THE BLOG

What Are the Welsh Assembly Elections and How Do They Affect You?

18/05/2015 22:04 BST | Updated 18/05/2016 10:59 BST

In recent weeks there has been much media attention surrounding the devolution of powers from Westminster to Scotland, and most of the credit for this goes to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Surprisingly, Scotland is a country that gets a much better deal from Westminster than Wales, but most people couldn't pick Leanne Wood out of a line up of generally forgettable politicians. So with the General Election over and done with, is that it for Wales?

Not quite. In 2016 those of us registered to vote in Wales will be heading back to the polling booths to vote in the Welsh Assembly elections.

The purpose and power of the Welsh government is limited in comparison to Westminster, but it is by no means unimportant. The Welsh government develops policies and passes laws in key areas like education, health, transport, the environment, economic development and culture. In addition to this, the 'Wales Act 2014', signed off by Danny Alexander and the then-Welsh Secretary of State David Jones, means that we can be expecting even more devolved powers in the next few years. These new powers include things like stamp duty, landfill tax and potential referendums on who sets our levels of income tax.

All of these issues affect fundamental aspects of our lives, yet we in Wales know relatively little about these elections compared to the general election, which is an unnerving thought.

With this knowledge, how can you use your vote to help to decide who gets to make these laws? In what many would describe as a progressive system, we use a form of proportional representation to decide which candidates end up as AMs (Assembly Members). When voting, you are given the option to vote for your preferred candidate in your constituency (like the General Election), but you are also allowed to vote for your preferred party. This means that 40AMs are decided using the familiar First Past The Post system, but an extra 20AMs are elected using the Regional Top Up System; a form of proportional representation based on the second vote you give.

Labour has performed especially well in the assembly elections in the last few decades; every Welsh government since it started in 1999 has been either a Labour majority or Labour and left-leaning party coalition. However, this may not be an entirely accurate picture of the country, as the turnout in 2011 was only 42%.

So what about looking towards the future? The current polls suggest that this election is set to be just as fascinating as the general election (or at least as fascinating as it was 'predicted' to be). Labour have been accused of taking Scotland for granted, and it looks like they may be about to make the same mistake in Wales. With the proportional representation system, fringe parties who may not have enjoyed much success in the general election like Ukip, get a much larger say. They're currently polling around 11% in Wales, and Nigel Farage quickly sensed his opportunity, publicly showing his support for Welsh Ukip.

The first past the post system has received a lot of criticism in the British media for its poor representation of parties like the Greens and Ukip compared to the SNP, who actually took a lower percentage of the electorate. However, defenders of first past the post point out that if it wasn't for this slow moving system, Ukip would have a lot more power than they do now. This could very well be the story of the Welsh Assembly elections, and could act as an interesting case study for people all over the UK, showing us what may happen if the proportional representation system is used for the general election.

Even more so than in England, Labour are at huge risk of losing a large chunk of their disillusioned working class vote to Ukip, while the Tories seem to be emerging unscathed. This is a scary prospect for many people in Wales. In a double blow for universal common sense, the leader of Welsh Ukip denied the existence of climate change and accused all scientists of being in a conspiracy with 'big pharma' live on the Daily Politics show.

If Ukip did get any significant power, where would this leave Wales' plans for sustainable energy development? And how could Westminster negotiate with a Welsh parliament over carbon emission caps? Regardless your nationality or your stance on first past the post, one thing is for sure: this election matters.