Wales Governance Centre: How Scotland and Wales Voted
The Wales Governance Centre this week held a webinar to unveil initial findings from the Scottish and Welsh Election Studies 2021, one of the most extensive surveys into devolved elections in the UK. The early results showed some shifts in the vote share, as the collapse of populist parties such as UKIP, Abolish the Assembly and Reform freed up space for the main parties on the regional list. The results have also provided always welcome details about shifts within votes for individual parties, as well as strength for existing trends – such as Welsh Labour and Welsh identity.
Welsh Labour clearly enjoyed a good result, and even in constituencies where it did not win it was able to increase its support in some Welsh Conservative-held seats – reaching the margin in Preseli Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Professor Richard Wyn Jones, who chaired the webinar, was keen to highlight the electoral success Welsh Labour has had in Wales since 1922 – putting it in a unique position globally.
The absolute dominance of Welsh Labour as a national party can be held up as something of an outlier compared to other parts of the UK – with Labour in England struggling to make a serious dent in Conservative support, and Scottish Labour pushed out by the SNP monolith.
Prior to the pandemic, and even in the early stages of the campaign, there were fears that Welsh Labour would see a record low performance. However, it has benefitted from its incumbency during the pandemic, and the crisis of the past year has seen Mark Drakeford’s profile transformed. Early findings from the Election Studies suggest that compared to 2019 Conservative voters, Welsh Labour was able to pick up 11% - managing to bring back those Labour voters who scattered to other parties amid the Brexit debate.
Professor Richard Wyn Jones highlighted – as has been done since election night – the disappointing performance for the Welsh Conservatives. Although the party improved its vote share and increased its number of seats, there were clearly higher hopes given the Conservatives’ excellent performance in 2019 and the significant resources that were invested in the Senedd Election campaign by the party.
Explaining poor turnout for the Welsh Conservatives, the findings from the Election Study suggest that Welsh Conservatives voters were less likely to cast their ballot in areas where the party is unlikely to win – although its chance of success may be equally low during a General Election, the hope of success at a UK level mediates this reluctance.
The findings also suggest a small, but significant, portion of Welsh Conservative voters who do not support devolution and who do not wish to engage with the Senedd at all – even if it means enabling successive Welsh Labour governments.
Plaid Cymru also had a disappointing Senedd Election, in which although it was able to increase support in its heartlands, lost support elsewhere – notably in Rhondda, where former party leader Leanne Wood lost her seat to Welsh Labour’s Buffy Williams, and the marginal Llanelli, which saw Welsh Labour’s Lee Waters MS returned with a landslide 46.1% of the vote. Those early findings from Election Study also suggest an increasing reliance on the fluent Welsh vote – the vote from this cohort grew in the May election, but the party lost support among non-Welsh speakers.
Although independence in Wales is not the make or break position as it is in Scotland, support is growing. The findings suggest that Welsh Labour, although it currently maintains it is a Unionist party, receives over 40% of the independence-supporting vote – with Plaid taking slightly more. Potentially up to half of Welsh Labour voters support independence, and this Senedd Election saw candidates openly support the movement. Welsh Labour has successively marketed itself as the party of Wales, and it will be interesting to see how it decides to shift its position in the next decade if support for independence rises.
Since the 2016 referendum on EU membership, media coverage for any election in the UK has swirled around the impact of the Brexit vote – how did that area vote in 2016, and will it mean they vote a certain way this time around? The Senedd Election may have been a welcome pause in that trend, with discussion centering instead around Covid-19 and recovery from the pandemic. Initial findings from the survey suggest as much also, with personal identity being more important than political identity when it came to voting on 6 May. Most important among these were ‘parent’, closely followed by ‘Welsh’ – further strengthening the idea that voting for Welsh Labour is viewed as an important part of ‘being’ Welsh.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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