Comment

Welsh devolution and the struggle for airtime

Source: Ady36

By Sam Tilley

Over all of the drama of the last few years, one constant face upon our television sets and social media timelines has been the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. Whether it be a new Brexit deal, the government implementing the latest policy or even a Scottish national sport team winning (or losing), the various broadcast networks will turn their cameras to document the reaction of the devolved leader of Scotland. So why when the equivalent happens in Wales, there is no great rush, or indeed sometimes no attempt, to afford the same treatment to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford.

Yes the population of Scotland is two million more than that of Wales and, yes, the profile of Scotland’s leadership was inevitably boosted by the failed bid for independence in 2014 but the public profile of Welsh politicians has never been lower. The latest Welsh Political Barometer poll revealed that an astonishing 50% of participants didn’t know who Mark Drakeford was. This rises to 65% who didn’t know Adam Price and a quite incredible 76% who are in the dark about Paul Davies, the Welsh Conservative leader. That three quarters of the respondents didn’t know who the effective Leader of the Opposition in Wales was is surely a damning verdict of how well the Assembly has been able to reach out to the people it serves. 

A recent tweet also compared the Twitter followings, somewhat depressingly the modern-day measuring tool of engagement, of Sturgeon and Drakeford. The comparisons are startling; Sturgeon basking in the glory of just over a million followers whereas the First Minister of Wales’ account has limped to just over 48,000. Again to assume that Twitter followings are the standard methodology for testing how successful the Senedd is at engaging its citizens would be ludicrous but the online engagement of both leaders is rather telling. 

As with most problems, the response cannot merely be prescribed to a single party. The national coverage of the Welsh Assembly is broad at best; non-existent at worse. In fact as I write this, the BBC rolling news coverage has just reached out to Drakeford to offer his opinion on the Brexit deal negotiated last week. The deal was announced at 11:00 in the morning; the First Minister of Wales made his first nationwide comment on it at 16:00. For comparison, the reaction of his Scottish counterpart, the leader of the DUP and the foreign minister of Ireland were broadcast hours before Wales was mentioned.

Beyond Wales, the national media has to be responsible for promoting the work that the Senedd does to a greater degree than currently exists. It may be that one of the primary reasons that the Senedd is effectively ignored by national media is that the perception of the parliament is that it possesses very little legislative power in comparison to Scotland. Perhaps that is time to change.

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