In May 2019, thousands marched in Cardiff in favour of independence from the UKWIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Since its creation in 1999, the Senedd Cymru has undeniably been tied to the Labour Party. It is a product of Blair’s Labour government, who through the Government of Wales Act began the path to Welsh devolution, and has been firmly governed by a Welsh Labour majority for over 20 years. The Labour Party has had a hugely significant impact on Welsh politics.

Yet despite these close ties, several factors could destabilise Welsh Labour’s majority – and this could just be enough to push it over the edge.

Outside of the Welsh boundaries, the last few years have been particularly challenging for the Labour Party. In the 2019 general election, it suffered a catastrophic loss, leading to a Conservative majority of 87 in the UK Parliament – and this loss was certainly reflected in Wales. Over six seats in Wales switched from Labour to Conservative in the 2019 election – of which several, such as my home constituency of Bridgend, had not had a Conservative MP in over 30 years.

“Brexit is not yet a shadow of the past – and this shadow could well be one that focuses the light on the Welsh Conservatives this upcoming election”

The Labour Party’s weak stance on Brexit under Corbyn’s leadership was a particularly salient issue for many voters in Wales, with approximately 60% of voters in 2019 believing it was the key issue of the election. This was a major deciding factor in the loss of multiple Welsh seats previously considered to be ‘safe’ areas – ultimately, a notable defeat for the Labour Party.

Nearly a year and a half on from the 2019 election, when the UK has left the EU, Welsh Labour could certainly replicate the mistakes of the General Election. First Minister Mark Drakeford criticised the trade deal obtained by Boris Johnson earlier this year as ‘a thin deal’ for Wales, and was among those calling for an extension to the transition period – a move which could very well still be fresh in the minds of Welsh voters.

As Brexit was such an important issue for many voters in 2019, Drakeford’s call for a transition extension could certainly be seen as a move to delay Brexit, which would certainly be unpopular in a country with a sizable majority in favour of leaving the EU. Brexit is not yet a shadow of the past – and this shadow could well be one that focuses the light on the Welsh Conservatives this upcoming election.


Mountain View

“Will auld acquaintance be forgot?” The impact of Brexit on the case for Scottish independence

The issues of past elections aren’t the only factors that could help the Welsh Conservatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, to a level previously unseen, the differences between the devolved nations: Wales has suffered, and Drakeford’s measures aimed at mitigating the virus have not always been popular with the electorate. From banning the sale of alcohol in pubs, the taping off of clothes sections in supermarkets and a cautious approach to reopening – many people in Wales have compared Drakeford and Welsh Labour’s unpopular approach to the UK government’s more detailed plans. With no date given for the opening of venues such as nightclubs, compared to England’s comprehensive roadmap, many Welsh voters may be left feeling frustrated, believing that a devolved approach is unsustainable. The appeal of hegemony with the UK government may be too strong, and many may turn to the Welsh Conservatives to voice their dissatisfaction with the devolved approach to the pandemic.

Yet, the presence of the Welsh Conservatives is not the only threat Welsh Labour is facing. The Welsh Independence movement has been steadily growing, especially among young people; many polls are placing support for the Independence movement at 28%. With Plaid Cymru the only party pushing for an independent Wales, the growing independence movement – exacerbated by the devolution actions of the pandemic – could certainly mean the growth of Plaid Cymru in the Senedd in the upcoming election.

“Left-wing voters in Wales may seek alternative sources of power on the left and find solace with Plaid Cymru”

But this is much more likely to have a significant impact upon the Labour Party than the Conservatives. Plaid Cymru are a left-wing party, with principles based around social democratism – meaning it is far more likely to attract defectors from the Labour Party. As the UK Labour Party moves to an increasingly centrist ground under Keir Starmer’s leadership, left-wing voters in Wales may seek alternative sources of power on the left and find solace with Plaid Cymru.

Welsh Labour have held onto power for over twenty years, but this could be the election that finally ends the majority the party has enjoyed for so long. Only time will tell if Brexit, the pandemic and growing dissatisfaction with the union will be enough to end Labour’s Senedd reign – but it certainly looks likely.