Are the Welsh Conservatives really heading for 20 seats in the Assembly?

Wales Online reports that according to the latest polling figures, the Tories could be on track for what is effectively a three-way tie at the next Assembly elections in 2021.

According to analysis by Professor Roger Awan-Scully, the projections would produce the following seat totals: Labour 21; Conservative 20; Plaid Cymru 18; and the Liberal Democrats on one. He notes:

“Any such outcome would, of course, be by some way Labour’s worst-ever Assembly election result, and the best-ever one for both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. It would also generate a very interesting environment in which to try and form a post-election Welsh government.”

For what it’s worth, it seems increasingly likely that such an outcome would yield at least an attempt at a working relationship between the Tories and Plaid. A deal with the Nats is the whole object of the Tories’ Assembly strategy, such as it is, and my sources suggest back-channels are being opened up even if Adam Price, the current Plaid leader, is deeply opposed.

Needless to say, taking a third of the seats in the Assembly would be a turn-up for the Conservatives. But amongst Welsh Tory MPs there is some scepticism about the plausibility of this outcome – and even if it does come about, it could potentially pose the Party a serious dilemma.

This is because, as I have written on previous occasions, there is a deep split in the Tories’ electoral coalition in Wales between those who vote for it consistently and another group, hundreds of thousands strong, which only turns out for Westminster contests. The net result is that the Party is consistently Wales’ second-strongest in national elections, but bumps along at the same level as Plaid in devolved ones.

Securing 20 seats suggests that Paul Davies’ campaign will manage to unite what we might call the ‘British/Right’ vote (that turns out for Assembly contests) to an unprecedented extent, depriving challengers such as Abolish the Assembly of the space they need to establish a foothold and start trying to activate devosceptic Tories. But how will such a collection of voters react if the result is a deal with an explicitly left-wing and Welsh nationalist party?

In other news David Melding, one of the most Welsh-nationalist of all the current Assembly group and a supporter of a ‘federal’ UK, is stepping down at the next election.

Meanwhile defenders of the Assembly have once again highlighted how absurd it is to accept their counsel that making concessions is the way to see off nationalism. When it comes to a movement they actually want to defeat – Abolish the Assembly – their prescriptions are straight out of the ‘Brit Nat’ playbook: offer your opponents no constitutional quarter and ramp up efforts to promote cultural identity. The Prime Minister should play close attention to Professor McAllister’s recommendations.

Carlaw talks immigration with Johnson… 

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has met the Prime Minister to discuss how the Government could make its proposed new immigration system more responsive to Scottish interests, according to the Daily Telegraph.

We noted last week that the Tories north of the border seemed to have adopted somewhat contradictory positions, with the leadership striking a belligerent tone whilst other figures, such as Adam Tomkins, took a more conciliatory line which emphasised the Government’s assurances that Scottish concerns would be taken into account.

Although the current proposals likely give ministers as much flexibility as they could need to cater to specific regions or sectors, a visible adaptation of the plan in response to Carlaw’s lobbying would be an obvious way to demonstrate his influence over the UK party (and the utility of a strong Scottish Conservative party). Meanwhile the SNP have produced a report suggesting that freedom of movement could be retained for Scotland even after Brexit. SNP make trouble over the Protocol

Meanwhile there are stirrings of fresh trouble over the Irish Protocol after the Scottish Government sought clarity over whether or not it would be responsible for implementing it. The BBC reports a Northern Irish minister claiming to have been told by a Scottish counterpart that “they would not accept new checks at Scottish ports.”

This comes as the EU is growing increasingly concerned about the Government’s refusal to commit, even in private, to enforcing the controversial customs border inside British territory. Stephen Farry, the newly-elected Alliance MP for North Down, told a debate in London that “even the most far reaching deal you can imagine” wouldn’t completely obviate the need for checks – meaning the only way the Government could avoid them would be to resile from the Protocol.

In other news, the Government also told Brussels that it would be prepared to deploy the Royal Navy to prevent European vessels illegally fishing British waters after Brexit.

Jewish community urge Plaid to drop candidate

The Welsh Nationalists have been urged to drop a candidate who was previously suspended from the party for making antisemitic tweets, Wales Online reports.

It says that “senior members of the Jewish community” want Plaid to block Sahar Al-Faifi – who enjoys the support of Leanne Wood, the ex-leader of the Nationalists – from standing for the Assembly next year.

Although she has taken antisemitism training, and Plaid are currently standing by her, her critics are concerned that she has offered, and apparently not retracted, public support for Hamas.

Baillie strikes unionist line in Scottish Labour election

One fascinating by-product of Labour’s various elections is the visibility of splits between more committed unionists, such as Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, and the peddlers of devocrat orthodoxy such as Keir Starmer.

Inevitably, this has now reached the Scottish Deputy contest. Jackie Baillie, the acting leader, has launched a scathing attack on her opponents for proposing that Labour should support an SNP bid for a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum should the separatists win another Holyrood majority next year.

Labour faces a dilemma in Scotland, where it needs to try and win back voters who have defected to the Nationalists (or the Greens) without ceding its remaining vote, which as a natural consequence is much more unionist, to the Conservatives.