Ifan Morgan Jones
My first reaction on opening up this morning’s YouGov poll was ‘Phew!’
That might seem like a strange reaction from someone who is avowedly pro-devolution to a poll projecting that there will be four Abolish the Assembly MS in the next parliament.
But while those projected regional MS will likely hog the political headlines today, the poll as a whole actually paints a very rosy picture for the future of the Senedd.
I had actually expected things to be quite a bit worse. I must admit that I had expected a big uptick in anti-Senedd sentiment (as I predicted in the most recent issue of Barn).
Why? Because while the last few months have largely proven the need for devolution on many issues it has also probably been the most dangerous for the Welsh Parliament since its establishment in 1999.
The Senedd has never had the salience it now has during the Covid-19 pandemic and I had expected quite a lot of people who weren’t particularly knowledgeable about devolution to be surprised by how much power it had (in fact, I’ve been surprised by how much power it has) and would consequently turn against the idea.
This poll also collected its findings between 26-30 October, right at the point where the Welsh Government were fighting a number of political fires started by their (in my opinion badly thought out) essential goods ban.
If anti-devolution sentiment was ever likely to be high, it would have been in this poll.
But when you look at the underlying figures, it shows that what I feared has not come to pass. There has been a small uptick in anti-devolution sentiment from 25 to 27% but that is within the margin of error.
It actually brings us back into line with the February barometer poll that, with don’t knows removed, showed exactly the same result which was 33% backing abolishment, on level pegging with pro-independence sentiment.
So what is to account for the jump in the political fortunes of the Abolish the Assembly party?
Well, it can be suggested that what the poll actually shows is a consolidation of the pro-devolution vote around one party and the fracturing of the devo-sceptic vote around a few others.
In the constituency vote, Labour are up 4% and Plaid Cymru down 4%. On the regional vote, where Abolish compete, they are up 3% and the Conservatives down 3%.
There are pretty obvious political explanations for these shifts if we want to look for them. Over the past few months, by flexing his devolved powers, Mark Drakeford has to a great extent stolen some of Plaid Cymru’s appeal as a national party willing to stand up for Wales.
Meanwhile, some of the more devo-sceptic element within the Conservatives are willing to back Abolish the Assembly on the regional list, perhaps ironically egged on by some of the Conservative’s own anti-lockdown rhetoric.
But these aren’t massive changes in the polls and can almost all be accounted for within the margin of error anyway, so who knows?
A sudden leap from zero to four projected members in the Senedd feels like a big gain for the Abolish the Assembly party but the cut off point between gaining and losing a regional MS is about 7-8% – so if they fell a percentage point they would likely be back at zero.
And with the launch or rebranding of Reform UK on the horizon, it might just be that the devo-sceptic vote is split once more between UKIP, Abolish, Reform UK and the slightly more devo-keen Conservatives.
There’s also plenty in this poll to suggest that support for devolution is strengthening. All the figures on handling Covid-19 show that the majority of people back the Welsh Government’s approach, with 70% thinking the Welsh Government has done a good job of handling Covid-19 compared with just 37% for the UK Government.
And the long-term view is that polls continue to show a historic slide in support for abolishing the Senedd over the last 15 years and growing support for more powers.
Therefore, and if I prove wrong feel free to point that out, but there’s nothing in this poll to worry me about the future of our Parliament or Government.
All in all, the institution may have just come through its point of maximum danger, with some polarization of opinion but, given recent events, a quite surprisingly robust level of overall public support.