Polar opposites the only change in town for 2019

Welsh voting patterns like huge blocks of unmoveable ice

“Y Canol Llonydd Distaw” is one of Welsh singer Steve Eaves’s most memorable songs. It roughly translates as the quiet, still centre – a very apt image to hold on to in the mad holiday frenzy which seems at such odds with the essential Shalom message of Christmas.

The quiet still centre is also a metaphor which could be applied to a section of the Welsh population, which was highlighted again this week in Sky News’s first ever opinion poll held in Wales this week.

The first part of the poll  confirmed the dreary no-change picture we are so familiar with in Welsh politics. Not one Parliamentary seat or Assembly seat would change hands at all in any forthcoming elections according to Sky’s figures. Labour are first, the Conservatives are second with Plaid third. Same old, same old. This pattern seems akin to huge sheets of ice in the political landscape here, which will never, ever melt. There seems no hope of any change in Wales’s politics in these figures.

Abolish or Independence

The only glimmer of hope for change would appear to be in the polarising tendencies seen in the most interesting part of the poll, the second part which covers more existential questions: Abolishing the Assembly on the one hand and Independence for Wales on the other hand.

The poll showed that 19% of respondents were in favour of abolishing the Assembly- a higher than usual figure for this particular question. Indeed, based on these figures, Welsh political analyst Roger Scully predicts that the “Abolish The Assembly” party could achieve two regional seats at the Assembly Election in 2021.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, 20% of respondents said they now favour Independence for Wales (after accounting for “don’t knows”) which is again a much higher figure than usual for this question, showing as well that the 19% in favour of Independence in a poll over the summer was not an “outlier”.

Bearing in mind that the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 had only 25% in favour of Independence at the start of the campaign, that 20% figure is very encouraging for Welsh Independence supporters – with no real political campaign for Independence in motion here at present. And the further 20% who say they are in favour of “more powers for Wales”  also could provide fertile ground when such a campaign really gets going.

The quiet, still centre is the key demographic

But with 23% of respondents saying in the poll that things should stay as they are and a further 17% having no views either way: that equates to a quiet, still centre of 40% that either side of the spectrum, Abolishers and Independistas have to persuade with their respective campaigns in 2019.

Statistics can be appropriated for a whole host of different purposes of course. But one factor that emerges from these set of figures is that no change will arise from the political parties as currently configured here. Change for Cymru will have to emerge from a different direction. From beyond the dead hand of Cardiff Bay as we know it. The question is which of the two polar opposites will be able to best argue for this change and influence the quiet, still centre?

“More of the Assembly” is not the answer

The Abolish the Assembly  argument should not be underestimated at all. With the present overwhelming public distaste with politicians and the failures of devolution in Wales under Welsh Labour since 1999, there may well be a ready audience for that message.  “More of the Assembly” is not the answer to the “Abolish the Assembly” call. This fundamental ideological battle must be fought on a different plane altogether.

Perhaps supporters of Welsh Independence should get their retaliation in first by setting up a Welsh Independence Convention, which could serve as a creative and uniting forum for all the various groups now in favour of Independence. Such a Convention has been in existence in Scotland for a good few years, and has been a means of disseminating the Independence message to civic society, over and beyond the usual political parties there.

A Convention of this sort could drawn in people from all directions who are totally scunnered with Westminster’s replica model in Cardiff Bay. It could be the way to make politics relevant again in Wales – a blank canvas where people can paint their own visions of the essentials for  an Independent Cymru.  A Convention might want to draw up a Welsh Constitution, it might want to discuss how the whole of Wales could benefit from new social, cultural and economic development, the future of work and entrepeneurship here etc, etc. It could be a radical re-set.

Which could perhaps lead to a new nation-wide conversation about all the possibilities. And inspire people about all the potential we have in place here- in  a way that the National Assembly has unfortunately failed to do.

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