Wales politics

European elections to start two years of polls

The European Parliament in Brussels (generic image)
Image caption A party can top the poll in elections to the European parliament on a relatively small share of the vote

Roughly a month from now Wales will be voting in the European elections, beginning a two-year period when polls of one sort or another will come relatively thick and fast.

Wales will elect four MEPs on 22 May.

In 2009, the Conservatives, Labour, Plaid Cymru and UKIP each won a Welsh seat in the European Parliament.

David Cameron celebrated on the steps of the Senedd, as it was the first time Labour had been beaten into second place in a national election in Wales since 1918.

In European elections the votes are spread widely between the parties, so the Tories were able to top the poll with 21.2% of the vote, up 1.8% on the previous election.

The real story was what a disaster the vote was for Labour, down a massive 12.2% to 20.3%.

The then Labour First Minister Rhodri Morgan blamed the recession, the MPs' expenses scandal - that was at its height - and "perception" of divisions within the party.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was under fire from Labour MPs, including some in his cabinet, who feared he was unlikely to lead them to victory in the next general election.

But back to this European election, and the latest polling we have by YouGov for ITV Wales, published in February.

It put Labour on 39%, UKIP on 18%, the Conservatives had 17%, Plaid Cymru 12% and the Liberal Democrats 7%, with a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent.

If repeated next month, it suggests Labour could win two seats, with UKIP and the Conservatives having a Welsh MEP each and Plaid Cymru losing out.

Of course, this was just one snap shot poll of about 1,200 people, it was back in February, these things are very fluid and turnout is likely to have a big influence on the outcome in May.

Image copyright Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Image caption Before 2009, Labour had last failed to win a national poll in Wales when Lloyd George was PM

Having said that, it does help explain the motivation behind Plaid leader Leanne Wood's attack on UKIP at her party's conference.

At a UK level, of course, a UKIP victory over the Conservatives could make Tory MPs more concerned about their general election prospects.

They could, in turn, make things that much more difficult for David Cameron on matters European.

Once the MEPs are in place, campaigning for September's independence referendum in Scotland will be entering its final months, with potentially huge implications for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The Yes campaigners might previously have been dismissed as no hopers, but the polls have been narrowing and there is increasing nervousness within the pro-Union Better Together team.

Were Scotland to vote to leave the United Kingdom, we would then be set for a very strange general election in 2015.

Scottish MPs would face the prospect of having a limited lifespan on the green benches.

They could hardly remain in the House of Commons if Scotland were no longer part of the UK.

One scenario would be for parliament to be dissolved once Scotland became independent, and for an early general election to be held.

But what if Ed Miliband was prime minister with a majority of, say, 30 seats?

There are currently 41 Scottish Labour MPs, would he want to face an election in which his prospects of returning to power would be so diminished?

Might Labour be more likely to soldier on as a minority administration, with the opposition happy to leave a weakened government in place rather than force a vote of no confidence?

Image copyright PA
Image caption The coming Scottish independence referendum could have huge implications for UK and Welsh politics

And, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, an election no longer automatically follows a government losing a confidence vote.

MPs would first have 14 days to form a new administration that could command their confidence.

And voters could possibly punish parties who had voted out a government without being able to replace it themselves.

According to the SNP's timetable, a successful Yes vote would mean an independent Scotland in March 2016.

Were that to be the case, it would be a pretty fevered political scenario for the Welsh assembly election due two months later.

The goings on at Westminster traditionally have a big influence on other elections here in Wales, just like the last European poll, and so the ramifications of Scottish independence for MPs could have all sorts of implications for voting patterns in the assembly election.

It is something of an understatement to say we might just be in for an interesting couple of years in UK and Welsh politics.

The results of the European elections won't be known until the Sunday night, after the UK poll on 22 May, to allow time for the rest of the EU to vote.

There will be full coverage across the BBC.

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