At first glance the Welsh Assembly elections produced little real change. Labour, traditionally strong in Wales, gained the most seats followed by Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP with the Liberal Democrats trailing in last. The election of 7 UKIP members to the Welsh Assembly was not entirely a surprise. The party had been active in Wales for some time attracting a small, but not insignificant, level of support.
However Labour, with 29 seats, failed to achieve an overall majority, having lost the Rhondda to Leanne Wood, the charismatic leader of Plaid Cymru. Labour lost 1 and Plaid gained 1 giving them 12 Assembly seats, so after a few days of negotiation it was agreed that a Labour/Plaid coalition will form the new Welsh Government, which will also include the only LibDem. With 42 seats, the coalition has a comfortable majority of 18 over the Conservatives and UKIP. Perhaps, more interesting is what happened to the Conservatives and the LibDems. The Conservatives lost 3 seats and the LibDems 4. These seats were taken by UKIP placing them in 4th place in terms of number of seats in the new Assembly.
So what does all this mean for the strength of feeling either way about Brexit in Wales?
The 7 seats UKIP gained out of 60 gives 11.66% support for UKIP which is close to the 12.5% they achieved in the constituency vote. However UKIP failed to win one constituency seat which may mean that voters were not prepared to vote UKIP with their first vote. However, with their second regional vote, many were prepared to vote UKIP, who secured 7 out of the 20 regional seats or 35%.
The voting system for the Welsh Assembly is intended to provide a form of proportional representation. The intention is to try to prevent one party majority government, supported by less than 40% of the popular vote which is easily achievable under a first past the post system.
The results showed that Labour only achieved 34.7% of the constituency vote, but gained 27 constituency seats whereas the Conservatives with 21.1% and Plaid Cymru with 20.5% only gained 6 seats each. Hardly proportionate! This is remedied by the Regional vote, which is for a party and the parties which gained constituency seats in the region have their vote reduced by dividing their vote by the number of seats gained +1. This benefits those parties which gain no constituency seats in the regional ballot who therefore receive their full vote. This explains why UKIP gained all their seats on the Regional vote, which also benefitted Plaid and to a lesser extent the Conservatives. Labour picked up 2 seats in the mid and west Wales where Plaid, the Conservatives and LibDems hold all the seats. UKIP received 13% of the regional vote so overall their 7 seats is a fair reflection of their support as shown in these elections.
However the EU referendum is less about party loyalties than how people feel about the EU and with Labour and Plaid safely in government in Cardiff their supporters may feel less constrained about their voting choices. That said, Labour in Wales, Plaid Cymru and the LibDems are all in favour of Remain, with UKIP clearly for Leave and the Conservatives split. Andrew RT Davies the leader of the Welsh Conservative declared for Leave at the beginning of the election campaign and it was felt that this split was damaging to the Conservative vote in Wales, which was down by 3.9% and by 3.7% on the Constituency and Regional votes respectively.
A more nuanced look at voting intentions in Wales, although speculative, requires close attention to the changes which took place in the share of the vote.
Winners overall were UKIP, up 12.5% in the Constituencies and 8.5% in the Regional vote from nowhere in 2011. Plaid Cymru saw modest gains of 1.3% in the Constituencies and 3% in the Regions, with Greens gaining 2.3% in the Constituencies, but losing 0.5% in the Regions.
The real losers were Labour with their share of the vote down by 7.6% in the Constituencies and by 5.4% in the Regions. The LibDems also did badly, down by 2.9% in the Constituencies and 4% in the Regions as did the Conservatives down 3.9% and 3.7% respectively. It would be safe to assume that those who voted UKIP would do so again in the referendum. This would provide a bedrock vote of around 13% for leave.
Between the Constituency votes and Regional votes the Conservatives secured around 20% of the vote and making an assumption that 50% would support Brexit that would give another 10% for leave. With UKIP this would provide 23% for leave. The balance of 77% is provided by Labour, Plaid Cymru, the LibDems and Greens and on the basis of the numbers Wales would vote to Remain.
However despite the fact that with the exception of UKIP, the official position of all the major parties in Wales is to Remain, individual voting intentions freed from a party vote may not be so predictable. The decline in the share of the vote for Labour, the Conservatives and LibDems may indicate that, despite party loyalties, some voters are frustrated by the status quo and may use the referendum to remind their leaders that their votes cannot be guaranteed.
Although it would appear unlikely that a 28% swing to Leave could be achieved, it is probable that there will not be a 27% majority either. On the 23rd of June, if those who support Remain fail to counter the “Take back Control” rhetoric of the Leavers with a convincing argument for a Wales and UK future within the EU, the result could be close.
- Election results from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2016/wales/results (accessed 22/5/16)
- Voting System from:
- http://www.assembly.wales/en/memhome/mem-role-response/Pages/how-are-assembly-members-elected.aspx (accessed 23/5/16)