Why Wales could end up behaving more like England than Scotland

While the national media has been fixated on what could happen in Scotland at the election, next to no attention has been paid to Wales. If the nationalists are on the march in the former, you’d expect there to be a degree of interest in whether they are doing likewise in the latter.

In reality, the reverse is true. I’ve seen almost nothing written about Wales in the national press, and very little about how Plaid Cymru is likely to do at the polls.

A lot of this could be to do with the fact that Plaid Cymru is expected to do very little at the polls. It currently has three seats. When I reviewed the state of play in Wales last August, I wrote that I expected Plaid to hold all its constituencies, but not to make any gains. I wonder now whether even this was optimistic. currently suggests Plaid is most likely to win just one seat on 7 May, losing its two other seats to Labour. One of them, Arfon, is certainly high on Labour’s target list, and needs a swing of just 2.8% to change hands. Labour’s candidate is Alun Pugh, who was beaten in the seat by Plaid in 2010, and who is no doubt out for revenge.

The other vulnerable seat is Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, which Plaid has held since 2001 and which Labour needs a swing of 4.6% to win.

Clearly, Labour would love to pick up at least one of these seats. The party will be hoping to make as many gains as possible outside Scotland to offset the constituencies it is likely to lose to the SNP. It would be typical of the topsy-turvy nature of this election were Labour to lose ground to one nationalist party at the same time as winning ground at the expense of another.

An opinion poll carried out at the end of January on behalf of Cardiff University suggested a rather different story, however. The poll implied that only three seats in the whole of Wales might change hands – and none of them belonging to Plaid. It predicted that Labour would gain Cardiff North from the Tories and Cardiff Central from the Liberal Democrats, while the Tories would gain Brecon & Radnorshire from the Lib Dems.

Such an outcome would fit more with the likely pattern of voting in England than Scotland, with Labour making a limited advance against both the Tories and Lib Dems, the Tories picking off a number of Lib Dems, and not a great deal else changing.

Plaid would obviously relish a result that left their three seats intact. But it might leave them wondering why they received no boost whatsoever from the performance of their cousins in the SNP, despite all talk of a mutually-benefitting “progressive alliance” between the SNP, Plaid and the Greens.

Update: A brand new poll in Wales has broadly confirmed all of the above, though Roger Scully of Cardiff University has interpreted the figures as suggesting Labour may indeed gain Arfon while Plaid may take the Lib Dem seat of Ceredigion.


11 responses to ‘Why Wales could end up behaving more like England than Scotland

  1. There’s a chance – just a small one – that the Lib Dems will be wiped out in Wales entirely. Cardiff Central is almost certain to fall to Labour, Brecon is vulnerable to the conservatives and Plaid have serious ambitions of taking Ceredigion.

    There’s also just the slimmest chance of a Liberal Democrat gain in Montgomeryshire, as the Lib Dems work to undo the damage caused by Lembit Opik in what is historically strong Liberal territory.

  2. This article is misnamed. Really it should be ‘HOW Wales could…’, rather than ‘Why’, because it’s pretty completely descriptive – there’s no analysis here.

    I personally think it’s really interesting that the SNP is flourishing in Scotland yet Plaid are, at best, exactly where they are 5 years ago. Why is that?

    I don’t live in Wales (I’ve visited Denbighshire a couple of times and it’s lovely but that’s the extent of my experience) but here are a few of my ill-informed thoughts nonetheless.

    1. Plaid are considered to be a party for rural Welsh speakers. Welsh has survived much more strongly and widely than Gaelic has in Scotland (~23% Welsh speakers vs ~1% Gaelic speakers) and language issues have never been much of an issue in the Scottish independence debate. The SNP have, because of this, never been pigeon-holed as the ‘Gaelic party’ and therefore can draw on a much wider pool of support.

    2. Scotland is a more credible proposition as an independent country than Wales. Various studies suggest that Scotland’s economy is stronger than other part of the UK other than London and the South East.

    3. Wales has been in union with England for much longer than Scotland has and indeed more or less ceased to exist as a legal/political entity at one point. This is difficult pin down in its consequences but it seems likely that it’s an important factor nonetheless. There’s currently no such thing as Welsh law (although that will soon change) whereas Scots law is markedly distinct from English law and always has been.

    The resurrection of a separate Welsh legal system brings me onto a counter argument however. Support for the SNP is in no small way related to support for further devolution and there is a lot of reason to believe that support for further devolution in Wales is not too much weaker (as evidenced in the 2011 referendum). Why then are Labour appearing to benefit from this impulse? Why are Plaid not ‘owning’ this issue in the way that the SNP do in Scotland?

    And finally why is the anti-establishment vote in Wales making its to Ukip rather than Plaid? Most observers agree that Ukip is England’s (rather nasty) nationalist party so why is it gaining purchse in Wales?

    Any points I’ve made here are provisional and open to correction by those better informed than myself and any questions are asked sincerely.

      • That’s my ignorance that I warned you about! OK, perhaps a better way of putting it is that there is next to zero specifically Welsh case law. The law making powers that the Welsh Assembly has had have mainly related to enacting spending on the NHS, etc. rather things that would be actionable through the civil courts/enforceable through the criminal courts and so they haven’t generated litigation/prosecutions. Wales’ court system is fully integrated into that of England – hence the clunky construct ‘Englandandwales’.

    • In reply to those points:

      1: I wonder to what extent the idea that Plaid Cymru is a party for Welsh speakers is predicated on its Welsh-language name. Might it have gained a wider support base if it had been called the “Welsh National Party”?

      2: The studies backing the economy of an independent Scotland were done before the collapse in the price of oil. Moreover this collapse in oil prices has not caused a collapse in Scottish nationalism, so in any case the link between economic prosperity and nationalist support would appear tenuous at best.

      No in my mind it’s pretty clear why the SNP have soared and PC have stood still: it’s their respective party leaderships. Plaid Cymru need their own Alex Salmond.

      • 1. Fair point. I think I read something not that long ago that Leanne Wood was considering just this change. The question is, how much of a difference is that likely to make now? For how many people is the perception already crystallised?

        2. I disagree here absolutely. No one in Scotland, not even those most vehemently opposed to independence, really believes that the collapse in the oil prices is a long term development. It’s the product of the Saudis trying to pop the American shale gas fracking industry to keep them reliant on Middle Eastern oil by flooding the market. Oil is a dwindling, finite resource which will not seriously decrease in long term value even after renewables have come into their own.

        As for your leadership point, it’s valid to the extent that Salmond is popular and has advanced his cause but we risk straying into the ‘Great Man’ theory of history here. Why hasn’t Plaid had its Salmond? Do you really think that Ukip’s success is solely down to Nigel Farage and nothing whatsoever to do with unease over European federalism and immigration? I simply can’t believe that. There are deeper issues at play. Without wanting to sound too portentous, movements get the leaders they deserve and thinking otherwise is to the cart before the horse.

        For me, that must come back to economics – the polling evidence suggests that a far higher proportion in Scotland believe that their country could be a viable independent state than do in Wales, although I do recognise that there is a problem in determining where the causal relationship is in this – you are no doubt more likely, having made up your mind that you support independence, to be able to convince yourself that that independence would be viable. In any case, it still doesn’t explain why Plaid Cymru, as the party that wants Welsh autonomy to go furthest and therefore the natural leaders on the matter, can’t currently own the devolution issue.

        Should Scotland end up becoming independent, as well it may given the paradigm shift we see unfolding, then it seems likely to me that the constitutional situation in Northern Ireland will change but, frankly, in what way, I’ve no idea.

    • I wouldn’t say that UKIP is England’s ‘nasty’ nationalist party. They are not nationalists in that they don’t recognise the existence of indiginous nations in Britain nor do they take a particularly tough line on immigration. They’re really Thatcherite Tory Euro-phobes. England does have a genuine nationalist party called the English Democrats. UKIP shouldn’t be said to be the same as the English Democrats, the BNP or France’s Front National party.

  3. Plaid did have its own Alex Salmond in former leader Dafydd Wigley all its leaders since have been poor and moved the party from an all inclusive party representing all welsh people (speakers and non speakers of welsh) to a party that has little time for anyone in north Wales east of Colwyn bay. To be fair though the labour government of Wales has spent all its time in power making decisions on a political basis (to keep them in power) rather than for the benefit of Wales as a whole

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