Senedd election

— 5 minute read — by Derry Salter and Sam Feierabend

As part of our election preview, R3trospect interviewed candidates from Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats for their thoughts on the upcoming election. We are awaiting interviews from the Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Labour.

The transcripts and recordings of the interviews can be found here:

Cefin Campbell – Plaid Cymru

Rodney Berman – Welsh Liberal Democrat

The history of The Senedd

By Derry Salter

Photo by Francesca Battilana on Pinterest.

The Senedd, formerly the Senedd Cymru or National Assembly, is the democratically elected parliament in Wales and is made up of 60 representatives. Its main roles include; representing Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and deciding on Welsh taxes. All 60 representatives attend plenary debates and the Senedd Committee to discuss relevant issues, because a preponderance of Welsh matters concerning community and local government are devolved to the Senedd.

The Senedd was established originally as the National Assembly for Wales in 1999. At the time, it had limited law-making powers, but a series of legislature passed in 2006, 2011, and 2017 led to Welsh devolution. Consequently, the Senedd have complete control to make laws over many key areas of Welsh society.

Arguably, the Labour Party in Wales is the UK’s most successful electoral machine – they have remained in power for over two decades. In 2016, Welsh Labour won 29 of 60 available seats, consolidating another five years of a Labour government. Under Welsh Labour, the electoral franchise altered dramatically, with the Senedd and Elections Act 2020 lowering the voting age to 16 as well as allowing foreign national residents in Wales to vote in all elections. However, current debates suggest this is set to change after the upcoming Senedd elections on 6 May.

Debates over Labour failures are quickly combatted in Labour’s manifesto, which acts to outline the party’s successes for Wales. During the COVID-19 pandemic alone, the Welsh Labour government helped 3,200 people into temporary accommodation, helping to counteract rising levels of homelessness. Moreover, improvements in the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and the introduction of the Optimised Retrofit Programme has seen a £2bn investment in housing in the past five years. Since 2016, Labour has arguably drastically improved education; 23% of A-Level students achieved A*-A grades in 2016, which rose to 27% in 2019. Improving education is a key aspect of Welsh Labour’s history, with claims that the government were the first in the UK to guarantee free school meal provisions over school holidays whilst simultaneously extending financial support for families.

However, members of the Welsh Conservatives argue that another five years of Welsh Labour will “hold back Wales’ economic recovery.” Claims of educational improvements have been starkly contrasted by Conservative statistics that suggest that Wales has the poorest education system across the UK. Allegedly, Welsh Labour funds each pupil on average £678 lower than those in England. Despite many people congratulating Mark Drakeford on his handling of the pandemic, it is clear that the Welsh NHS has taken a big hit. In July 2020, the Labour government introduced a daring system whereby you must book an appointment to go to A&E. This failure arguably risked many lives and brought ambulance waiting times to an all time high. Differing statistics from the ever-warring Tory and Labour parties create confusion for voters on topics such as homelessness, which is particularly prominent in Cardiff Central. Under Welsh Labour, opposition parties claim that there has been a 45% increase in rough sleeping. It is arguable that Welsh Labour’s successes do not outweigh their failures.

The 2021 election

By Sam Feierabend

Photo by Europe Online News.

No election for the Welsh Assembly has pulled a turnout of over 50%, which has threatened the credibility of the Senedd. Yet the challenges of COVID-19 – which have been dealt with as a devolved government – have engaged the Welsh public once again with their assembly. This has resulted in an overwhelming feeling that this election could be the most important yet.

The latest YouGov poll (18th-21st April) for the election has Welsh Labour currently leading with 35% vote share. Plaid Cymru and Welsh Conservatives are level on 24%, and the Liberal Democrats on 3%. This poll suggests that Labour are in for their worst ever performance in a Senedd election. The Welsh electoral voting system is different to the UK general election, in that each voter casts 2 party votes. One of these goes to their constituency member (there are 40 in Wales) which are split the same as the general election boundaries. The results of these are decided by first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting whereby the candidate with the most votes wins and the remaining votes don’t carry forward. The second vote helps to decide the 20 regional members of the Senedd who represent 5 larger ‘regions’ of the country: South Wales East, South Wales Central, South Wales West, North Wales, and Mid and West Wales. These are chosen through proportional representation voting that takes into account the percentage of the popular vote each party receives to ‘top-up’ their seat totals accordingly.

This year’s election is awash with issues surrounding Wales that has divided opinion across the political spectrum. Labour hold the power in Cardiff Bay currently, and their aim is to try and gain 2 seats to hold a majority without having to form a coalition. Their main aim is focussed on education, with a primary goal of helping everyone in Wales under 25 to guaranteed work, education or training. They plan to set up 125,000 new apprenticeship opportunities. Additionally, the party have recognised the need for a drastic improvement in rail services within Wales and have pledged an extra £800 million to improve the rail network. In terms of a COVID-19 recovery strategy, First Minister Mark Drakeford has vowed to continue to support the highly successful vaccination programme, which has seen over 70% of the adult population receive at least one dose of the vaccine (as of 2nd May).

Yet Drakeford has failed to commit to the independence referendum that many are asking for – something that is a key driving force behind Adam Price’s Plaid Cymru party. Their promise is to hold an historic independence referendum within their first term if they get into government. Additionally, they have supported Labour in giving young people aged 16-24 a guaranteed ‘Real Living Wage’. Most notable, however, is their commitment to reforming the benefit system within Wales by piloting Universal Basic Income for each household – something echoed in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. Plaid’s polling is up on the previous election, but they are expected to fall short of an overall victory. A route to power is most likely to come by forming a coalition. Price himself has ruled out collaborating with the Conservatives, so a joint government with Labour looks most feasible, and might persuade the party to reconsider their stance on independence.

The Conservatives head into the election hoping that they can join their Westminster counterparts in government to cohesively work together. They have committed to building 100,000 new houses across Wales, including 40,000 social houses which will aim to get more people onto the property ladder at an affordable price. To help with the pandemic recovery, a COVID-19 Recovery Minister would be appointed would help oversee the remaining vaccine rollout, whilst also opening up a funding system for businesses on a needs-based system. Supporters of the Conservatives are tired of what they feel is a stagnant Labour rule, so will push for an historic victory which ultimately will steer Wales in a different political direction.

Given the Senedd’s history of coalitions, parties that could gain a small number of seats may have a key role to play in the formation of the government for the next 5 years. A number of parties are aiming to win seats through the regional vote by outlining some bold policy ideas. The Abolish Party’s manifesto centres around the abolition of the Welsh Assembly and immediate ending of all lockdown restrictions, which is akin to the Propel Party. Also on the political right, Reform UK look to capitalise on a fractured UKIP vote to take some of their 7 seats; many UKIP members of the Senedd have chosen to defend their seats as Independent candidates. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats have a seat to defend, and can realistically look to gain a number of seats. They have a chance at winning in Cardiff Central – giving them key power in the capital.

Wales is seemingly at a crossroads in their history. The Welsh people appear to be more invested in their government than any time since its inception, influenced by a plethora of short-term and long-term issues. Whatever the result, there could be a political administration in charge that is non-traditional in its direction for Wales. With the discussions surrounding independence being heard ever louder, this could be the last election held as part of the Union.

As part of our election preview, R3trospect interviewed candidates from Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats for their thoughts on the upcoming election. We are awaiting interviews from the Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Labour.

The transcripts and recordings of the interviews can be found here:

Cefin Campbell – Plaid Cymru

Rodney Berman – Welsh Liberal Democrat