How likely is a delay to next year's Senedd election because of coronavirus?

There are serious hurdles in the way of any decision to postpone the 2021 Senedd election, but it's not impossible and is likely to be considered in the coming months.

At the weekend, the Health Minister became the most senior Senedd or Welsh Government figure to acknowledge publicly that a delay is possible.

In answer to a question from my colleague Rob Osborne, Vaughan Gething said:

"It's much better to be honest about that than to try and pretend that we absolutely will do everything according to a set timescale."

In making his comments he was only referring toa) a fact - there are ways of shifting the date - and b) to a debate that is being had by people in Welsh politics because a real concern about the effect on the election if its campaign coincides with a possible third coronavirus peak.

Amongst the many comments on twitter in response, the Conservative MS Suzy Davies said ‘Really really not a Welsh Gov decision.’

Labour MS Mike Hedges tweeted that ‘We have been elected for five years. At least one year more than I consider good for democracy. If we have to have electronic or postal voting then that is how the election must take place. The public must have a way of choosing who represents them.’

Others said that between now and next May there's plenty of time to look at social distancing measures at polling stations or even online voting systems.

There are many reasons why there shouldn't be a delay.

How would the public react to extending a five-year term that some already consider too long? The UK Government has already postponed Police and Crime Commissioner elections until next year so it could look bad and cause confusion if one vote is delayed and another is not.

Some have questions about postal votes, some over digital voting and others wonder what happens if you can’t canvass people by knocking on their door.

But even before coronavirus upended everything we knew as normal, the last few years of political turmoil have shown that radical changes can be made and have been made to something which seems set in stone.

Take Westminster General Elections. I lost count of the people who said that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act meant there was no way that snap elections were possible.

And then the 2017 and 2019 General Elections both happened.

Control of Senedd elections now lies in Cardiff Bay not in Westminster as a result of the 2017 Wales Act.

Moving the date by a month, say officials, is already allowed for but anything else would require new legislation.

You might be surprised to learn that such a change wouldn’t need the backing of two thirds of MSs, what's known as a ‘super-majority’ but rather a simple majority.

So actually if the Welsh Government wished and if it could guarantee the support of all its MSs (a big if - see above) it could change the date. Whether it should or would is another matter.

Senior people in the Senedd tell me there's no rush to consider any such move before September and that it would be better to do so in consultation with the Scottish Parliament whose election is also due next year. The Northern Ireland Assembly election is already scheduled for 2022.

But coronavirus has changed the way everything is being viewed and no matter how unlikely a move may seem or how many reasons there are why it shouldn't happen, where there's a political will there's a way.