree with the Welsh Government’s cautious approach to restrictions. There will of course be other campaigning points too, over Brexit, the environment, housing, and other key areas.
But first, how does a Senedd election work? On May 6, if you have registered you will have two votes, one constituency and one regional. In a general election you would have only one constituency vote, each constituency would elect one MP, making up the 650 MPs in the House of Commons. The Senedd has 60 members and Wales has 40 constituencies who each elect one MS. The remaining 20 MSs are elected by Wales’ five regions who each elect four MSs. Unlike the UK’s ‘first passed the post’ vote, the regional vote works via an ‘additional member system’ which makes it easier for smaller parties to win a seat. 16 and 17-year-olds will also be able to vote for the first time in this year’s election. You’ll also be able to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner election which is on the same day. Next, you’ll want to hear which parties you can vote for and what they stand for. Gair Rhydd has interviewed the candidates for Cardiff Central, an area dominated by the student vote, which you can read on pages 14 and 15.
The election is likely to be a three-party race between Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru, and the Welsh Conservatives. The polls suggest Welsh Labour will win the most seats in this election but will fall short of the 30 seats needed for a majority. If this is true and Labour lose seats it may signal the end to Labour’s long standing stability in Wales. If Labour don’t win a majority it’s likely that they would be forced to form a coalition with Plaid Cymru as happened in 2007. However, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price has ruled out a coalition with Labour if Plaid are the ‘junior party’. Both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives have also ruled out a coalition together, making it less likely that the next government will not be led to some extent by Welsh Labour. The polls also show both Plaid and the Conservatives increasing their number of seats, and so both Adam Price and the Conservative’s leader Andrew RT Davies may threaten Drakeford in their own right, although it’s unlikely either party will overtake Labour for the most seats.
The latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, published on April 22, gives the following predictions for the constituency and regional vote:
[Graphs created on Datawrapper.de using data from YouGov Welsh Political Barometer poll for ITV/ Cardiff University].
If these predictions are correct, the next Welsh Government will be made of only five parties: Labour with 26 seats, Plaid Cymru with 17, Conservatives with 14, Abolish the Assembly with two, and the Liberal Democrats with one. If this is correct, then no party will have a majority and a coalition would be most likely.
So, what are the main parties promising?
When it comes to COVID-19 recovery (one of the biggest challenges that will face the new Welsh Government) Welsh Labour’s manifesto promises to “invest heavily” and to “tackle the backlog of postponed treatments and operations caused by the pandemic to make sure no one is left behind.” Plaid Cymru are promising 4,000 new nurses, 1,000 new doctors and 1,000 new allied health professionals. And the Conservatives are promising five new hospitals, 3,000 new nurses and 1,200 new doctors by 2026.
Other key pledges from Welsh Labour include creating a “Young Persons Guarantee, giving everyone under 25 the offer of work, education, training, or self-employment”, setting a Real Living Wage higher than the National Living Wage for care workers, and “extending entitlement as far as resources allow” for free school meals. Plaid Cymru have promised to seek “immediate devolution of power” over areas including broadcasting, welfare and railways which are currently controlled from Westminster, and a referendum on independence in the next 5 years. Similar to Labour, Plaid have also promised a Job Guarantee for everyone aged 16-24. Their manifesto also includes free school meals for all primary school children, free childcare for all children 24 months or older for 30 hours a week, and a new railway along the west coast joining North and South Wales. The Welsh Conservatives have promised to deliver 5,000 more teachers, build 100,000 more houses, and build an M4 relief road.
For the environment; Welsh Labour are promising to create a national forest extending from North to South Wales, this would include 20 existing forests and would create 30 more. They have also promised 20,000 new “low-carbon” social homes to rent. Plaid Cymru’s approach promises to restore natural biodiversity by 2050, ban all non-essential single-use plastic in 2021, and ensure that Wales is carbon neutral and that all electricity is renewable by 2035. The Conservatives promise carbon net-zero by 2050, a ban on non-medical single-use plastics and increasing penalties for fly-tipping.
The Liberal Democrat’s manifesto promises a Real Living Wage for all care workers, increasing spending on mental health to 13% of the NHS’ spending by 2028, and extending free school meals into school holidays. For the environment, they promise a ‘Green Homes Act’ to cut energy bills by £500 a year for energy-efficient homes, to introduce a minimum of 20% tree cover in urban areas and to build a floating offshore wind hub near Port Talbot. The Abolish the Welsh Assembly party focus on one issue, abolishing the Senedd so that every area including Health and Education in Wales is governed by Westminster rather than Welsh MSs.
This year’s counting will take place during the daytime on May 7th. Unless one party wins 30 seats needed for a majority it is unlikely that we’ll know straight away which party or parties will run the next Welsh Government.