Ynys Môn after shock to quiet earthquake

Roger Scully says that following years of Plaid electoral under-performance, yesterday’s by-election was a decisive step in the right direction

Since the 1999 ‘quiet earthquake’, the story of Plaid Cymru’s electoral performance has been one of almost unremitting setbacks and disappointment. In a lecture last year I described it as “more than a decade of pretty abject electoral failure”. In that context, the by-election victory in Ynys Môn will obviously be very welcome to the party.


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Ieuan Wyn Jones maintained a highly impressive electoral record in Ynys Môn. Indeed, he was the only successful constituency candidate (for Westminster or the Assembly) that Plaid has ever had in the constituency. The challenge that faced Plaid was to win without him, in a place where personal votes seem to count for a great deal.

The final result was (with % changes from the 2011 result in brackets):

Rhun ap Iorwerth (Plaid Cymru) 12,601 58.2% (+16.8%)
Tal Michael (Labour) 3,435 15.9% (-10.3%)
Nathan Gill (UKIP) 3,099 14.3% (+14.3%)
Neil Fairlamb (Conservative) 1,843 8.5% (-20.7%)
Kathrine Jones (Socialist Labour) 348 1.6% (+1.6%)
Steve Churchman (LibDems) 309 1.4% (-1.7%)
Turnout: 42.4% (-6.3%)

This is clearly a very good result for Plaid Cymru. Of course, anything less than a victory would have been a great disappointment. They were the incumbent party; had encouraging recent local elections to build on; had a well-known and eloquent candidate with a strong Ynys Môn background; and they clearly put a lot of effort into a very energetic campaign. I can’t think of a prominent Plaid member whose campaigning presence in Ynys Môn has not been announced to me via Facebook/Twitter at some point over the last few weeks!

But even with these advantages it will be encouraging for Plaid, as were May’s local elections, that their local organisation in Ynys Môn appears sufficiently strong to support such a vigorous campaign. And it is similarly encouraging for them that the campaign won substantial electoral support, on what was, by by-election standards, a very respectable turnout. This result must place Plaid in a good position from which to challenge for the Westminster Ynys Môn seat in May 2015.

It is also encouraging for Leanne Wood’s leadership. Suggestions after her election that choosing a first-language English-speaking leader from the south Wales valleys might alienate some of Plaid’s more traditional Welsh-speaking northern electorate do not appear to be coming true. More generally, the result will be encouraging for Plaid regarding their future prospects. One good by-election does not turn around years of under-performance. But the Ynys Môn by-election is at least a decisive step in the right direction.

Labour’s Ynys Môn result was disappointing. It was noticeable in the 2011 Assembly elections that the strong swings to Labour in south Wales were not quite replicated in the rest of the country. To be precise, Labour’s average rise in constituency vote share between 2007-2011 was:

  • 15.6 per cent in South Wales East – boosted, admittedly, by the special case of Blaenau Gwent.
  • 13.8 per cent in South Wales West,
  • 10.8 per cent in South Wales Central.
  • 8.2 per cent in North Wales.
  • 4.2 per cent in Mid and West Wales.

Labour can hardly be said to have done badly in north Wales in 2011, but its performance was not as consistently strong as in south Wales. Yet, even taking that into account, Tal Michael’s result was below par. Still, as the recent YouGov poll showed, par for Labour in Wales is something quite different to that for any of the other parties.

Perhaps the most notable other feature about the result was UKIP finishing well ahead of the Conservatives, and indeed not far behind Labour. The Tories have a history of some electoral success on Ynys Môn. They held the Westminster seat until 1987, and finished second in the 2011 Assembly contest. In that context, to finish well behind UKIP is rather embarrassing. The result also lends some plausibility to the relatively strong UKIP showing reported in the recent YouGov Welsh poll. The less said about the Liberal Democrats’ Ynys Môn showing, the better.

Projecting by-elections swings onto national elections is a very dubious exercise. Predicting Ynys Môn by-election swings onto national elections is probably even more dubious. However just (as Peter Snow used to say) as ‘a bit of fun’ I have worked out what would be the result of the 2016 National Assembly election ‘if these swings were repeated across the country’. I’ve projected the by-election percentage swings onto both the 2011 constituency and list votes; parties that did not stand in the by-election, like the Greens, have been assumed to remain unchanged. This yields the following constituency and list vote shares:

PARTY Constituency List
Labour 32.0% 26.6%
Conservative 4.3% 1.8%
LibDems 8.9% 6.3%
Plaid Cymru 36.1% 34.7%
UKIP 14.3% 18.9%
Greens 3.4%
Soc. Lab. 1.6% 4.0%

This in turn yields the following projected seat outcomes:

PARTY Constituency List TOTAL
Labour 23 1 24
Plaid Cymru 13 9 22
UKIP 0 10 10
LibDems 3 0 3
Conservative 1 0 1

Probably the most striking thing to emerge from this exercise is that even on the huge Ynys Mon swings, which would put Plaid Cymru ahead of Labour on both the constituency and list votes, Labour still come out ahead on seats. Indeed, on these swings Labour would still win 19 of the 23 constituency seats in south Wales – including Rhondda, where Leanne Wood plans to stand in 2016. That is a measure of Labour’s strength in many constituencies, and of the task facing Plaid – and all other opposition parties – in attempting to challenge Labour’s electoral hegemony in Wales.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.

13 thoughts on “Ynys Môn after shock to quiet earthquake

  1. Good stuff by Prof. Scully, fel arfer. It would be interesting to learn more of the make-up of UKIP votes. I came across some Labour UKIP switchers in Caergybi. And, of course, the marked percentage of British but particularly English-identifiers (of whatever UK political allegiance) on Ynys Môn. Perhaps one question this contest has framed is the increasing valence of the voters choice between Welsh and British / English nationalisms? If that’s the case, it may partly explain Plaid’s uphill battle in the Silurian coalfield: a product of British imperialism, as Prof. Brinley Thomas made clear years ago.

  2. Celticus is correct. A workmate, who is English, regularly drifts between Labour and UKIP as he rightly identifies his opinions and his vote as British nationalist.. For him, it is about who reflects his English British identity, and who takes the hardest line on the European Union. He therefore is leaning more and more to UKIP, as are other Brits who are disillusioned with Labour’s seemingly softer version of British nationalism.

  3. Rhun ap Iorwerth could probably have stood as an independent on Anglesey and still won. On the face of it people have voted for the man not just for the ball.

    Had he done so, he would not have needed to care about Plaid’s internal splits, he could have been his own man. As it is the island’s dependence on Wylfa B to reshape its failed economy will leave him between a rock and a hard place. If Wylfa B fails to materialise it will just be a hard place because the island has very little going for it under current mis-management. It rather looks as if the easy part for Rhun was getting elected!

    UKIP did well – after a lack-lustre performance in 2011 which probably had more to do with national rather than local failings. This time the local UKIP people seem to have been given their heads, they put up a credible local candidate in Nathan Gill, Nigel Farage managed to find his way to Holyhead for a packed public meeting in the Town Hall where around 70% of the audience were not UKIP members, and the result is a step-change in support, up to 14.3%. Support has been building on Anglesey – 1.9% in 2003, 3.1% in 2007. In 2011 UKIP only produced a disappointing 4.9% on the North Wales List when most people thought they would have done better.

    What UKIP need to do now is resolve, once and for all, their two outstanding issues that relate specifically to Wales. They need to make up their minds whether they want to scrap the Welsh Government or not? The UKIP leadership’s new ‘federal UK’ policy is not popular in Wales, or apparently anywhere else. And they need a credible Welsh language policy – they have ducked and dived on this for far too long.

    At the moment UKIP’s vote is made up from a lot of people who are not happy with their current positions so this support could just as easily transfer to a new party – as their retiring MEP John Bufton has already suggested may soon be necessary if UKIP does not return to its original position of opposing unnecessary layers of governance. As a party which promotes freedom of choice, it really shouldn’t have a problem returning freedom of choice to the people’s use of the Welsh language from the cradle to the grave. UKIP are now at a crossroads in Wales – they can become like the other four parties or they can bite the bullet and be the radical alternative that so many voters seem to want…

  4. John Walker’s comments are the cherry on the icing of this particular cake… the prospect of the extreme right vote splitting into two camps is very encouraging. Keep splintering John!

  5. This is undoubtedly a heartening result for Plaid given the somewhat volatile nature of Môn politics. Their ability to elect a successor for the first time in the island’s history in just under a hundred years and the size of the victory is evidence of substantial consolidation.

    It is however evidence of consolidation of Plaid Gwynedd. This is not something to be written off but Plaid’s problem remains its inability to appeal beyond these boundaries. The party’s general strategy after consolidation in the Fro is to target the Valleys, hence Leanne Wood’s intention to stand as a constituency candidate in the Rhondda against Leighton Andrews, and only then to divert serious resources to British Wales, the South and North Coasts and the Marches.

    Recent polls have suggested that Plaid’s future fortunes are mixed. According to a recent YouGov poll, they are due to have only two seats at Westminster, but will be restored as the official opposition in Cardiff Bay with 13 seats. Therefore all eyes on the Valleys in 2015 and 2016.

  6. For once I agree with JR Walker. Welsh speakers should have the freedom to use their language from the cradle to the grave in all aspects of their lives, a freedom they do not currently enjoy.

  7. @John R Walker- I would agree that his popularity and how well known he was due to his previous career did help him a lot, but let’s not forget the simple fact that Plaid had and has a strong local base on Ynys Mon as a result of hard work and brilliant local election results. People voted for Plaid as much as they did the Party candidate.

    UKIP came third, they fell behind Labour and had a fraction of Plaid’s vote. How are the media and supporters of UKIP so jubilant, as if this is a sign of things to come? Recent polls may well show the increased likelyhood of getting assembly seats on the regional list by robbing them from the Tories, but not a single constituency seat anywhere in the whole of Wales. A similar pattern emerged in the local elections; they did bad, but because it wasn’t awful the media went mental. Do you really think that it is now possible to dismantle Welsh devolution? Pipe dream I’m afraid, there may well be some British nationalists here in Wales who would like to see Wales run hundreds of miles away by London, but thankfully most in Wales do not.

    The most important thing to remember about UKIP is that they are not a one issue party; they not only want to leave Europe (an institution that needs reform in a huge way) but want to scrap Welsh devolution and any form of native rule and replace with London rule, not dissimilar to Edward I really! UKIP would never dare attempt to scrap Scottish government so who on erth do they think they are suggesting that they scrap Welsh devolution all together, but give England a parliament and retain Scottish devolution?

  8. I liked the comment I read the other day which described UKIP as “a 1950s re-enactment society”.

  9. @ Ben

    Your view is substantiated by the fact of how well Plaid Cymru did recently in the local government elections in the same constituency.

  10. Anyone considering voting for UKIP should consider the party’s policy on what John Dixon correctly described, in his recent Click on Wales article, as a key issue facing Wales and the world in general.

    The scientific evidence for human-induced climate change is overwhelming, and has been clearly documented in the form of rising temperatures on land and in the oceans, sea level rise, declining Arctic ice, glacial retreat, ocean acidification and increasing weather extremes.

    That is why it is accepted by world governments, the world’s leading scientists (as represented by the Academies of Science) and a wide range of organisations as varied as the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, farming and trade unions, the Confederation of British Industry, the British Medical Association, the WI and the Welsh Rugby Union.

    Yet, in the face of such a major threat to the future of our children and grandchildren, all UKIP can offer in an energy and climate change policy statement [1] is a trite dismissal of climate change as nothing more than a “long term natural climate cycle” and “so last century”!

    By rejecting the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change, it is also turning its back on the huge job-creating potential of the low carbon economy. The CBI has reported that green businesses now employ almost 1,000,000 people in the UK and delivered a third of economic growth last year.

    It is also worth noting that the bulk of the environmental policies aimed at improving the quality of our air, rivers, bathing waters, shellfish waters and wildlife (including bees) have emanated from European Union legislation which UKIP so despises. These policies have benefited the natural environment, human health and the economy.


    1. http://www.ukipworcester.org.uk/userfiles/downloads/sys/UKIP-Energy-Policy.pdf


  11. Roger Scully’s original article should at best be treated as a piece of optimistic crystal ball gazing; the idea that Plaid Cymru could have 22 seats after 2016 is sheer fantasy. Why? Because he omits to mention the other by election that took place last month, in Swansea..
    The death of a local councillor led to a by election for the Llansamlet ward; the same ward where the party won its first seat (with 48% of the vote) and lost it with double the votes with which it was won, had a strong branch and has consistently enjoyed excellent support. How well the party do in the by election? It could not find a candidate. If Leanne Wood is serious about driving the party forward its places like Llansamlet that need attention and not the easy victory of a high profile, articulate television personalty in the party;s “heartland.”

  12. Every political party has to target its limited resources and, to be fair, Leanne is from the Rhondda so it’s only right that she would want to represent her own community. The Rhondda also has an iconic status that still resonates and would signal Plaid’s ability to break out from the Fro.

    I wonder, however, whether we’re likely to get much movement in that direction until Adam Price stands for election. I understand that Leanne depends quite heavily on Adam’s thoughts on political analysis and strategy. Should he get elected, he would be quite the driving force at the Assembly and First Minister’s questions would finally begin to liven up and might even get reported in the Welsh media.

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