The new factor in the devolved elections this time around is the rise of UKIP. UKIP having been, until quite recently, very weak relatively speaking in Wales. Wales was one of UKIPs weakest regions, and we’re now facing a situation where polls are suggesting that we could have half a dozen even more UKIP members in the new assembly. Yeah, this has been one of the big changes in Welsh politics in the last two to three years. In previous assembly elections, something the last couple UKIP have talked up their chances, failed to deliver on the day, and not really even come that close to winning a seat.
In European parliament elections prior to 2014, UKIP had performed worse in Wales than in all other regions of the UK, often Scotland, and sometimes London. But from back to late 2013, UKIP support started to rise in the Welsh polls. In the 2014 European elections, they almost came first. They very nearly beat the Labor Party in Wales. And then, of course, in the general election last year, they came third. They finished ahead of Plaid Cymru. I think this m be kind of a key stat, major difference with Scotland. In Scotland, UKIP stood candidates in 41 of 59 seats. Every single one lost their deposit, failed to get 5% of the vote.
In Wales, UKIP stood candidates in every single one of the 40 seats. Every single one retained their deposit by getting more than 5% of the vote. I mean, you and I are going to spend quite a lot of time over the summer looking at who the UKIP supporters are, when we have some nice new data to look at. But what do we know at the moment, in terms of who’s supporting UKIP? I mean, most of the evidence that we have from England suggests that you’ve gotten a sense of the left behinds. People feel that they’ve been left behind. Males, late 50s, and on, there’s a support there.
There is also some interesting evidence which suggests that, in England, UKIP picks up support from people who feel very strongly English, rather than British. Now how do we understand their support base here in Wales? Well, a couple of points, I think. First of all is do a graphical spread is that it’s a lot even than you might expect. UKIP won at least 6.5% of the vote, but less than 20% of the vote in every seat in Wales. Their strongest showings were in Southeast Wales, sort of this relatively anglosized. But even in something– West Wales, they were still performing quite strongly.
The other thing is if you go look at the sort of demographics of their vote, research search does suggest that it has a lot in common with support in England, that it is disproportionately older, whiter, male, not highly educated, people are relatively not very well off. But also people who feel very strongly alienated from the political class and the political system feel a real sense of being economically left behind, but also politically alienated, feel the system is not delivering for them, and is not likely to go on delivering for them. People who also I think feel that their country is changing– being changed maybe by political elites, in ways that they do not like. This is hurting Labor primarily.
I think it’s to some degree hurting all of the other parties. I mean, you might think that parties like say, the Liberal Democrats with Plaid Cymru have nothing whatsoever in common with UKIP. But actually, I think UKIP take votes from them as well. I mean, both of those parties, I think, in the past sometimes benefited from disappointed alienated former supporters of the Labor and conservatives. I think some of those disappointed and alienated voters are now turning to UKIP. And it says one the known unknowns about the devolved elections is the impact of the European referendum, and the almost immediate aftermath just a few weeks later.
And that is clearly going to overshadow the devolved elections, in terms of UK level media coverage. You’ve got some really interesting media rules, in terms of trying to divide time fairly between the various parties running up to the assembly election, but also then the two sides of the European referendum being treated equally. So this may well be a devolved election, which is overshadowed, and UKIP, in particular, may well benefit from that. Well, I think they may well benefit in terms. Obviously, one of their key issues is going to be front and center of the British political debate for the next few months.
It’s be more interesting to see though what impacts the referendum coming several weeks later has maybe on some of their activists, some of their core supporters. Because it’s possible to imagine a lot of them are thinking, well, the assembly actually really isn’t that important. The thing that really matters for us is the referendum in late June, and focusing all our attentions and efforts on trying to win that. Obviously for UKIP, winning seats in the next assembly election would be very nice, but trying to win the EU referendum in late June is also the existential magnitude.
I think there’s a really interesting question around UKIP’s attitude to devolution, when one of the things which I find interesting is that there are clearly a group of people who are anti-devolution activists, who remain unreconciled to devolution, who hope that UKIP will be a vehicle for that. However, at the time of the last UK general election, UKIP was supporting a reserve powers model of devolution for Wales. In UKIP’s recent conference, we saw Nathan Gill, their leader in Wales, arguing that one of the benefits of Brexit would be the empowerment of the National Assembly, because lots of European level powers in agriculture, fisheries, and so on would be repatriated, not to the UK level, but to the Welsh level.
So I think there’s a really interesting and insightful open question. If they do now have a group of people in the assembly, what is their attitude to devolution? What is their attitude to the continuing constitutional debates about the place of Wales within the UK? Yeah, and I do wonder actually if UKIP could have possibly missed a bit of a trick there. I mean, they are still a proportion of the wealth electorate. Not as many as I think some of them believe. Though some might about 12% to 15% of people, who are still basically opposed to devolution. And I think a lot of those people would also be actually instinctively quite sympathetic to UKIP.
And I do wonder if UKIP might actually consolidate their votes more effectively in Wales by being sort of the voice of those group of people by articulating a strong anti-devolution message. I think, personally, they may well be electoral gains and for that, where they’ve chosen to go in another direction. Just briefly in terms of their leader, Nathan Gill, I mean, is he widely known across the Welsh electorate? No, I mean, I think Nigel Farage is by an enormous margin UKIP’s most widely known face and voice. Nathan Gill has been their MEP in Wales since 2014. I mean, I think there’s an interesting contrast again here with Scotland, where UKIP managed to elect David Coburn as their MEP in Scotland.
And Coburn has frankly been an embarrassment. I mean, he’s often been an utterly ridiculous figure. Gill, I think there’s some contrast there. I mean, you may well disagree with many of the things that he says politically, but he comes over as much more reasonable, more articulate, rather more well-informed say than the leadership figure in Scotland. And I think that may well be one, albeit possibly minor, contributory factor to UKIP’s wealth of success in Wales and their largely continuing failure in Scotland.