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A brief history of Senedd reform

04 Feb 2024 5 minute read
Inside The Senedd, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff by .Martin. is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Adam Somerset

The bill to reform the size and method of election of the Senedd has received much comment. Nation Cymru has taken the lead role in the journalistic coverage.

However, the reporting to date has not gone back in detail to the background that has led to the proposals of 2024.

From a constitutional perspective most elections in the United Kingdom have been without reference to political parties. The candidates’ party affiliations first appeared on ballot papers in the General Election of 1970.

Two documents have preceded this.

The first was published in November 2017 and titled “A PARLIAMENT THAT WORKS FOR WALES.” The authors were an Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform.

Impartial

The Panel, the cover explains, was established in February 2017 to provide robust, politically impartial advice to the Llywydd and Assembly Commission on the number of Members the Assembly needs, the most suitable electoral system, and the minimum voting age for Assembly elections.

It was was chaired by Professor Laura McAllister, Professor Rosie Campbell, Professor Sarah Childs, Rob Clements, Professor David Farrell, Dr Alan Renwick and Sir Paul Silk.

Their report is 255 pages in length. A glossary on page 252 categorises the closed-list electoral system as:

“electoral system or element of a Mixed Member Proportional system in which voters choose between lists of candidates proposed by political parties. Candidates take up seats won by the party in the order the party has included them on the list.”

Page 131, paragraph 13.01, features a table of five electoral systems that have been rejected.

The fourth system that is rejected is the Closed-list System. The Expert Panel states its demerits:

“No choice for voters between individual candidates. No accountability for individual Members directly to voters.”

The report can be read here.

A stronger voice

The second document that has guided the decisions of 2024 is titled “Reforming our Senedd. A stronger voice for the people of Wales.”

Its authors were the Welsh Parliament Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform. The committee was established 6 October 2021 and was chaired by Huw Irranca-Davies MS. The Committee comprised Elin Jones MS, Jane Dodds MS, Jayne Bryant MS and Siân Gwenllian MS.

Darren Millar MS had also been a member but was not so at the time of the report’s publication.

The report of May 2022 is 92 pages in length. Page 87 cites “Key principles of the Expert Panel on Assembly Reform.” The principles include: “Member accountability: the system should ensure that all Members are clearly accountable to voters and able to represent them effectively and appropriately in the national interest.”

“Voter choice: where appropriate within its design, the system should allow voters to select or indicate a preference for individual candidates.”

On page 31 a feature of the Single Transferrable Vote system is declared: “Maximises power of voters to express nuanced preferences for individual candidates (including independent candidates) rather than parties.”

On page 34 features of the Closed-list system are declared: “Facilitate strong, cohesive political parties.  No choice for voters between individual candidates. No choice for voters between individual candidates. No accountability for individual Members directly to voters.”

Minority

On page 32 the Report states “a minority in our committee (Jane Dodds MS) favoured the introduction of STV as the Senedd’s new electoral system. She considered that STV would enable broad proportionality, facilitate voters in expressing preferences for individual candidates across party lines, provide for all Members to be elected on an individual mandate and maximise voter choice (by being able to indicate as many or as few preferences as they wished).”

On page 35 it notes: “A minority in our Committee (Jane Dodds MS) did not favour the adoption of closed lists, believing that they would reduce choice for voters and concentrate too much power in the hands of party machines, and, in particular, believing that the adoption of closed lists would weaken the lines of accountability between an individual Member and their electorate.”

“A second minority within our committee (Siân Gwenllian MS) also favoured the introduction of STV as the Senedd’s new electoral system. However, in the spirit of achieving the supermajority required to deliver Senedd reform, including the transformative measure of an expanded and more proportional Senedd in time for the 2026 Senedd election, she considered that a proportional list system would also have acceptable merits in a way that the current MMP system – incorporating as it did a substantial element of first past the post – did not.”

Page 80 cites the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. A Report on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, recommended that: “Constituency boundaries ought to be determined independently of political influence and in accordance with rules protecting a robust and impartial determination process.”

The Report can be read here.

Adam Somerset is a critic and essayist.


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Blegywryd
Blegywryd
21 days ago

Plaid Cymru’s justification for supporting the undemocratic centralist closed-list system is that it can be reviewed and changed once it is in place. But once it’s adopted it will only be able to be changed with a two-thirds majority. So the party pushing for it – Labour – will have a veto over changing it.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
21 days ago
Reply to  Blegywryd

Rhun ap Iorwerth falls at the first democratic hurdle, what a sorrowful and shameful state of affairs…

Guy Major
Guy Major
21 days ago
Reply to  Blegywryd

For a more proportional, more accountable alternative, see this article in https://bylines.cymru/politics-and-society/votes-weighted-representation/ We propose a simplified version of Single Transferable Vote, using 6-member constituencies. Like under STV, least popular candidates are eliminated, with their votes being transferred to next preferences. However, unlike under STV, ‘spare’ votes of those elected are not transferred to lower, worse-matched preferences. Instead representatives ‘carry’ the number of votes that elected them into the Assembly, as vote weights. This leads to far fewer wasted votes and far more proportionality of assembly voting power than existing systems, with strong local links and accountability. Voters can rank their… Read more »

Another Richard
Another Richard
20 days ago

The quality of representation in the Senedd is already low enough without enabling parties to rig elections in favour of the most conformist and compliant candidates.

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