Welsh politics can be a strangely obstacle-ridden game. As a former Assembly minister once confided in me, the only thing you can rely on is that most of what you think you know is unreliable.
Thirteen Welsh Assembly members are standing down at the next election and a few more are predicted to lose their seats. It will be a very different looking Senedd come May but the actual composition – and who ends up running things in Cardiff Bay – is presently anyone’s guess.
Unlike the Westminster system, Wales has a hybrid approach involving a first-past-the-post method to directly elect 40 AMs topped up with 20 regional members selected via proportional representation.
I won’t attempt to go into the technical complexities but the fact that you can gain regional seats simply by failing to win a constituency contest makes for some interesting outcomes.
The constituency versus regional distribution of seats last time around was Labour 28:2, Conservatives 6:8, Plaid Cymru 5:6 and Lib Dems 1:4 – which gives you an idea of who gains most from the twin-track arrangements.
Labour is expected to win the largest number of seats again, albeit down from their current total. Professor Roger Scully of Cardiff University thinks Carwyn Jones will either attempt to run a minority government or else seek a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition.
But here’s the rub. Plaid Cymru has done the power-sharing bit with Labour before (2007-2011). Neither coalition partner found it to be a particularly positive or rewarding experience. In fact, Plaid went on to lose four seats at the next election.
On the other hand, there are those who reckon that seismic changes are on the horizon. The election could turn into a crunch event that’s more about political survival than political advantage.
What they’re talking about is the gob-smacking prediction that UKIP could take up to eight or nine regional seats at the expense of the other four parties.
As much as people attempt to write off Nigel Farage’s party – including some of his colleagues – UKIP has stayed resilient in the face of scandal, rebellion and on-going confusion as to the final identity of its regional candidates.
One analyst I heard on the radio felt this is because UKIP supporters are so distrustful of conventional politics (and political correctness) that they’re willing to give their favoured party a free pass on alleged misdeeds.
Whatever the reason, it likely that Welsh political map makers will need a fifth colour after polling closes.
Publically, the mainstream parties are sticking to conventional strategies of highlighting achievements or offering attractive vote-catching alternatives. EU membership is not an election issue in their opinion - but that won’t stop it from being made one.
The problem is that many of us still inexplicably view the Welsh Assembly as a slightly artificial institution. That makes it susceptible to protest voters who don’t think that change makes much difference.
I hope they’re wrong but it’s like I said; you can’t rely on anything.
Breaking out of the bubble
I was delighted to get invited along to the Starship 2016 Awards last week.
The Student Entrepreneurship Awards, to quote its formal title, is part of a University of Wales Trinity St David initiative where ideas become tangible business opportunities and students are able to equip themselves with the right skills.
UWTSD prides itself on the fact that a large proportion of their students are from the region – and the added bonus that they mostly want to set up businesses in the locality.
The evening at Creative Bubble in Craddock Street, sponsored by Swansea Bay Business Club, included some impressive talent. There isn’t the space to go into details here, but I’ll be surprised if I don’t see the showcased ideas finding their way onto the market in the near future.
In the meantime, congratulations to James Coyle-King, Frederick Perry, Dan Huxtable and Ross Weaver on winning their individual categories.
Those who go down to the sea in ships
I’ll miss David Thompson-Jones, former secretary of Swansea’s Merchant Navy Association.
David was a loyal association member and hard-working servant to his colleagues; although he confessed that it was his late wife Marge who was actually in charge.
For as long as I knew him, David’s ambition was to see a fitting monument erected to the memory of those who has served in the merchant fleet. He felt it was the least a city with a maritime past like Swansea could provide.
He would often let me know how the campaign was going. A story with both liked to tell was how we struck deal in the local supermarket on how the final amount of cash was to be found.
This September, members and supporters will gather at the monument in Technium Square for their Remembrance service. David’s name will be on the roll. Rest well, faithful servant.