Plaid Cymru are having a review of what went wrong for them in the election. Having no particular axe to grind here are a few thoughts.
Over the years Plaid Cymru have positioned themselves as a left of centre party. Of course, this puts them in competition with the dominant ’˜leftish’ Labour Party for votes. Consequently, they mop up the votes of protest when the main party of the left is unpopular. But alas, when the reverse is true they suffer a loss of votes.
Now the SNP in Scotland have never branded themselves as either right or left but ‘nationalist’ . They’ve been branded ‘tartan Tories’ , by Labour. But whatever label you put on them they have been an effective electoral machine.
First of all they targeted the Tory vote and swallowed up the Conservative vote in Scotland. They then moved their tanks onto the Liberal Democrats lawn and helped themselves to their votes. By so doing, they eclipsed Labour in most of the Scottish constituencies, to gain an absolute majority. A first as no other party in the Scottish parliament has had such a majority.
Now, of course, Scotland is not Wales. But there are lessons in this approach for Plaid Cymru.
Over the years Plaid Cymru have being obsessed with attracting the Labour vote. Attacking Labour from the left has been their chosen approach. Indeed the recent Assembly election was a prime example of this strategy.
Barely a word about the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Westminster governments cuts. Cuts that most people in Wales are uncomfortably aware of. And which Labour exploited so effectively in the campaign.
No, Plaid barely mentioned these. Their campaign was almost exclusively a litany of Labour’s mistakes. OK, such a campaign might have had some merit if they had been in opposition these past four years. But the public are not idiots and found such attacks barely credible from a party that had shared the governmental bed with Labour over the last Assembly term.
Such a strategy failed from two points of view, it was not creditable and secondly it was a negative campaign. The public tend to switch off such negative campaigns.
Plaid Cymru went into the campaign with high expectations Why? They thought that there would be a dividend arising from the successful referendum on law making powers. Indeed much of their eve of election party conference was a valediction of the part they had played in the successful referendum. What was overlooked in the heady aftermath of the win was that sixty per cent of Welsh people were not bothered enough to vote. So if there was to be an electoral bonus to Plaid it would only come from the minority that bothered to vote in that referendum. To base an election strategy on such slender foundations proved to be mistake.
The resulting law making Assembly causes a more fundamental problem for the party. Now that the assembly is a real law making body many voters question whether there is now a purpose in voting for Plaid Cymru. Surely, the voter reasons, they have met their ambitions.
Clearly, a problem for them if ’˜Indepedence’ is a word that none may dare call it by name. What then is the underlying philosophy of the party. How can it attract people to its banner? Where is it going as a party? What is it’s raison d’etre?
Unless it comes up with a creditable answer to these questions it’s electoral success or failure will be determined more by the ebb and flow of the political fortunes of Labour than anything they do as a party. In other words, Plaid Cymru only benefits in Labour’s lean years. A party that bases its electoral philosophy on Micawber’s philosophy that ‘something will turn up’ is not likely to have to bright a future.
On a more practical level their one unique selling point, their plan to create 50,000 jobs with their Build for Wales company, was kept till almost the last minute of the campaign. Why? Because when the proposal was first unveiled it was subject to a withering attack by Labour in Westminster. Instead of ploughing ahead and being confident in their own work they shied away from the issue until a few dates before polling day. Result a possible vote winner not deployed effectively.
So will Plaid review of the campaign be clinical and forensic? Only time will tell.
But the omens are not good with local constituencies already patting themselves on the back on excellent campaigns -despite losing. It’s like a football team claiming victory on the number of near misses rather than goals.
Many have asked me to explain how the regional top up works for the National Assembly. So below. I’ve tried to explain it.
This will be my last blog for a week or so, as I’m off on holidays!
Regions and Voting
There are five regions, each electing four regional AMs. This gives an additional 20 regional seats to top the 40 elected on the first past the post system based on constituencies.
A quota system invented by Belgian mathematician and lawyer Victor d’Hondt (1841 – 1901) is used for deciding the 20 regional seats. Thus proving that there is more to Belgium than beer, chocolates and Tin Tin.
Now back to the sums. It’s all worked out on the total number of regional votes received by a party or independent candidate. These are then divided by the number of constituency seats already gained in the region +1. No, this not bad typing on my part the plus 1 is an essential part of the calculation.
Should you be a ‘billy no mates’ party with no constituency seats the number of votes you received in the whole of the region is divided by one. If the party has secured one constituency seat in that region then its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats in that region it is divided by three, and so on. Simple, ain’t it. If you don’t understand it now then the Welsh standards of numeracy is lower than previously thought.
So, the rule is, the more constituency seats a political party wins, the harder it is to gain any additional seats through the regional list system. Now the overall allocation of seats is more proportional to the number of votes cast.
You can check it all – below.
This is how the system operated for the 2011 Assembly elections. Whether it is the best system is a question for another day, but Lord Richards thought not.
When asked to make a recommendation he suggested a system of Single Transferable Vote based on multi-member seats based on local authority boundaries. So that all Assembly Members would then be chosen in the same way.
Labour have decided to go it alone despite not having a majority. The party fell short of an outright majority and it is true if there was only a first past the post system for a 40 seated Assembly they would have had 28 seats. Over twice the seats gained by the other parties. However, it’s a 60 seat Assembly, with a top up regional element.
Although the current system was devised to give the other parties a look in. Raising the possibility in a good year of having an overall majority between them all and the prospect of perhaps unseating Labour should they be able to agree amongst themselves. That prospect came close to being realized in 2007 with the prospect of what was called a ‘rainbow coalition.’However, in 2011 the system did favour Labour slightly, by given them half the seat with only 44 per cent of the votes overall.
Ian Lucas the Labour Member of Parliament for Wrexham has argued on the airwaves, that the system needs changing as it is unfair to Labour. Presumably he is arguing for the scrapping of the current system and going back to the first past the post system.
Many less tribal politicians would argue such a system would be unhealthy for democracy and could lead to practices and excesses on an all-Wales basis that were associated with some of those old Welsh Labour controlled County Councils. One party rule for ever and a day. Surely, that should not be wished for.
To be fair to Carwyn Jones it is not something that he has any interest in.
Although taking over the sole reins of government for his party he has made it clear “over the coming weeks and months, I will have ongoing discussions with the other parties about what shape this role will take, but some time and space must be afforded to opposition parties for them to consider what this election has meant for them, what the electorate has said to them, and how they wish to interpret that message.”
So there is a prospect that Wales coould be world leaders in introducing grown up politics. Now that would be radical idea. But whatever Carwyn Jones’s aspirations, he must be aware that there are many dinosaurs around, not least in his own party that would prevent such an innovation.