The biggest surprise in the defection of Gareth Bennett MS (Abolish, South Wales Central) from wherever he was to the Abolish the Assembly Party is that it had taken so long for that way of thinking to get an elected member in the Senedd. Putting aside the whys and wherefores of whether regional list members should be able to cross the floor when they are elected on party tickets – and MSs had plenty of opportunity to include this in the recent legislation that seemed more preoccupied with changing the sign on the door than anything else – there are issues of representation at stake here.
Some people argue that since the Senedd has been endorsed by two referendums it should not be open to people who wish to see it abolished. This sets aside the 49% who didn’t want it created in the first place. It also twists the 2011 referendum result, which was about whether the power to legislate should be extended to the then Assembly. It was not about abolition, even though True Wales wanted it to be. Indeed, the Yes for Wales line was very firmly that the referendum was about the legal powers and nothing else. I should know: I helped write that line and ensure the campaign did not deviate from it.
Polling has shown over two decades that there is a sizeable minority in Wales who favour abolition of what was once the Assembly. Their inability to organise during five elections to achieve representation for that viewpoint is simply astounding. There is absolutely no guarantee they can do so in 2021 either. The polling shows Abolish at a low level as a party and that has not changed in recent months. But they have every right to try and change that and give representation to the sizeable minority that agree with their very clear, very specific viewpoint. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting to nationalist parties from Sinn Fein outward they shouldn’t be allowed to stand for Westminster because they want to abolish the institution, and the same principle of democratic expression has to be accorded to the Abolish the Assembly Party.
If you feel scared by challenge, that’s because you’ve grown too cosy and comfortable in your group think. Be comforted by the fact that abolitionists have a very poor record in actually getting elected. Why be so scared of one member out of sixty when that same member has barely made an impact over the last four years? Sometimes it feels like it’s not just the Senedd building that is predominantly made of glass.