The key seats in the north of Wales that could decide the outcome of May’s Senedd election
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Although it only contains nine constituency seats the north of Wales will be one of the decisive battlegrounds for this year’s Senedd race.
When you add in the four regional votes on offer, it makes up more than a fifth of the vacancies for the race to control the Sixth Senedd.
After an extraordinary year in which the whole order of Welsh society has been challenged, how we vote and who we put our trust in for the next five years has never been more critical.
Add in 16 and 17 year-olds being able to vote for the first time, along with foreign nationals residing in Wales, and this is as difficult an election to call as we have seen since 1999.
At the vanguard of the decision to choose our leaders are a handful of seats which will be hotly contested in the north, and these key constituencies will be a barometer for the entire election.
As tight as it gets in political terms, Aberconwy encompasses the rural Conwy Valley down as far as Betws y Coed to the coastal areas between Llanfairfechan and Penrhyn Bay, which include the historic walled town of Conwy and the Victorian resort town of Llandudno.
From farming and adventure tourism in the south of the constituency, to heritage, tourism and hospitality businesses in the north the breadth of voter profiles has rendered this a marginal since it was formed.
The over-65s make up 24.2% of the population, the second-highest proportion of any Welsh constituency.
In recent elections the average poll for the Conservative party has been 33%, Plaid Cymru 32% and Labour 24.9%.
Following boundary changes the seat was won by Plaid Cymru in 2007, but in 2011 the constituency was taken by Conservative Janet Finch-Saunders, with a majority of 1,567 over Plaid.
Last time out Mrs Finch-Saunders won by just 754 votes, despite increasing her vote share by 0.7%.
Her margin of victory decreased because 2016 challenger Trystan Lewis polled five percentage points up on the party’s 2011 result.
Make no mistake this will be one of the tightest battles in Wales with Plaid seeing this as a key target and Labour fielding a strong candidate in Dawn McGuinness.
Conwy county councillor Aaron Wynne this year takes the fight to the Conservatives on behalf of Plaid, and it is firmly in his party’s “ones we’re gunning for” list.
It will be a bitter blow to the Tories aspirations of Senedd rule if they lose this one.
The result could boil down to how many votes Labour, who always poll strongly in the constituency, and the Liberal Democrats manage to pick up.
If Labour picks up it could knock Plaid’s hopes and put itself in the challenger’s seat but a better turnout for the Lib Dems could spell danger for the Conservatives.
This one is on a knife edge.
Vale of Clwyd
This is one that could go either way after being a Labour stronghold since Ann Jones took the seat at the first National Assembly for Wales elections in 1999.
Also latterly the Senedd’s deputy presiding officer, she held it until stepping down this year, with Jason McLellan taking up the fight.
From having a 50.7% share of the vote in 2011, it dipped to 39.5% and a majority of just 768 votes from Conservative candidate Sam Rowlands at the 2016 Senedd elections.
This year the Tories are pinning their hopes on Denbighshire councillor Gareth Davies, having already taken the Parliamentary seat via Dr James Davies in 2019.
This constituency is very much a priority for the Conservative Party, who will face resistance from Mr McLellan – a man hoping to reinvigorate local support.
The constituency itself has one of the most deprived wards in Wales in West Rhyl but more affluent areas further inland.
Despite having a decent presence on the local council Plaid Cymru has failed to make any real inroads into this constituency in national polls, gaining just 8.7% of the vote last time out – down 2.6 percentage points on 2011.
The big challenge here is who gets the floating UKIP votes from last time out.
Reform UK candidate Peter Dain will be hoping to mop up the 12.3% share Nigel Farage’s party managed in 2016 but where those voters eventually settle could well dictate which colour rosette is off to Cardiff in May.
Another constituency on the radar of the Conservatives will be Wrexham.
Welsh Government rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths has a 1,327 Senedd majority.
Although it equates to a healthy 6.5 percentage points over the Conservatives, it represented an 11% swing to the Tories from 2011 and a similar result this time will set nerves jangling at Labour HQ.
Conservative Sarah Atherton also sensationally wrested the Westminster seat from Labour at the 2019 General Election, so no lead is unassailable.
Plaid Cymru’s candidate, Wrexham county councillor Carrie Harper, polled a respectable 12.9% of the vote last time out in 2016 and she has already gone on the offensive seeking Labour voters.
How well the party staves off that attack could be crucial to the outcome of the vote in this constituency, as will perceptions of how well the Conservative Party has done for the area since taking the Westminster seat.
High employment and a large urban population mean the result could also swing on how to exit the pandemic and the electorate’s perception of who they feel is better to lead them out of it.
This is another constituency that will witness some hard-bitten nails come May 6 and could end up being as close as Vale of Clwyd and Aberconwy.