Welsh Elections: All you need to know about the race for the Senedd

Labour will remain the biggest party but it may be their worst ever performance in Wales


How the Election Works

The National Assembly for Wales holds 60 Assembly Members (AMs), elected via an ‘additional members’ voting system. 40 are elected from constituencies using the first-past-the-post system, (same as a general election), and 20 are elected via semi-proportional regional lists.

Labour currently have 30 AMs, the Conservatives 14, Plaid Cymru 11 and the Liberal Democrats have 5.

Setting the Scene

This is the fifth National Assembly for Wales election to take place since the inaugural poll in 1999, and the first to take place under a Conservative majority UK government.

Welsh Labour has been the largest party since devolution, winning between 26 and 30 seats at every election. There have twice been coalitions: a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition from 2000-2003, and a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition from 2007-2011.

While Labour are anticipated to be the largest party again (they have won every election in Wales bar one since 1918), current polling suggests they could get their worst ever share of the vote in Wales.

Although the Welsh Conservatives were hoping to make gains at this election, current polling suggests they will struggle to keep all their seats, after being hit with a double whammy of the Steel Crisis and in-fighting over the EU.

Plaid Cymru will go into polling day confident of making gains, and will be looking to capitalise on the popularity of leader Leanne Wood.

For the Welsh Liberal Democrats, this election is about survival. A party needs to have three AMs in the Assembly to achieve ‘group’ status – a number the Lib Dems could struggle to obtain.

Finally, there is UKIP. Polling has suggested the party could win a number of seats courtesy of the regional lists. Whether or not they can mobilise their supporters on polling day to vote in an election with a historically low turnout will be key to them making gains.

Key Issues

Health: One of the 20 areas devolved to Wales and consistently chosen by Welsh voters as the most important issue facing Wales. The Welsh Labour Government’s record on the NHS has somewhat infamously come under fire from the prime minister, and from within the Labour Party.

Serious problems in North Wales with the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board have added further fuel to the fire. Yet polling suggests that less than half of the electorate know health is a devolved issue. How voters apportion the blame will be vital.

Steel: The announcement that TATA Steel were looking to sell their UK business threw a major spanner in the works of this campaign. The parties’ responses (or lack thereof) to the situation may affect public opinion due to the extensive media coverage of the crisis.

TATA directly employs 6,794 people in Wales, including 4,104 at Port Talbot Steelworks. The number of jobs dependent on the steel industry are estimated to be anywhere between 10-40,000.  

Education: The perceived failings of the Welsh education system have been used as a regular line of attack against the Welsh Government. International PISA rankings placed Welsh education at the bottom of the UK, and as one of the worst in Western Europe. Again however, only 61 per cent of voters were able to identify education as a devolved issue.

Economy: A recent report by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre highlighted the poor state of the Welsh Economy. With the economy being an issue that spans across levels of governance, it will be interesting to see where voters place the blame for this.

EU: This technically shouldn’t have been an issue at this Assembly election, but inevitably the proximity of the referendum means that this has been a dominant news issue throughout the campaign. The emergence of UKIP as a serious electoral contender has kept the issue in the limelight.  

What to expect:

The ITVWales/YouGov poll on the eve of the election projected a seat allocation as follows: Labour 27 seats, Plaid Cymru 12 seats, Conservatives 11 seats, UKIP eight seats and the Liberal Democrats two seats.

However, in light of the polling disaster that was the 2015 General Election, and the relative sparsity of polls taken in Wales, it may be wise to expect a number of surprises come close of polls.

Jac Larner is a PhD researcher at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.