Thursday, 15 September 2016

Untying the Montgomrese Knot. Wales' New Constituency Boundaries.

With the House of Commons due to cut the number of MPs by 50, boundary reviews were held accross the United Kingdom to redraw the face of electoral Britain and Northern Ireland. Wales was already by far the most overrepresented part of the country, which has led Wales to be the hardest hit part 11 MPs. The nature of this large drop has left no constituency intact with the smaller, more rural constituencies such as Montgomeryshire the most affected. Glyn Davies, the MP for Montgomeryshire has said the partition of the historic county is "heart breaking" for him with it being split between Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery, De Clwyd a Gogledd Sir Faldwyn(sic, it should be Drefaldwyn), and Ceredigion a Gogledd Sir Benfro.

The Boundary Commission for Wales' current proposals.  

My constituency would be number 7 on the above map, De Clwyd a Gogledd Sir Faldwyn(sic). As Ifan Morgan Jones described, this is a real "Frankenstein's Monster" of a seat containing all four of Rhosllanerchrugog, Ruthin, Welshpool and Machynlleth. It contains 5 different local authorities accross north and mid Wales with some parts of the constiuency sharing little to no co-terminosity. Unfortunately, if the number of electors per constituency is so limited there will always be some leftover areas, and this jumps out to me as the most obvious one (although as someone who lives on the very edge of this seat, I would think that wouldn't I!). Also, even though Ceredigion a Gogledd Sir Benfro needed to make up the quota, I'm not sure going accross Pumlumon to Llanidloes was the way to go when places like the Llanfihangel-ar-arth and Maenclochog would appear more logical.

The last three boundary reviews have suggested Balkanising Montgomershire as it would be impossible to include the whole of Powys in a single constituency. However, it could instead be possible to trim back Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery in the south-western and south-eastern corners rather than spitting Montgomeryshire. The upper Swansea Valley including Ystradgynlais could be moved in with Neath as they share good transport, cultural and work links. Another option would be to move Crickhowell and the surrounding area into Monmouthshire owing to its proximty to Abergavenny(I even thought Crickhowell was in Monmouthshire until I went through it to get to the Eisteddfod). Powys is the key to solving many of the problems the commission faces.

With this in mind I decided to use this tool courtesy of the House of Commons Library to create my own boundary review! My map of the constituencies is to be found below.

Note: If the I've left the space below the name blank its becuase I don't have any obvious objection to the Boundary Review's propsal for that seat.
1.   Ynys Môn a Menai - Anglesey and Menai*
Size: 71,398
As the Isle of Anglesey did not get exempted from the quota like other islands such as the Isle of Wight, the Outer Hebrides and Orkney and Shetland, it was inevitable that it would have to be merged with the mainland. The obvious place to do that with is Bangor as the Menai and Britannia Bridges cross there. Some of the surrounding towns such as Bethesda were a natural fit to include with Bangor rather than Caernarfon, however this is still well short of the quota which requires me to look up the coast and include Llanfairfechan and Penmaenmawr as far as the Capelulo ward. This is still short, so it would require me to look to the villages closer to Caernarfon. Y Felinheli appeared to have to best links to Bangor out of the available options, so I added it and it included just enough registered voters to take it over the quota of 71,031. This is the smallest constituency in Wales.

2.  Gwynedd, Dyffryn Dyfi a Nant Conwy - Gwynedd, Dyfi and Conwy Valleys*
Size: 72,563
This seat contains the etirety of the current constituency of Dwyfor Meirionydd minus the area around Bala. The parts of Arfon constituency which are not to be added to Ynys Môn a Menai will join this seat, keeping Caernarfon together with most of its surrounding villages. Five wards from Montgomeryshire including Machynlleth, Glantwymyn, Llanbrynmair, Banwy and Llanfair Caereinion are added to cut the numbers in Powys and they share good links with places such as Dolgellau along the A489, A470 and A458. Further parts of northern Montgomeryshire are added to Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn, however it is possible to add them to this seat instead and cut out the Conwy Valley if this is more agreeable.

3.   Colwyn and Conwy - Colwyn a Conwy
Size: 74,532
This shares the bulk of its territory with the Electoral Commissions proposal for the same constituency, however it has had to lose the cost west of Conwy itself and has instead been compensated by taking the inland wards of Caerhun, Eglwysbach, Betws yn Rhos and Llangernyw. I would also consider cutting Llangernyw in two around Llyn Alwen allowing the south to join either Gwynedd, Dyffryn Dyfi a Nant Conwy or Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn.

4.   Englefield - Tegeingl
Size: 75,902
This is the same as the boundary commissions proposed constituency of Flint and Rhuddlan, I just decided to name it after the historic region of Tegeingl(English: Englefield). The only viable change I would consider making is moving Northop into Alyn and Deeside.

5.   Alyn and Deeside - Alun a Glannau Dyfrdwy
Size: 76,678
The same as the Boundary Commissions proposal. If it were possible I would consider swapping Mold and Flint around, however I wouldn't want to move Mold without Buckley as well and their populations would be too high to fit them both elsewhere.

6.   Wrexham Maelor - Wrecsam Maelor
Size: 71,501
As it loses all of the outlying villages south of Rhostyllen including my home and the largest village in Wales™ - Rhosllanerchrugog, Wrexham Maelor is surprisingly one of the smallest constituencies in Wales. Despite this, it's impossible to fit all of Rhos, Johnstown and Penycae (which are all part of Rhos really!) with Wrexham without taking it over the cap. This proves just how restrictive the numbers are in practice. I moved all of the Ponciau ward(which was split in the Boundary Review) into Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn to help it make the quota.

7.   Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn - Clwydian and Berwyn Hills*
Size: 71,574
A small contituency in population but a massive one in area, we get down to what is probably the trickiest constituency to manage which I have christened Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn. The largest population centre belongs to the eastern corner of the diamond in the villages wedged between Wrexham and the border, including Rhosllanerchurgog, Ruabon, Cefn-mawr and Chirk. These dont have a great deal of co-terminosity with other parts of the seat other than the Llangollen and Corwen area and to an extent with Bala. Bala itself has decent links with parts of northern Montgomeryshire which leads to the inclusion of the wards of Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant/Llansilin(which was histroically part of the preserved county of Denbighshire and Clwyd South), Llanwddyn, Llansantffraid, Llanfyllin, Meifod and Llanfihangel. These do have some degree of co-terminosity with the likes of Rhos via Oswestry if only due to commuters going to Wrexham, although cross-border contituencies are culturally and legislatively a non-starter.

While Llangollen and Ruthin do share a local authority, The modern Denbighshire doesn't share much in the way of co-terminosity other than some links with Corwen. It shares better links with Coedpoeth than with the Wrexham Area villages it shares the seat with, however that would require Wrexham to raid wards from Alyn and Deeside, which would in turn have a knock-on effect on the Flinthsire seats, and so on. Therefore the best cause of action would be to add Denbigh and St Asaph as they share a bit between themselves and Ruthin, and they all have to go somewhere. Denbigh would also make it more acceptable to add parts of Conwy county such as Llansannan and Uwchaled, with Cerrigydrudion sharing good links with Corwen and Bala.

This seat will still stretch accross five local authorities and is still a bit of a mess but out of all the available options this was probably the best available. Another option would be for it to surrender northern Montgomeryshire and possibly Bala to Gwynedd and instead to take in Coedpoeth and the Conwy Valley, this seat would still be comparable to a chimera though. Still, all four of the Conservatives, Labour, Plaid and to an extent the Lib Dems could fancy their chances here, so it would be fun to watch.

8.   Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery - Aberhonddu, Maesyfed a Trefaldwyn
Size: 78,299
By surrenduring Ynyscedwyn, Cwm-twrch, Ystradgynlais, Aber-craf and Tawe-Uchaf to Neath, it is possible to keep the general shape of Powys intact. Brecknockshire(sans the aforementioned area), Radnorshire and most of the population centres of Montgomeryshire including Welshpool, Trewern, Llandrinio, Llandysilio and Guilsfield have been kept in. This constituency which is the largest in area and one of the largest in population makes it impossible to include anymore wards. Its not perfect but I'm pleased I found a way to include Welshpool in the same constituency as Newtown. It is possible to drop the Crickhowell area into Monmouthsire and therefore reclaim much of northern Powys, however all attempts made by me leave Llanfyllin sticking out like a sore thumb in Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn so it's probably best to avoid it.

9.   Monmouthshire - Sir Fynwy
Size: 74,532

10. Newport - Casnewydd
Size: 75,986

11. Torfaen - Tor-faen
Size: 72,367

12. Blaenau Gwent and North Islwyn - Blaenau Gwent a Gogledd Islwyn
Size: 75,664
The same as the proposed Blaenau Gwent constituency, I just decided to add North Islwyn to the name. I don't know the area well, and this also applies to the next two constituencies but a possible change could include swapping Newbridge and Pontllanfraith.

13. Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney - Merthyr Tudful a Rhymni
Size: 76,323

14. Caerphilly - Caerffili
Size: 77,770

15. Cynon Valley and Pontypridd - Cwm Cynon a Pontypridd
Size: 78,005

16. Rhondda and Llantrisant - Rhondda a Llantrisant
Size: 77,905
The same as proposed by the commission other than the addition of Llanharry as I deperately needed to cut wards from Ogmore and Port Talbot, and Rhondda and Llantrisant could only fit one. It came down to either Llanharry or Lanharan and looking at the map I thought it made more sense to add Llanharry to Pontyclun rather than splitting Llanharan from Brynna.

17. Cardiff West - Gorllewin Caerdydd
Size: 75,563

18. Cardiff North - Gogledd Caerdydd
Size: 78,014

19. Cardiff South East - De-ddwyrain Caerdydd
Size: 77,059

20. Vale of Glamorgan East - Dwyrain Bro Morgannwg
Size: 76,984

21. Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan West - Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr a Gorllewin Bro Morgannwg
Size: 74,092
The same as suggested by the Boundary Commission other than the addition of Cefn Cribwr.

22. Ogmore and Port Talbot - Ogwr a Port Talbot
Size: 78,365
Llanharrry and Cefn Cribwr make way to allow for the inclusion of the whole of Port Talbot rather than keeping it split. Adding Port Talbot also means that the Afan valley needs to go, which may not be the most sensible move but Neath couldn't fit half of Port Talbot and the Ystradgynlais area. With the Afan gone I didn't think it was appropriate to maintain the name Aberavon so I named it after the town which swallowed it up.

23. Neath, Afan and Swansea Valleys - Cymoedd Nedd, Afan a Tawe
Size: 75,449
The addition of the upper Swansea Valley meant northern Port Talbot had to go, and with the Afan leaving the seat to the south it was the only possible place to put it. Ystradynlais shares good terminosity with Ystalyfera, Pontardawe and Neath itself, and Pontneddfechan and Abercrave do so with Glyn-Neath and down the valley. The Afan valley does not to the same extent with only the Afan Valley road going from Pontrhydyfen to Neath. Despite this, it is without a shadow of a doubt easier to get from Neath to Cwmafan than to cross the Berwyns from the Ceiriog Valley to Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant so to save Bryniau Clwyd a Berwyn from taking even more of northern Montgomeryshire this change is necessary in my view.

Owing to the large number of Welsh speakers around Gwaun-cae-gurwen and up the Swansea valley it could be argued that this constituency should have a Welsh only name. This would also mean people would be less likely to confuse it with Swansea itself.

24. Swansea East - Dwyrain Abertawe
Size: 76,514
Another option would be to take the wards of Mawr and Llangyfelach into Swansea East, loaning either Castle or Cwmbwrla to Swansea West and Gower.

25. Swansea West and Gower - Gorllewin Abertawe a Gŵyr
Size: 77,873
If the aforementioned is done, this would allow Swansea West and Gower to lose the Kingsbridge, Upper Loughor and Lower Loughor wards to Llanelli and Lliw. This would prevent Gorseinon and Loughor from being split in two, however I would like to leave that to someone who knows the area better.

26. Llanelli and Lliw - Llanelli a Lliw
Size: 72,290
With the loss of Tycroes and Kidwelly to Caerfyrddin this becomes the smallest constituency in post-industrial south Wales. It could easily accept Kingsbridge, Upper Loughor and lower Loughor if it removed Mawr and Llangyfelach. A case could also be made as to giving this constituency a Welsh only name.

27. Caerfyrddin - Carmarthen*
Size: 73,010
The constituency of Gwynfor Evans returns in a very rough manner. My proposal is to add Llanfihangel-ar-arth and Llanybydder to Ceredigion so it encompass the whole Teifi valley. This would require Caerfyrddin to pick up two wards from Llanelli and Lliw, and while I dont know the area well Tycroes looked a natural fit owing to its proximity to Ammanford. I then needed to pick one of either Pontyberem or Kidwelly, and I settled on Kidwelly purely because it makes the borders look less ugly.

28. South Pembrokeshire - De Sir Benfro
Size: 74,070

29. Bae Ceredigion a Dyffryn Teifi - Cardigan Bay and the Teifi Valley*   
Size: 71,560
Ceredigion is nowhere near big enough to make the quota therefore it needed to gain extra voters from somewhere. Northern Pembrokshire around Fishguard and Crymych was formerly in the old constituency of Ceredigion and North Pembrokshire anyway so that was the most obvious place to start. The Boudary Commission's proposal of adding Llanidloes is a complete non-starter, as it travels through Wales' only true hinterland. Viable options include taking the Machynlleth area (as a recent Aberystwyth graduate I would say there are far worse options) and also crossing the Teifi and raiding Carmarthenshire. I settled on the latter, adding the four wards of Cenarth, Llangeler, Llanfihangel-ar-arth and Llanybydder.

For this constituency I chose the name Bae Ceredigion a Dyffryn Teifi to be more inclusive of the area and to make it less of a mouthfull.

*Constituencies marked with an asterix will be known by their Welsh names only.

And yes, I know the term is Montgomrian, I'm referencing this: 

Picture Credits
Boundary Commission for Wales, Crown Copyright,
Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Support for Welsh Independence Rises - A Change in Attitude or "The Texas Effect"?

Y Ddraig Goch flies beside two flags. One of these will soon be gone, but what of the other?
Photo: Anna Fruen, Flickr
Fifty years before all of this drama unfolding because of Brexit a smaller but significant poltical earthquake happened in the town of Carmarthen. Gwynfor Evans' shock victory for Plaid Cymru in a 1966 by-election changed the face of Welsh and British politics forever by achieving victory for a nationalist party on mainland Britain for the first time (excluding the SNP's victory in the 1945 Motherwell by-election, but as all other major parties were abiding under a war-time truce this didn't mean too much). Both Plaid and the SNP would become serious challengers in certain seats following this, therefore it is no surprise that hundreds of people gathered in the town's Guildhall Square to mark the 50th anniversary of this important moment.

Following the result of the referendum to leave the European Union, Plaid Cymru finally decided to come out firmly in favour of Welsh independence within the European Union, and a special conference was held to ratify this. It was fittingly held in Carmarthen at the same time as the 50th anniversary of Gwynfor Evans' victory. But has support for independence increased since the referendum?

A recent YouGov/Welsh Political Barometer Survey decided to ask that very question. The poll went into detail in multiple specific areas but I shall be focussing on the three questions which concern the levels of support for Welsh independece. The last time YouGov asked a question concerning Welsh independence was during the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence where 17% of people said they favoured Welsh independence if a referendum on the subject were to be held. In the straightforward version of the question, support for Welsh independence in the latest poll is at a slightly lower 15%. The second question asks if the respondents would support independence if Scotland were to leave the UK, with nothing more than a modest increase in support to 19%. This is all within margin of error since the last poll so it could be interpreted as if no major change in attitude towards the question has happened in the last 2 years.

Nothing spectacular so far. However, the interesting bit happens when we look at the next question. The question asks "
please imagine a scenario where the rest of the UK left the
European Union but Wales could remain a member of the European Union if it became an independent country. If a referendum was then held in Wales about becoming an
independent country and this was the question, how would you vote?" 28% answered yes, which rises to 35% when the "don't knows" and "would not votes" are factored out. This is a far higher figure than I can ever remember in my lifetime. 

Understandably, supporters of Welsh independence are very encouraged by this figure. However, there are potential dangers with constantly quoting these figures, which could see their euphoria crashing back down to Earth the next time a poll is commissioned on the subject.

Firstly there is the fact that the question was asked in close proximity to other questions on independence. Nationalists will gladly point out that the recent poll's figures are more or less in line with the polling regarding Scottish independence right up until the early months of 2014, though there is a lesson to supporters of independence in a poll commissioned by the SNP themselves. This was only one of the few polls that showed a lead for Yes, but before the question on whether they favoured independence was asked they first asked whether Scotland could be successful as an independent country and whether the individual trusted the Scottish or UK Governments more. This got people into thinking more before they answered the question; therefore it could be argued that as the question on independence within the EU was only asked as the third of three questions the same effect could have happened here.
The second point could come down to what I have decided to call "The Texas Effect" (and no, I don't mean this!). Upon the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States a petition of more than 100,000 signatures was presented to Obama calling for the secession of Texas from the union. This is not to say that a large number of Texan nationalists do not exist of course, but it would be more likely for support of the idea in the staunchly conservative state to increase following the re-election of a democratic president. They would view all their options in this scenario. The same effect could be happening in Wales, as pollster Roger Scully said in a recent blog on the matter: 
"The poll showed considerable support in Wales for continued EU membership. And for some respondents, at the time the poll was conducted, that support for EU membership appears to have been sufficiently strong that it would pull them towards supporting Welsh independence if it were the only way of remaining inside the EU. Whether such strength of sentiment on the EU will fade over time is something that we can’t currently know. Our results perhaps suggest some potential for supporters of Welsh independence to build upon. But the results also show, even in this most favourable context, that support for independence remains very much a minority position in Wales."   
So there are genuine signs of encouragement despite these potential problems. It shows that a significant proportion of Wales' population values membership of the European Union higher than it values membership of the United Kingdom, showing that support for the UK is soft among many based upon economic reasons, and this is before either side has truly tried to make their case. While said in a different context former advisor to the Welsh Government Gerald Holtham said "I think as a country we do need to decide where our loyalties are. If the only reason you are in a union is because you think you’re better off in the union that union is always provisional." 
Speakers at a pro-independence rally in Carmarthen
Photo: @YesCymru

One of the other striking things about the poll is the number of supporters from all parties who would be willing to support Welsh independence within the EU. A plurality of Labour voters (44% for, 42% against) support the idea, and while only 5% of UKIP voters would, 10% would support independence outside the EU which shows not everyone who answered yes to one of the questions overlaps. A number of figures from parties ranging from Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have come out in support of the idea. One of them is current Lib Dem Gwynoro Jones (second from the left in the above photo), a former Labour MP who ironically reclaimed the seat for Labour from Plaid Cymru at the election following Gwynfor Evans' famous win. He spoke at a pro-independence rally held on the 50th anniversary of the 1966 by-election, and on his blog he wrote:

"I have been a Federalist since the end of the 1970’s but it is time to consider Wales’s relationship with England in a post Brexit world.
"Over the last 20 years Wales has faced many a cross road – but nothing like what it is coming up against now.
"We must be very careful that Wales does not end up as an annexe of England – or ‘For Wales see England’"
If people who have been federalists for decades are willing to search for alternative options, then this could mean we are beginning to see a change in attitude from the people of Wales towards independence. We will have to see more polls with a consistent trend to be sure but it is much more of a possibility now than it ever was during recent years. If the movement keeps the momentum up they could well attract more supporters to their side.  

picture credits

Anna Fruen, Flickr
@YesCymru twitter page:

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Beginner's Guide to the Welsh Assembly Election Voting System

A little over a week away from the 2016 National Assembly for Wales election and many people my age voting for the Senedd for the first time do not understand the system that is used to elect our AMs. Therefore I have decided to write a quick guide describing how you use your 2 votes. "2 votes?" I hear you say. Well, technically we shall be getting 4 votes on the 5th of May but 2 of them are for the Police and Crime Comissioner elections which I will be ignoring for the rest of this blog post. Insofar as the Assembly election goes, we have 2 votes which immediately sets it apart from Westminster elections.
The familiar Westminster constituency map of Wales is also important to the Assembly elections.
In last years General election in every part of the UK the population was divided into constituencies of varying size, each electing a single MP to sit in the House of Commons. They are elected using the First Past the Post method (FPTP), meaning whichever candidate comes first in a contest is elected. The overall percentage of the vote does not matter, last years election varied from Labour's Steve Rotherham winning Liverpool Walton by a massive margin of 81.3%, to the first ever constituency win of less than 1/4 of the vote in Belfast South where the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell clung to victory with only 24.5% of the vote. Still, as he came first in a contested field, he won the right to attend parliament. 

Wales is divided up into 40 constituencies in both elections, meaning 40 out of 60 of Wales' AM's are elected as they would be to Westminster. These are therefore not proportional systems of electing your representatives and has helped contribute to Labour Party dominance in both elections. However, in its proportional element there is something which sets Cardiff Bay elections apart. 

In the early days of the campaign for the Assembly whilst Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats were keen on devolution, they also did not want to hand over the keys of the primordial Assembly to become Labour's personal fiefdom. A compromise was therefore struck. 20 additional members would be elected via the d'Hondt method on party lists (known as the Additional Member System, or AMS). This would give Plaid and the Lib Dems (and everyone else besides Labour for that matter) a chance to capitalize on the new institution with greater representation than they'd had in the past. However, as there would be more constituency AMs where Labour excelled the 'deck is still stacked' in favour of Labour. As the 2011 election showed the Conservatives, Plaid and the Lib Dems the number of seats roughly equaled their share of the vote, whereas Labour were overrepresented by about 13%.

Regional map of Wales overlaying the constituencies, complete with incredibly originally named regions!
The d'Hondt method requires you to use your second vote on choosing from a closed party list who you want to be your regional representative. South Wales West is the smallest region with only seven constituencies. Mid and West Wales; South Wales Central and South Wales East each have the average of eight, whereas North Wales has the largest amount of constituencies at 9. Regardless of the size of the electoral region, 4 AMs are elected from each to give a total of 60 AMs. The system also takes into account the constituency victories in each region, making it less likely that those who did well on the constituencies will do as well on the list. Scotland uses the same system as Wales, however they have a greater number of regional representatives as a proportion of the total number of MSPs.

Instead of an individual (except in the case of independent candidates) standing on the regional list you vote for a political party. Parties are entitled to place anything from 1 to 12 candidates on lists in each region, although only 4 can be elected in each region at most therefore the extra 8 are only needed in case of resignation or death. As was the case after the 2015 General Election when sitting Tory regional AMs Antoinette Sandbach and Byron Davies won election to Westminster, they resigned their seats and were duly replaced by the next person on the Conservative list in their region, Janet Haworth and Altaf Hussain respectively.

Following so far? Good, because here is where it gets complicated. I'm going to attempt to use as little mathematical terms as possible to keep things simple but quite frankly I might not do a very good job of it. If you would like a more technical description of AMS check out Roger Scully's recent blog on the subject. The d'Hondt method first takes into account the number of votes a party receives on the regional ballot. In Mid and West Wales in 2011 the result eneded likewise:

Plaid Cymru: 56384
Conservatives: 52905
Labour: 47348
Liberal Democrats: 26847
Other parties also contested but their results were low enough to not impact upon the result. 

Seeing the results as they are would suggest Plaid Cymru would get the first AM from the list, however the system takes into account the number of constituency AMs elected and as Plaid won three constituencis in the region their total would have to be divided by three before they would be eligible. The Conservatives also won three meaning they would not be eligible at first either, and Labour and the Lib Dems each won one contest meaning you would divide their total by one also.

Lib Dems2684713423.58949

The numbers in bold represent already allocated seats from the constituency ballot. Although Plaid Cymru topped the poll, as they did well in FPTP in this region they would have to wait their turn. The largest number of a non-already allocated seat goes to Labour÷2 on 23692. Therefore the first elected AMS representative for Mid and West Wales is Labour's Joyce Watson. As a consequence we should divide Labour's total by three, where we get 15794.67, which is again the highest number not yet allocated giving Labour a second regional AM in Rebecca Evans. 

Dividing Labour's total by four gives us a number smaller than two unallocated numbers for other parties, thus meaning Labour will win no more in this region. The next largest number is PC÷4 which means Simon Thomas is the next elected representative. When dividing Plaid's total by 5 we find a number smaller than the Lib Dems÷2 granting the final seat to William Powell. Accordingly, we end up with this the AMs representing the region being allocated in this manner (Additional Member allocation represented in brown).

Lib Dems2684713423.58949

AARRRGGGHHHH!!!! I haven't had to use this much maths since my GCSE exams!

AMS provides an element of proportionality to make it different from Westminster elections, however especially in Labour dominant southern regions the d'Hondt method can't always make the system perfectly proportional. Due to their dominance in the constituencies, Labour were oversubscribed by three AMs at the last election, with the Conservatives being neglected of two seats they would have had under a pure d'Hondt system, and Plaid lacking one.  

Below CGP Grey describes the system in a simpler way than I just managed! He calls the system Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) as that is name they use for it in New Zealand where they use the same system, minus a few technicalities to stop a huge number of small parties getting into parliament.


picture credits
Wikimedia Commons, Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Goal to Establish a Welsh Football Museum in Wrexham

Ten points to whoever can spot me in the crowd! Although I may be just to the left of the frame in which case, oh well!
This time of year no matter where you are in Wales it's difficult to ignore the saturation of the Six Nations in this country. Despite the disappointing opening draw against Ireland I and many other Welsh people are still excited for the rest of the tournament. However, growing up in the north-east of the country one sport was clearly linked to the culture of the area, and that sport was not rugby, but football. I still remember going to a lot of matches with my grandfather (my Taid) at the Racecourse, perhaps the most memorable moment was being part of a packed Kop to see Wrexham defeat Boston 3-1 in 2008 to remain in the Football League. I have since drifted further away from football, with it perhaps being my fourth or fifth favourite sport. Nevertheless football means a massive amount to the local community, and the fact that Wrexham Football Club is now owned by the fans is testament to that.

Due to the excitement for the Six Nations reaching fever pitch it may have been easy to gloss over the recent campaigns and debates in the Assembly. However, if you are from the Wrexham area or are a keen follower of Welsh football you may have already guessed the purpose of this post (otherwise, you may have just read the title!). But incase you're unaware a campaign has recently been launched to establish a Welsh national football museum in Wrexham. Plaid Cymru has called for this museum to be established by National Museum Wales in the town to pay tribute to the areas footballing heritage. It would also help even out the geographical imbalance of the National Museum's current locations, as can bee seen on the map below. 

"there is a trend, particularly in south Wales but also, perhaps, in the north-west, to consider the north-east as being a separate part of Wales, or even as an add-on to Merseyside, rather than being a central part of the Welsh nation" - John Davies
Except for maybe the coal industry (which is already taken by Blaenavon anyway) football is probably the thing which is most associated with the modern history of Wrexham and it's surrounding villages. The Football Association of Wales (FAW) was founded as the Cambrian Football Association in 1876 in the town, and it was formaly renamed to the FAW in nearby Ruabon just a few months later. Wrexham is one of the oldest football teams in the world and the oldest outside of England. It has long been the heartland of the game in Wales, I can't find the quote but I remember reading the Welsh team had to play dozens of "cenhadu" (essentially preaching or proselytizing) matches in Cardiff and Swansea for the game to truly take off in south Wales. Cardiff City wasn't formed until the turn of the century, a long time after the game was firmly established in the north-east. 

Football can also be viewed as a pioneer in the establishment of Welsh national institutions. The FAW was founded only shortly after the first university in Wales, and Wales had a national representative football side before most of Wales' modern institutions. It was also the first Welsh governing body of a sport, beating the WRU by five years. The FAW even beats out the National Museum itself by about thirty years, showing just how much the north-east has contributed to the national institutions and identity of the Welsh nation. Yet, as can be clearly seen, the north-east does not have one of the national museum sites. In fact, it would take more than an hour for someone living in Wrexham to visit the nearest one, the slate museum in Llanberis.

Wrexham County Borough Museum is a small museum which can have much of interest. It has twice recently housed the Mold Cape, and during the summer there was an Egyptian exhibition. Permanently, it houses an interesting exhibition on Brymbo Man and within is housed the cist where Brymbo Man was buried. There are also other locations such as Brymbo Ironworks and Minera Lead Mines which have exhibitions owing to the heritage of the area. However, despite football's links to Wrexham's culture little exists to cover its heritage. The most I can remember is the exhibition on John Charles which was hosted in Wrexham Museum over a decade ago. This campaign for the National Museum to open a site dedicated to Welsh football in Wrexham would fill in the sizeable gap in the locations of the National Museum in the north-east and would pay tribute to the area's footballing history.

By building a museum in Wrexham it would be close enough to the (English) National Football Museum in Manchester for people to quite easily visit both within hours of each other. Within less than a year of opening the English Football Museum took in over 350,000 visitors. The museum in Manchester has dozens of exhibitions over several floors, a national football museum in Wales would most likely be a much more modest operation, but the potential exists for hundreds of thousands of people to visit the museum every year.

In a recent short debate in the Assembly, it was clear there is cross-party support for the idea with Plaid Cymru's Llŷr Gruffydd, the Conservatives' Mark Isherwood and the Liberal Democrats' Aled Roberts, who is a member of the Wrexham supporters trust, all speaking on behalf of the idea. The Deputy Culture, Sport and Tourism Minister Ken Skates made clear that funding for redevelpoment of St Fagans would be prioritised when it comes to funding for the National Museum, although once this is completed a museum in Wrexham would be an idea to be explored. 

Could a version of the incomplete Wrexham Village project be revived to house a museum in a redeveloped Racecourse Ground? 
A possibility as to where to construct the museum could be borrowed from the Scottish Football Museum, which is located in Hampden Park. The Racecourse's Kop has been due for redevelopment for some time with the stand currently remaining derelict. The Kop requires redevelopment if Wrexham is to host international football or rugby union matches again, and for Wrexham and North Wales Crusaders to have any ambition of competing at higher levels consistently. The owners Glyndŵr Universty are keen to enter talks with the Welsh Government on the issue, with the First Minister not ruling out supporting the project with public money. The Welsh Conservatives have recently called for a trial of safe standing in Welsh football grounds, meaning the Kop could keep some of its charm as well.

A Welsh football museum being built into the stand as part of the redevelopment could mean a large number of people visiting the attraction on matchdays. However, a potential stumbling block exists in the fact that the land immediatley behind the stand has been put up for sale and there is interest from "developers unsympathetic to the club's interests". It could be an interesting opportunity to create a football museum in a redeveloped Kop as it would also benefit the town by modernising the oldest international football staidum in the world as well as creating a tourist attraction crediting the areas links to the history of Welsh football. 

picture credits
Markbarnes, Wikipedia
Google Maps
Wrexham Village proposals, Wikipedia  

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

UKIP to miss out on a big opportunity in Wales?

Things should be looking promising for UKIP here in Wales. They had the third largest number of votes in the UK general election in Wales, making the chances of winning a large amount of seats in this years Assembly election very achievable. Whilst most constituency seats should be beyond them (although they could provide a mighty scare for Labour in some and could dent Plaid's chances of threatning Labour in others) the regional list seats will be their primary focus. The latest Welsh Assembly election polls suggests UKIP could well be on course to win eight or nine of the d'Hondt method seats. Roger Scully's Elections in Wales blog also revealed that UKIP voters are the joint most likely (along with Plaid Cymru voters) to turn out in the Assembly elections. This should point towards a large group of excited Kippers waiting with baited breath for May 5th, however several prospective candidates aren't happy certain candidates could be parachuted in from outside the country.

This stems from two candidates in particular, former Tory and UKIP MP for Rochester and Strood Mark Reckless, and Welsh-born Neil Hamilton, who was former Conservative MP for Tatton in Cheshire. Nigel Farage's former spin doctor Alexandra Phillips from Gloucester is also reported to be attempting to win a position on the list. This is where the problems start, as many in UKIP Wales are unhappy at their position being usurped by people who have "no political association with Wales". Kevin Mahoney, a Vale of Glamorgan councillor running for top spot on the South Wales Central list has threatened to quit the party if Reckless and Hamilton are selected. Farage had argued that speaking against Reckless and Hamilton for coming from outside Wales raised an "uneasy nationalist tone" however Mahoney argued it had nothing to do with candidates' nationality 
(although Mahoney did say Hamliton was "unfortunatley" born in Wales) but rather they don't live here and don't understand the political environment. UKIP General election candidate for Torfaen Ken Beswick has since joined in the criticism arguing "candidates coming in from the outside, that no one knows, and they're not Welsh, is not going to go down well".

Kippers have also been raising concerns annonymously. Blogger Guido Fawkes in his column for the Sun published a claim that Reckless had allegedly never visited Wales prior to deciding to seek election here. Whether these allegations are true or not, he is a former MP for a seat in Kent, which is about as far away as you can get from Wales whilst remaining in the UK. As is evident due to the reaction of some in the party this would not make Reckless a popular choice for election and could cause members of the Welsh public to have second thoughts on voting UKIP. However, Reckless is certainly one of UKIP big hitters and if he does end up being selected here then it would send out a message that UKIP are taking the Assembly seriously. 

As can be seen due to the General election result in Llanelli, one of the major vote blocks from where UKIP recieved support was disaffected working class voters who in Wales had either not voted for a while or voted Plaid Cymru as a protest against Labour. Undoubtedly both Plaid and Labour will be pressuring UKIP on the issue of non-Welsh candidates and they have recieved a lot of potential cannon fodder due to Mahoney and Beswick's remarks. This won't stop all of UKIP's votes as in all honesty Nigel Farage could end up in prison for a  serious crime and UKIP would still probably gain a list seat in each region, such is their support levels in Wales, but it would still stop the party from gaining a serious block of AMs. 9 AMs would send out a much louder message to the Assembly than 5 AMs. However many of the more soft nationalist voters could well move back to Plaid or Labour in such an outcome, more still may simply stay at home as many of the party's canvassers may become less enthusiatic if Mahoney and Beswick's reactions are the same as of many party members. 

Whilst UKIP will gain votes from other sources it's likely that working class voters will be the main voting demographic for them if they are to have to have any lasting impression on the Welsh electorate. This Welsh electorate in the former industrial South and North-East are notoriously anti-Tory. There is a significant number of small-c conservatives in these areas but it would be important for them to detach themselves as much as possible from allegations of Conservatism and 'Tory-policies'. This may not be so easy with two former Conservative MPs standing. Mark Reckless was a very rebellious MP (he even voted against raising tuition fees) and the fact that he defected from the Conservatives to UKIP whilst still a standing MP might mean he would be able to escape from the label somewhat. Despite this, he was born in the City of London (yes, that City) and went to boarding school in Wiltshire (if Guido Fawkes' allegations are true it may have been the nearest he'd ever been to Wales before 2015). This would not strike the potential voter as a Welsh working class hero. 

The case would be even harder to make in the case of UKIP deputy chairman and self-described Thatcherite Neil Hamilton. Whilst born in Bedwellty and raised in Ammanford he has always been on the right of the political spectrum throughout his career. In a 2013 edition of Aberystwyth University's student newspaper, the Courier (which was once under Hamilton's editorship as The Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald) an interview with Hamilton took place under the title "I was a Thatcherite Before she was". Labour, Plaid and to some extent the Lib Dems could be handed a blessing if a clear and proud "Thatcherite" is heading the list for UKIP. Even if he's standing in Mid and West Wales as is rumoured, the region that probably has the least working class voters, it could cost them a significant amount of votes in post-industrial towns such as Llanelli, Milford Haven and Hamilton's childhood home of Ammanford. Nevertheless Mid and West Wales does have a large number of traditional Conservative voters who could be persuaded by UKIP Euroscepticism to vote purple, but as the Conservatives are on the march in Wales their potential gains from this group could be minimal.        

Hamilton could also threaten UKIPs message of the party being different to the current parties in Cardiff Bay. Ukip is claiming they will break the "cosy consensus" which has develeped in the Siambr with their different kind of politicians. Yet ever since Hamilton was a teenager he had an "ambition" to be an MP in a safe Conservative seat, according to the Courier, and of course he later fulfilled this by being picked to stand in Tatton. Tatton was a safe Conservative seat which he held comfortably from 1983-1997. He lost his seat at the height of his unpopularity due to the cash for questions scandal to independent candidate Martin Bell with Labour and the Lib Dems withdrawing to back Bell. Normal service was resumed in 2001 when a young Conservative called George Osborne won the seat. Hamilton's been out of front-line politics since 1997, but it's unlikely to change the perception of Hamilton being a career politician.

The problems don't end there for UKIP. In the late Glyn Erasmus' final tweet he shared evidence which suggested serving MEP would be barred from seeking election to other bodies. Whilst this may not be final, this could stop UKIP's Welsh leader Nathan Gill from standing as an AM unless he resigns his place in the European Parliament. It is up to the party's nominating officer as to who would replace him, althoug usually it would be the second most popular candidate as was the case when the Liberal Democrats' Rebecca Taylor took over from the resigning Diana Wallis. In UKIP's case all of the nominated candidates in Wales will be standing for the Assembly except for James Cole. Cole was de-selected as UKIP Westminster election candidate for Llanelli last year and during the European election campaign he controversially said immigration was causing "the native Welsh" to become a minority. The last time a politician said something similar in Wales it cost his party dearly and it has not fully recovered to this day. I'm not fully aware of the process for replacing MEP's, but it could make Gill think twice before seeking an Assembly seat. 

The BBC has reported that there is a split in the UKIP National Executive Committee, with about half supporting taking in experienced candidates from outside Wales. Hamilton, who sits on the committee, is reported to be supporting this side. The other half supports picking candidates put forward in Wales, supported by Gill and UKIP Wales. The Committee has yet to make a decision.

In an interview with the Daily Post Nigel Farage was questioned on the parties plans for the A55, to which he responded "I can't speak on every road improvement all over the country can I" and he appeared to compare the A55 to work improvements on a "little diversion in West Sussex". The A55 is not only the main road in north Wales stretching accross 5 of the 6 local authorities in the north, but it is also part of the main link by car between London and Dublin. It is one of the few roads in the UK which has a true international importance. Therefore, it may have been expected for Farage to know more about such a major transport link in a country for which his party is taking seriously, although seeing as he comes from outside Wales this could be to some extent understandable. If UKIP press on with proposals to bring in candidates from outside Wales then it's not outside the realms of possibility that more gaffs could be on the way from people who, to use Kevin Mahoney's words, "have no political association with Wales" and therefore may not be aware of important local developments. UKIP could well be missing out on a big opportunity if they continue down this route.