In my first analysis of the stability of the Union in the aftermath of Boris Johnson’s landslide, I would like to take to the land of my father’s, Wales. Plaid Cymru made clear that this election as an opportunity to push Welsh independence to the top of the political agenda. Just three weeks before the election, Plaid’s leader, Adam Price, told Sky News’, Sophie Ridge on Sunday, that there was potential for ‘Wales to find it’s voice at this election.’ Nevertheless, the only Welsh voters who found their voice in December were Brexiteers, who reduced Labour’s majority and won seats that had not been won in decades.
Across Great Britain, the historic 2019 election indicated a sea-change in the British political landscape. Labour voters fled their party in their swathes, and across certain English regions, the Tories breached the so-called ‘Red Wall’. That said, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, sought to overlook this and claim victory by claiming that ‘the Conservatives are only the largest party in one of four nations.’ However, Welsh Labour witnessed a decline in their vote share. In Torfaen, Aberavon, Islwyn, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Ogmore, Neath, and Newport East Labour’s vote share fell by over 12%, and nationally their lead over the Tories fell from 15% to just just 5%.
It is beyond doubt that this was as a consequence of Mark Drakeford and others, refusing to accept that almost 53% of the Welsh people want to leave the EU, and as such the eight Conservatives gains are no surprise. But one cannot ignore that Drakeford and his colleagues told the Senedd that he was potentially ‘IndyCurious’, claiming that Welsh support for the Union ‘can’t possibly be unconditional because there are other moving parts here of which we are not in control.’ Moreover, given Jeremy Corbyn’s support for holding a second independence referendum in Scotland, the Labour Party are no longer the party of the Union in any of the Celtic nations.
Nevertheless, the real advocates of Welsh independence are Plaid Cymru, who as alluded to earlier did not fare as well as Sinn Féin and other nationalists in Northern Ireland, who command a majority in Ulster’s Westminster seats, or Sturgeon’s SNP, who hoovered up 48 of the 59 Scottish seats. Plaid’s share of the vote fell by 0.5% and they, rather than offensively targeting seats, defended and held their four seats.
Of the 36 seats that Plaid stood the fourteen that witnessed a decline were: Aberavon, Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff North, Cardiff West, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Clwyd South, Cynon Valley, Delyn, Islwyn, Merthyr, Neath, Rhondda, and Torfaen. Of the 22 seats remaining, seven benefitted from the Remain Alliance and snatched voters from the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, including Arfon that saw a 4% rise in vote share.
A microcosm of Plaid’s night comes in Carmarthenshire. The Brexit-backing, Welsh-speaking county has excellent significance for the Welsh independence movement, producing several prominent nationalists, including Adam Price, and also beholding Plaid’s first-ever electoral success in the Westminster by-election of 1966. In addition, the county observed the Remain Alliance in two of their three constituencies, and yet, Plaid failed in all facets.
The first seat, Llanelli, has been held by Labour since 1922, but Plaid saw this as a serious target, and according to the Hanretty estimates, they won in this Leave-voting seat in the EU Elections last May. Because of the threat that Plaid was perceived to show to Labour, both the Greens and Liberal Democrats agreed to stand down. And while Labour’s vote share was cut from 53.5% to 42.2%, it was the Conservatives that emerged as the success story in the scarlet-town. Their vote share stood at 30%, up from 23.7%. But Plaid failed to displace the Tories, gaining a meagre 0.2%, totalling 18.4% of Tinopolis’ vote.
Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire is the most affluent and most conservative seat in Carmarthenshire, and therefore success for the so-called Party of Wales would indicate a seismic shift in the landscape of Welsh politics. However, Plaid took a backward step and have failed to reach double figures for their percentage vote share on just 8.6%. The former-Labour seat also saw the new Welsh Secretary, Simon Hart, win 52.7% of the vote, increasing his majority by over 10%.
However, the final Carmarthenshire seat, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is of the most importance. Controversial MP, Jonathan Edwards, who once demanded Sam Warburton’s captaincy of the Welsh rugby team by rescinded for his support for the Union, has held the seat since 2010, and Adam Price won the seat in 2001 from Labour. Edwards was returned to Westminster; however, the fact his majority was substantially reduced should worry the separatist movement. Despite the Remain Alliance being put into force, Plaid won just 39% of the vote, down almost half a percentage point. Whereas, the unionist Tories witnessed an 8.2% rise, displacing Labour as the second party. Nevertheless, surely, if Plaid cannot increase their vote share in a Welsh-speaking seat, with links to the separatist movement, then what hope do they have in taking the country?
Despite, a relatively poor night, Price believes that Wales will have an independence vote before 2030, and the only polls for this cause in 2019 do suggest some growth in support. YouGov published two polls in September, suggesting that just 1/3 of Welshmen and women out rightly back independence, but when you bolt on the assurance that Wales will automatically become a member of the EU, this rises to 41%. One must add that Wales will not be able to automatically join the EU because of the Spanish veto and the Welsh deficit exceeding the requirement that Brussels set. There is no doubt that the 2021 Senedd elections will televise debate on the Union, with Adam Price and Welsh Tory leader, Paul Davies, locking horns, but I have faith that the compelling argument for the Union which will be applied to the Holyrood campaign in Scotland will make the fanatical Remainers who considered separatist rethink.
Therefore, the success of nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland means that there is no doubt that the Union will dominate British politics for the next decade. But Cymru will not participate in this dispute to the same extent as Alba and Ulster. And thankfully, Wales, the land of my father’s, will not even give such a decision a second thought.