For the first time since devolution I can look forward to the Senedd election as an interested observer, rather than a candidate, national officer or a media consultant; and probably suffer considerably less stress as a result!
Looking forward to the Senedd election (in whichever month it takes place) it is in many ways an election in two parts. The three main parties will vie for power and influence, while the smaller parties will battle for a single list seat in each region which will be won in all likelihood by whichever of the smaller parties comes fourth in that region.
As we consider the likely fortunes of the three larger parties we must remember that the electoral system tends towards stability. Because of the operation of the regional lists, it would take a dramatic shift in public opinion to move the main parties out of their probable bands of seats – for Labour some 25-30; for Plaid 10-16 and likewise for the Conservatives 10-16.
Thus far opinion polling suggests no such dramatic shifts and therefore in the Labour-Conservative-Plaid battle, the main questions will revolve around whether Labour can hold on to a number of marginal seats and whether the Conservatives or Plaid emerge as the second-largest party.
Now while the big three battle may not suggest major changes, the picture is somewhat more volatile when one comes to the smaller parties. We can turn here for some guidance to latest polling which listed all parties when asking about regional voting intention (YouGov / ITV Wales – October 2020).
Here we find four competitive parties – Abolish (7%), Brexit (5%), Greens (4%) and Lib Dems (4%). Others listed offer no realistic prospect of success it seems – UKIP (1%), Gwlad (1%), Communist (1%) while the Welsh National Party and the Socialist Labour fail to record any support (0%).
So who amongst the four competitive smaller parties is favoured to win seats? At first glance one might well assume that Abolish are favourites, and as of today it would be hard to argue with such a status. It would be foolish too to discount the prospect of the well-liked Bill Powell holding Brecon & Radnor for the Lib Dems.
But, I wonder how the issues of the day will impact the Senedd election? In all likelihood, Brexit will be less salient as a driving force for Leave voters. With a vaccine rollout there’s every reason to believe that the end of the pandemic will be in sight by election day.
But what then of Welsh Independence and the remarkable growth of YesCymru? Will the Greens recent unequivocal support for Welsh independence place them in a stronger position than previously to attract ‘second votes’ on the regional list, particularly from Labour voters who are increasingly pro-independence or at the very least indy-curious according to every recent opinion poll?
My New Year prediction, therefore (and I realise the danger of committing such predictions to paper!), is that the fourth list seat across several regions in Wales may well come down to a close fight between Abolish and the Greens – and the story of the election may well be written in those close battles – will it be four or five committed abolitionists heading to Cardiff Bay – or will it be Wales’ first Green representatives, supporting Welsh independence?