Where next for Welsh politics?
By Sam Coates, who works for the Green Party in Wales
Now that Labour is out of power in Westminster Wales has an interesting medal, it hosts the highest level of Labour government in Britain. Although certain areas returned to the Tories in a way that didn’t happen in Scotland, Labour still dominates the political culture in a way not seen anywhere else, and the noises from the Welsh Government are getting interesting now there are no masters above to look after them.
Within days of the election and the talk of cuts, Welsh Labour unsurprisingly adopted Plaid’s language of ‘fair funding’ and how the cuts will hit Wales harder. They even started nodding in the direction of John Maynard Keynes, someone many of us know and love. The Labour Government in Cardiff Bay started quoting the likes of David Blanchflower, the very same people Greens and other anti-cuts campaigners speak of against the dangerous of spending cuts. Jane Hutt, the Welsh budget Minister said that Wales will “play its role in tackling the deficit, but we don’t think these cuts should be imposed on us”. Probably a different reaction than if Labour had been wielding the axe. But the cuts in Wales has given lots of column inches to the system which allocates public spending to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Barnett formula. The Holtham Commission, which consists of expert economists, has claimed that Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300 million a year when you consider relative need. We have more unemployment, more illness and people on long term benefits and a sparse population making services more expensive to run. Labour was deathly quiet on this issue when the their party in Westminster said Barnett was here to stay, now they are talking about it as much as Plaid, and the Coalition Government has admitted it needs to be replaced ‘eventually’.
The Commission also advocated Wales having the same taxation powers as Scotland, interestingly former First Minister Rhodri Morgan violent dismissed this idea, saying “it has no mandate, and voters would have rejected the Assembly in 1997 had it been on the cards”. A pretty odd comment I must say, given you’d absolutely need a referendum on the issue.
YouGov/ITV Wales is now releasing monthly polls between now and the Assembly election, not just on voting intention but also on the forthcoming referendum on further powers that would allow us to make decisions without a 2 year wait for Westminster committees and the Welsh secretary to decide we are grown up enough to make a decision on our own affairs.
The yes vote has fallen from 55% to 48% in a month, and the lead over ‘no’ has fallen from 27% to 14%. Despite this, with the Welsh Tory leadership supporting a yes vote and Labour likely to frame the campaign around protecting Wales from the ravages of the Tories, I’d be astonished if we didn’t get it through as long as everyone campaigns hard and effectively.
These powers are still a long way from those enjoyed by Scotland currently, but once we have them Wales will be far closer to developing a proper sense of self-determination. Polls consistently say that the Assembly should have most power over decisions affecting Wales, but people don’t think it does. And they’d be right, we have no say on the economy, justice and policing, welfare, not much on housing and none of the financial powers needed to make a difference in health and education when we’re underfunded. When the Assembly (hopefully after the elections next year) can make a decision without waiting for Westminster to give permission, we can really start moving on determining our own destiny. So what’s going to happen in the Assembly elections? Well, the Lib Dems were very close to picking up 2 new constituencies from Labour, that doesn’t look likely now and even if they did would likely lose their list seats with no net change. With the exception of the Vale of Glamorgan, I don’t expect the Tories to take any of the seats they were close to grabbing from Labour previously, as the honeymoon period of the coalition will be long over. Plaid may well make a few gains but I’m not expecting big changes, especially given how everyone is talking about Labour enjoying a huge swing. I’m not signed up to the idea that Labour will get a majority however; it’s so difficult even with our less-proportional system. What I am hoping though, is that the Greens can finally deliver an interesting result using the regional vote that Scotland is quite used to. The region of South Wales Central is the target, taking in Cardiff, the largely rural Vale of Glamorgan to the west and the Glamorgan Valleys to the north, probably the most diverse of all the regions. I’m hoping that we campaign in a similar vain to the General election, calling for “2nd vote Green to defend public services”, and making the point that Labour can’t win any list seats in that area, so we are the best option for progressives.
Breaking into the Assembly is completely possible, but not easy. If we’re going to do it we will need help from lots of people outside of Wales; donations and foot soldiers, it’s certainly not the gargantuan task of electing an MP, but it requires a lot more resources than a local council ward. It’s a national election with many of the associated expense. I hope the party as a whole can get excited about the opportunity next year to complete the dots and get us represented at every elected level in the UK.