As it looks increasingly definite the Welsh public will indeed be voting on May 6th for a new Senedd, we can be only confident that it will be a campaign and an election like never before. We can also be increasingly sure that the results of the results of that election will be unique compared to early meetings of previous Assemblies. Although one recent opinion poll has pointed to a Labour government based on 30 out of 60 seats, pretty much every other one has indicated some sort of hung (Welsh) Parliament with a deal of some sort being necessary.
One thing that is absolutely ruled out this time round though – and never has been before – is a government arrangement between the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. Every election result from 2003 to 2016 has been pretty much a nip and tuck between these two parties for second place. They have never had enough to take them over thirty seats between them, but the fact that there’s always been a communication channel between them has allowed Labour to argue in every Assembly election that a vote for Plaid is a vote for the Tories. Or vice versa.
This has now changed. Adam Price’s Plaid Cymru has previously repeatedly ruled out a coalition arrangement with the Conservatives in Wales. Now Andrew RT Davies has ruled out any deals with Plaid Cymru after the Welsh Parliament elections in May. Plaid has responded by saying they had already ruled out a coalition. But in doing so, they are downplaying one crucial fact. Andrew RT Davies isn’t just ruling out a coalition: he has ruled out the Conservatives nominating Adam Price for First Minister. This means that even if Plaid Cymru come second, there would be no repeat of 2016, when his group supported Leanne Wood against Labour. The important point here is the Conservatives aren’t just ruling out a coalition with Plaid, they’re ruling out nominating Plaid’s leader for First Minister even if they end up coming second.
The Conservative strategy must at least in part be based on the belief that Labour cannot now with any credibility suggest voting Plaid or Conservative will directly bring the other into power. In the same week, Mark Drakeford has also given additional clarity to Labour’s position on deal making. Speaking to the Welsh Affairs Committee on Thursday with regard to a possible independence referendum, he said “If the election isn’t won by parties who have that in their manifesto then I don’t think a referendum would be justified. If a party stands on a manifesto and that manifesto says there should be an independence, if that party wins a majority at the Senedd then it is entitled to implement that manifesto.”
In making this assertion about mandate and entitlement, the First Minister is of course fundamentally correct. Plaid Cymru as it meets for its Spring Conference will make an independence referendum absolutely central to its election campaign and its plans for government. A referendum that appeals to no other major party, and which Drakeford and Davies now reject.
On the political and constitutional future of Wales, there is now crystal clear blue, red and green water between the three big parties. This sets out clear, unequivocal, and unambiguous dividing lines between them. But those lines may be so clear, unequivocal and unambiguous that they totally prevent all three parties trying to find any common ground with each other to form even a stable minority government after the Senedd election.