Since the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, political goings on north of Hadrian’s Wall have dominated the media headlines. Indeed after the 2015 General Election, in which 56 out of 59 of Scotland’s MPs were from the SNP, the media speculation swiftly turned to discuss the possibility of a second referendum. As a result of this focus many backbench Conservative MPs have called on more time to be devoted to English issues, possibly with the creation of an English Parliament.
The replacement of Peter Robinson by Arlene Foster as First Minister and other political issues that have their roots in Northern Ireland’s troubled past have also come to dominate the headlines. As time as trundled along journalists and politicians have begun to turn their eyes to the upcoming elections. In May the London Mayor will be elected along with MSPs in Holyrood and the usual local elections across the country. However everything I have just said has been with one massive omission: Wales. The media has completely ignored Wales and I think I know why.
During the 2015 General Election much of the talk was around the idea of a coalition. Was it going to be Labour and the SNP? Labour and the Lib Dems? The Tories and UKIP? However their was an electoral alliance that was forged, that of Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens. The SNP got a lot of coverage because of their stance as the anti-austerity party of Scotland, and the Greens picked up a number of votes from students and people on the Left who thought Ed Miliband needed to stopped from drifting too much toward the centre-ground. However there was very little coverage of Plaid Cymru, and, although Plaid’s leader Leanne Wood was included in the leaders debates, she didn’t seem to make much of an impact. This could well be because of Wood’s style of speech or the media circus around the SNP’s influence but I believe that it was down to a systemic indifference toward Wales.
At the same time as the 2016 Holyrood Elections are the elections for AMs in Cardiff Bay yet the media is covering the campaign in Scotland in much more detail. Scotland is given more coverage because the Scottish people have elected representatives that are primarily concerned with Scotland’s interests. Do I believe that Scottish MPs from other political parties also have the concerns of Scotland in their hearts? Probably, but it is unambiguously the case for the SNP.
As well as this focus being a consequence of electoral politics, there is another reason behind this media silence: Welsh institutions themselves are not as important as those in Scotland. I mean this in two ways. Firstly, the Scottish Parliament has many more powers than the Welsh Assembly. How do I know this? Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones is negotiating with the British government in order to make the Assembly into a Parliament. Also the Assembly only has control of transport, health, and energy.
People only go out an vote in elections if they believe that their vote will either: make a difference in terms of who is elected, or change policy which will improve their lives. The first aspect of this is already not a problem as Wales has a version of proportional representation. The second, however, is more important. People in Wales don’t vote in Assembly elections for the same reason people in England don’t vote for local elections: people don’t know what these politicians do and don’t think voting will improve their lives.
Turnout at the 2011 Welsh Assembly Elections was 42.2% and turnout at the 2011 Holyrood Elections was 50%. One of the main reasons for this disparity is what I said above: the Welsh Assembly doesn’t have enough powers. The obvious solution to boost turnout would be to put the Welsh Assembly on a par with the Scottish Parliament. Not only would this boost turnout but it is a pure exercise in realpolitik. A November 2014 poll said that 63% of people in Wales supported the powers being devolved to Scotland also being devolved to Wales; the Welsh people want to be treated the same as the Scottish people. If I was in the British government I would devolve a huge amount of powers to Wales because, even if you ignore the fact that it’s unfair to treat Wales as inferior to Scotland, this would be a popular move.
Scotland could conceivably become an independent country any time it would like to but this is because it has, among other things, separate legal, education, political, and healthcare systems. Wales does not have a fully independent healthcare system as although the NHS in Wales is devolved, some aspects of social care are heavily influenced by decision-making in Westminster. But Wales does not have a separate legal, educational, or political system. By establishing these things, including a fully fledged Parliament in Cardiff Bay, Wales will no longer be ignored and politicians in London will start giving a shit about what Welsh people.
I have only recently restarted making predictions after I was proven to be completely wrong about the 2015 General Election, but I have confident of what will happen in the Welsh Assembly elections. It’s nothing to do with the success of the parties, but I predict that voter turnout for the elections for Cardiff Bay will, once again, be much lower than for elections to Holyrood. As long as Wales is given third-rate devolution, the other nations of the UK will continue to dominate the discussion.
My suggestion for people living in Wales would be to vote for Plaid Cymru. If you’re left-wing than their policies, many of which are to the left of Labour, will be welcome to you. If you are more conservative then lend your support to Plaid as polling shows that it is likely that they shall be in coalition with Labour in the next Welsh government; voting for Plaid will boost Wales’ voice in same way as voting for the SNP has done so for Scotland. Wales needs change and this can only be brought about by a left-wing government whose primary concern is the success and prosperity of Wales. This is Plaid Cymru’s natural territory and should be supported by as many people as possible to change years of established politicians taking Wales for granted.