In a letter in yesterday's Daily Post, Plaid Cymru's PPC for Ynys Môn, Dylan Rees, rehearses Plaid's most critical message to the Welsh voters for the forthcoming election: that even though there is no chance of Plaid Cymru actually winning the general election, a vote for Plaid Cymru in the Westminster election - as opposed to the Assembly elections - will not be a wasted vote. This is how Dylan Rees makes the argument:
[T]his general election is very likely to produce a hung parliament. In that event Plaid Cymru will have an even more influential role to play as it seeks to win a fairer deal for the people of Wales.
Taken at face value this does indeed sound plausible. If either of the two large parties fail to win a majority in the election they will seek to form a coalition government with some of the smaller parties such as Plaid Cymru. These smaller parties will then give their support subject to the eventual coalition government agreeing to the smaller parties terms - in Plaid Cymru's case this is likely to include:
- an overhaul of the Barnett Formula to give Wales a more equitable settlement
- the raising of pensions by 30% for Welsh OAPs over the age of 80
As I said: it sounds plausible - but is it likely? Lets take a look at the numbers...
Following the boundary changes the House of Commons will, after this general election, increase from 646 to 650 seats. Accordingly for any party to obtain an absolute majority they would need to win 326 seats. Using the electoralcalculus.co.uk's mathematical analysis of recent polls, this is the result which they predict:
click to enlarge
So, based on the polls for the month ending March 4th, they predict that the Conservatives will win 315 seats - just 11 short of a majority. How many seats are Plaid Cymru likely to win? Well, for the sake of consistency lets use the same electoralcalculus.co.uk's calculations which predict that Plaid Cymru will hold Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Dwyfor Meirionydd and gain Arfon (part of the existing Caernarfon constituency currently held by Plaid's Hywel Williams), Ceredigion and Ynys Môn. This will give Plaid Cymru 5 seats in Westminster. So its clear that under these current predictions Plaid Cymru's support alone will not provide enough seats for the Conservatives to reach a majority. Therefore both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru would also need the support of another party - for example the SNP.
There has been much talk of a 'power pact' between the SNP and Plaid Cymru in the event of a hung parliament. Politicalcalculus predicts that SNP will will have 7 MPs after the election, giving SNP and Plaid Cymru together a total of 12 seats which would give a potential Conservative-Plaid Cymru-SNP coalition government a one seat majority. But the reality is that such a coalition would not work because:
- The SNP's obvious demand for the complete independence of Scotland would be a price too high to pay for the Conservatives, who would simply prefer to go for a second general election
- According to Gerry Holtham, whereas the Barnett Formula under-funds Wales by about £300 million a year it over-funds Scotland by a whopping £4.2 billion a year. Any adjustment to give Wales a more equitable settlement would necessarily mean Scotland receiving less - and the SNP will never agree to that. Even Dafydd Wigley has acknowledged this stating in effect that they’d be working at cross purposes and should hold separate negotiations with the Tories
- Even with the probable support of the UUP and other Unionist Parties, the slim majority of a Conservatives-SNP-Plaid Cymru-Ulster Unionist coalition would quickly become unworkable in practice as each of the minority parties would effectively be able to hold the new government to ransom.
The only conclusion we can draw from the above is that even if it is mathematically possible for Plaid Cymru and the SNP to form a coalition government, the practicalities would make it unworkable. It is simply far more likely that the Conservatives would form a coalition with the Lib Dems, who with a predicted 50 seats, would give a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition a much more comfortable 39 seat majority. In such a case there would be no need for Plaid Cymru's support.
The above is just one scenario based on electoralcalculus.co.uk's current predictions. The only real chance for Plaid Cymru to wield any significant influence would be in the event that the Conservatives fall short of a majority by a very, very small margin - one seat for example - whereby Plaid Cymru's support alone would be sufficient to get a majority. What are the probabilities of that? Helpfully electoralcalculus.co.uk also provides the mathematical probabilities of a number of outcomes:
So the chances of there being either a Conservative or Labour majority or a Lib-Dem coalition with either of those two parties is effectively 99%. Accordingly, the mathematical chances of Plaid Cymru forming a coalition government with the Conservatives - and thus seeking a so-called 'fairer deal' for Wales - is less than one percent.
Accordingly, if you are an Ynys Môn voter, the only reason to vote for Dylan Rees is if you think that he will be a good constituency MP with the experience and ability to lead Anglesey's economic and social recovery (the Druid personally does not believe he is capable and has set out his reasons in detail here). If however you only vote Plaid Cymru in the hope that they will be able to wield influence in a hung parliament then you have a 99% probability of wasting your vote.
UPDATE: Plaid Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has made clear that in the event of a Hung Parliament, Plaid has no intention of joining a formal coalition - rather, as the always well informed Dylan points out in comments, they would seek concessions from the Conservatives for their support in key votes. He cites the example of Plaid Cymru exacting compensation for Welsh quarrymen from the Callaghan government in 1979 as a historical precedent. Unfortunately this doesn't invalidate my argument as the probabilities of the Conservatives needing to rely on Plaid Cymru for any particular vote are still remote. The fact is that the only circumstance when the Conservatives would need to bargain with Plaid Cymru for their support would effectively be when their coalition with the Lib Dems had collapsed, anyway leading to new election. To prove this point, the below graphic shows that coalition governments (red line) in the UK tend not to last very long: