The twists and turns of Brexit once more dominated the politics of Wales at every level. On Tuesday, the full publication of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill led to not just discussion in Westminster but an emergency debate in the Senedd too. Since it was a relatively focused debate and actually was conducted on the basis of something substantial, it offered insight and passion rather than simple grandstanding or gesture politics. Nevertheless, it did seem, even just a few hours later, that the whole exercise had been really irrelevant since the Commons had rejected the programme motion and thereby stalled the Bill.
As the week rolled on, the gambits by an increasingly frustrated Prime Minister to cure this paralysis continued. By Thursday he was offering a revised programme motion containing no time for debate, followed by a General Election on Thursday 12 December. Personally, I would have preferred two weeks later on Boxing Day, since nothing quite says Christmas like acrimony, division and dissent.
The Wales Act 2014 was very prescriptive about the timing of Assembly elections, turning four year terms to five year terms to avoid both the Assembly and Westminster elections clashing on the same day in May in 2015. However, since that period there has been significant shifting around of Westminster dates, with a General Election in 2017 and another one now repeatedly sought in 2019.
It is a fool’s game to make political predictions these days but… We will probably see two Westminster elections within this single Assembly term. As time has moved on though, AMs seeking re-election are getting ever more jittery not just about their own election but how a General Election impacts upon it. Many fear holding the two elections too close together may impact on Assembly turnout and distort the result.
Thinking back to the inept and poorly executed Remain campaign in 2016, one of the many excuses reeled off by the organisers and apologists for its shambolic nature was that the date of the referendum had come too soon after the Assembly election and people were a bit tired (conveniently ignoring the fact that Remain voting London, Scotland and Northern Ireland had all held twin ballots with the same proximity). If the Westminster and Assembly ballots once more end up vaguely close together, expect the same to be asserted yet again.