Brexit in Wales – The Parties

It has been widely reported that the vote to leave the EU was strong in Labour’s heartlands – a worrying split between the party leadership and their voters. By combining the lion’s share of the conservative vote with the non-metropolitan wing of the Labour party’s vote, the Leave campaign caused a political earthquake. As the media generally lacks this  blog’s unabashed cymrucentric bias, however,I’d like to concentrate on how these dynamics played out in Wales.


Awkwardly though, the referendum’s votes were totaled at the Council Authority level, rather than the constituency level. This makes comparisons between votes in the referendum and Assembly/Westminster elections tricky.  I’m sure there are clever ways to estimate the Brexit votes within each constituency, but here I’ve taken a more straightforward approach. I’ve looked at the correspondence between  Leave vote share and the proportion of councilors the different parties have in each Council.

There were a couple of issues with this approach. Firstly the last council elections were in 2012 – so they’re arguably a bit out of date. That’s why I’m not reporting any numbers for UKIP – the last council election pre-dates UKIP’s surge in Wales. Secondly, not being an expert in local government elections, I was quite surprised by how many independent councilors there are. Furthermore there  are some small parties that only exist in a single council – Llais Gwynedd for example. The number of councilors also varies quite a lot across councils. For these reasons I’ve decided to base my main analysis on the proportion of councilors each party has of the councilors belonging to the major parties – so I’m dropping independents and minor parties from the denominator of the proportions. There was no correlation between the number of such councilors and Leave’s share of those vote (.05), so I feel this is a reasonable thing to do.


Onto the results! Below is the proportion of Labour councilors plotted against Leave’s share of the vote. There’s a striking positive relationship – the Spearman’s correlation is .56. Thus the Welsh Brexit vote was unambiguously stronger in areas that elect Labour councilors.


On to Plaid Cymru. This time the relationship was modestly negative – -.26. Councils with lots of Plaid councilors tended to go for Remain. I would note here that two of Plaid’s strongest councils have substantial minor party/independent representation – the aforementioned Llais Gwynedd in Gwynedd and an enormous number of independents on Ynys Mon. Thus the reported proportions exclude a lot of councilors. Putting them back in doesn’t make a big difference though, the correlation becomes -.31.


The Lib Dems are perhaps the most obviously pro-EU party and this is borne out by this analysis. The correlation is -.43, a substantial negative association.


The surprise package, for me at least, was the Conservative party. One might expect that areas returning lots of Conservative councilors would be firmly for out, given the party’s long history  of euroscepticism. Not so. There was actually a small negative relationship between Conservative councilors and Leave vote. The areas with lots of Tory councilors include prosperous Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, so my sense is that this is about economic advantage, but I was surprised nonetheless.


To conclude, the Leave vote really does seem to have come from Labour voting areas – there is no other way to slice this. Labour’s electorate appear to be at odds with the party on the defining political issue of the day.


P.S. I’m very grateful to everyone who commented on, shared, and read my previous post Brexit a’r Iaith Gymraeg. I’m somewhat stunned by the response it got. Diolch o galon pawb!


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