Archive | May, 2007

Welsh electoral system may produce surprise result (1 May 2007)

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Welsh electoral system may produce surprise result (1 May 2007)

Posted on 01 May 2007 by admin

Which parties get to form a government in Wales may depend more on who comes second than on how many seats Labour gets, writes Lewis Baston

The electoral system in Wales is significantly less proportional than the one used in Scotland.

In an assembly of 60 members, 40 are elected from single-member constituencies and only 20 from compensatory regional lists (Wales is divided into five regions, each with four regional seats).

This 33% element is not enough to produce the high level of proportionality achieved in Scottish elections and it sets a higher threshold for the election of smaller parties.

Coalition was always going to happen in Scotland, but not necessarily in Wales, and in a good year Labour could obtain a comfortable majority.

But in the last two elections Labour fell short, with 28 seats out of 60 in 1999 and 30 in 2003, when they were able to form a precarious executive without the Liberal Democrats.

The backdrop in 2007 is so unfavourable that the chances of Rhodri Morgan and his fellow assembly members winning another majority in Wales are remote at best, but there is still no doubt that Labour will emerge the largest single party.

The questions of the election are how far short of a majority Labour will fall, and who will come second?

Labour looks likely to lose constituency seats to the Conservatives such as Preseli Pembrokeshire and Clwyd West (both Tory gains in the 2005 Westminster election) and suburban Cardiff North, and the Tories have other, sketchier hopes elsewhere.

Plaid Cymru will hope to pick up Llanelli, and both they and the Conservatives are trying for the redrawn seat of Aberconwy in the north west.

This would take Labour down to 25 seats, although the party would probably pick up a compensatory list seat to make 26.

Most expectations are for Labour to have 24-26 AMs. This is probably not enough to run a minority government, and a coalition would need to be formed.

Labour has two potential coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats (with whom Labour worked well between 2000 and 2003) and Plaid Cymru.

Another tantalising option is the “rainbow” coalition of Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats.

While this alliance between nationalist left and unionist centre-right may seem incongruous, it could work; the Welsh Conservatives are much more thoroughgoing modernisers even than Cameron supporters in England.

Strangely, the Conservatives’ chances of going into government would be enhanced by coming third rather than second in the election.

It would be easier for them to work under a Plaid Cymru First Minister than vice versa. The Conservatives coming second would also make Plaid Cymru a more attractive coalition partner for Labour.

Which government is formed may depend more on who comes second than on how many seats Labour gets.

The elections in Scotland, Wales and for Scottish local authorities are all in their way fascinating demonstrations of how much Britain has changed since 1997.

For someone so often lambasted as a control freak, Tony Blair has presided over a huge devolution of power, the consequences of which – local government electoral reform, a possible Plaid-Conservative government, even possible Scottish independence – spiral ever-further from his original intentions.

It is ironic, and perhaps sad, that the Labour party itself looks like getting buried in the rubble of this constitutional and political construction site.

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Great expectations (1 May 2007)

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Great expectations (1 May 2007)

Posted on 01 May 2007 by admin

There has been so much interest in the Scottish parliament elections because so much is at stake, writes Lewis Baston

The Scottish parliament elections have dominated the thoughts of commentators on Thursday’s poll because the stakes for Labour and the SNP are so high, and the powers of the parliament so strong.

The SNP is trying once again to break into Labour’s strongholds in the central belt of Scotland, where most of the population lives and which has never yet succumbed to the nationalists’ charms.

There are a number of seats where the SNP has a sizeable vote and a local government base and where they should expect to win constituencies from Labour.

Among these seats are Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, Kilmarnock & Loudoun, Dundee West and Linlithgow, and the next line of defence for Labour in East Kilbride, Fife Central, Livingston and Glasgow Govan.

The last of these has repeatedly been denied to the SNP deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon; could this at last be her year?

The Labour majorities in many other seats in 2003 were so mountainous that it is nearly impossible to imagine them falling, which would be necessary if the SNP are to achieve the high end (50 or more seats) of their projected tally of seats.

The final balance between Labour and SNP will be affected by the cross-traffic between the big two and the smaller parties.

The Conservatives are of pretty marginal significance, but just as the SNP will hope that the Tories can knock out Labour in Dumfries, Labour will be hoping the Conservative MSP in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, Alex Fergusson, will hold his highly marginal seat.

The PR system should mean that the number of seats achieved by both the Conservatives and Lib Dems should not alter greatly (17-20 each) as long as their shares of the regional list vote are not squeezed.

The Socialists, who did well in 2003 but have since split, are expected to fall back from their 6 seats to 2 at best, and possibly none at all.

Expectations about the Greens vary. Early poll-based predictions of them being similarly cut back were probably unrealistic. The party should absorb some of the anti-Labour vote that does not feel committed to the SNP, and get something between 4 and 8 seats.

So, barring a late swing in opinion (for which Labour devoutly hopes) the outcome should be something like SNP 45, Labour 40, Lib Dem 18, Conservative 17, Green 6 and others 3; not as catastrophic for Labour as it might be, but still abject enough.

Things have got to the stage that the smallest of Labour leads would count as some sort of moral victory.

In the coalition formation game, the Conservatives have counted themselves out, leaving the Liberal Democrats in the position of kingmaker between the SNP and Labour.

While there should be absolutely no presumption that the largest party is somehow “entitled” to the position of first minister, it seems the most likely outcome.

Even so, there is a reasonable chance that even with the support of the Lib Dems, the largest party will not have a majority in the Scottish parliament and an arrangement with the Greens may be necessary. Lib Dem plus SNP, in one form or another, seems probable.

The implications of such a result and such a government emerging are potentially huge, leaving aside the temporary but intense humiliation of Labour being beaten in Scotland for the first time since 1955.

While the Lib Dems would insist on various safeguards on the core SNP demand of an independence referendum, any SNP-led government would be an exercise in building support for independence.

The relationship with the Westminster government would be confrontational and prickly on every issue.

Further constitutional wrangling would be likely to alienate English electors and fuel demands for measures such as English-only votes for some issues at Westminster.

Within a couple of years, Scottish independence could be more popular south of the border than north of it.

The unity of the Liberal Democrats would be under severe strain if they end up in the curious position of joining forces with Labour at Westminster after the next election while sustaining the SNP in Holyrood.

It would be like betting on both contenders in a dog fight.

With all this excitement over the devolved bodies, it should not be forgotten that Scotland’s 32 local authorities are also up for election and, thanks to the Scottish parliament, the electoral system has changed to the single transferable vote (STV) which will relate votes and seats more closely in council elections and abolish single-party fiefdoms.

The immediate partisan effect of the change is to give the SNP a foothold in many councils where it has previously polled a respectable vote that did not translate into seats; there is a net transfer of something like 115 seats from Labour to SNP from this source alone.

The effects of STV in this election, and the working of councils after the dust settles, may prove an example for future developments in England and Wales.

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