It has been a busy week politically for the UK based Celtic countries with Cornwall, North of Ireland, Scotland and Wales all experiencing elections and/or referendums.
All the votes have now been counted and this weekend will be the time for serious inward political reflection and analysis. Plans for the future will also be discussed this weekend and negotiations with other UK governments and political parties will begin, so that the best deal can be made for their country and the communities they represent.
There were no elections in Cornwall last week, but the electorate had the opportunity to vote in the UK wide referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system to elect Members of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons. Referendum turnout in Cornwall was 40.14%, with only 30.29% of the electorate voting in favour of the changes, which was about average for the other Celtic countries who were also voting. Local council elections were taking place in England, but this did not affect Cornwall, which will hold elections in 2013.
Votes in the North of Ireland were still being counted yesterday (Saturday 7th May 2011) due to a number of ludicrous hold ups such as mixed up ballot boxes and collapsing tables. An unusually low turnout was recorded on Thursday though, but the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) finally emerged with the most number of seats with 38, followed by Sinn Fein with 29. The election result has given the two parties the confidence to say that the people of the North believe that their previous power sharing is working. Leader of DUP Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness will no doubt continue as First Minister and Deputy Minister respectively, but on the whole it was reported that the election was a generally quiet affair with parties campaigning largely on policy matters rather than the constitutional situation. As we have already seen in Celtic News, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has succeeded in gaining a strong majority in their Parliament, which will mean that they will form the next Scottish Government later on next week. This will be the SNP’s historic second term in office and nationalists in the Celtic countries
will no doubt be following every development closely. Of all the Celtic countries taking part in the elections, Wales represents the biggest disappointment in terms of the nationalist vote, where it suffered its worst defeat since devolution in 1999.
As a result of the election Plaid Cymru moved from being a governing party with Labour in the Welsh coalition government, to third place with 11 seats (a drop of 4 seats) gained out of a possible 60. The Conservative Party won 14 seats and the Labour Party won 30 seats, with only the Liberal Democrat Party winning fewer seats than Plaid with 5, which was a drop of only one. No other party or independent in Wales was successful in winning a seat and turnout was only approximately 42%, which was slightly down on the 2007 election. Another surprise was the loss of the seat of the Conservative Party leader in Wales, Nick Bourne. Despite gaining a bigger share of the seats than any other party the Labour Party in Wales is still one seat short from gaining an overall majority and so laid may still be approached to form a coalition government, as may the Liberal Democrats. As the Labour Party in Wales have already pointed out though, any Welsh coalition government will be formed on their terms, but they have indicated that in the short term they are prepared to govern on their own from the end of next week. Newly elected Assembly Member (AM) Simon Thomas, who was previously Plaid MP for Ceredigion between 2000 and 2005, said: “Labour are in a position where they dictate the way forward and I think it’s important Plaid takes stock of that and we realise we’re not in the position we hoped for in terms of trying to arrange an alternative government or a different way of doing the coalition. We are now the third party in Wales and we have to acknowledge that…We have to look at what is being offered by Labour and look at ourselves and lick our wounds.”
The big gains achieved for the Labour Party in Wales should not have come as a surprise for Plaid, whose upper ranks informed me as early as March that the people of Wales saw a Labour Party win as the only form of defence against a Conservative led UK government. However, if this was the reason for Plaid losing out, then why didn’t the electorate in Scotland choose the Labour Party there, because after all the Conservative Party have never really been that popular in Scotland? Some political commentators in Wales have pointed out that the Party got their election strategy completely wrong, but from my experience of campaigning for Plaid in Caerffili – where Ron Davies failed to get elected for Plaid – I was stunned at how professionally the campaign was run. Another factor could be the lack of strong leadership for Plaid. Even before the SNP were elected into government in 2007, I remember seeing Alex Salmond and thinking how presidential he seemed and I have read that word several times in the way that he presented himself in his election campaign. Whatever the reason for Plaid’s loses, the Party needs to reflect heavily on its election strategy and take stock of where the party is and where it is going if it is to move forward positively after this disappointing result. In the Editorial of Carn 150, due to come out later this year, the Convenor of the Celtic League, Cathal O Luain and I will look at the consequences of the
election results in Scotland and Wales within the wider context of the other Celtic countries. Links:
Plaid Cymru Maifesto:
This article written for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:
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