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Plans to change the Senedd’s electoral system ‘dangerous’ MSs are told

27 Oct 2023 4 minute read
Senedd Chamber Picture by the Welsh Government.

Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

Plans to change the Senedd’s electoral system are ‘dangerous’ and risk further disaffecting voters, according to the architects of the original proposals.

Alan Renwick, a political science professor at University College London, made the comments as MSs took evidence on the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) bill.

Prof Renwick – a member of the expert panel on electoral reform, which produced a report in 2017 – warned that the proposed voting system would be a retrograde step.

Public disaffection

Under the bill, future Senedd elections would use a “closed-list” system which would see the electorate voting for parties rather than people. 

Prof Renwick told the Senedd’s reform committee: “It just seems to me very, very clear that to remove that ability from voters to vote for individual candidates would create a significant danger of increasing public disaffection with the system

“When we are talking about a reform to increase the number of politicians … the suggestion that you also change the voting system to give voters less power to determine who the politicians filling those seats are, seems to me really dangerous.

“And I just would urge the committee and the Senedd as a whole to think very seriously about whether it really wants to go down that path.”

Disillusionment

The expert panel, chaired by Laura McAllister, recommended the single transferable vote or a flexible list system to give voters more choice on candidates.

Prof Renwick raised concerns about the move to a closed-list system amid public disillusionment and the perception that politicians are out of touch.

“We have abundant evidence from various sources that removing from voters the opportunity … to choose an individual person on the ballot paper would further enhance that dissatisfaction,” he said.

“I did a big study a few years ago on voting systems across all European countries and there has been a very clear trend over recent decades towards giving voters greater choice at the level of individual candidates, precisely to respond to that concern.”

He told the meeting on 26 October that surveys show people value accountability and the principle of being able to “throw the rascals out”.

Prof McAllister agreed with her colleague, saying the expert panel rejected a closed-list system early in its deliberations.

“It gives too much power to the party,” she said. “And not enough power to the elector.

“It weakens voter autonomy and voter choice which I think is a dangerous precedent in the current climate – it doesn’t allow for any direct line of accountability….

“When people are aware that they won’t be able to choose a specific candidate – that that will be chosen for them – I think that could cause some real issues in terms of public support for any change.”

Last month, David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, raised similar concerns about the new Senedd voting system.

He warned the proposals break the link between constituents and representatives.

“But it does so much more,” he said. “It embeds the power of party leaders to determine who gets a preferred position on the list put to the electorate, cutting out the local party membership from the internal democratic process.”

Powers

Prof Renwick also raised concerns about powers in the bill to allow the Welsh Government to increase the number of ministers to 19.

He said: “It just seems to me a really fundamental point that it shouldn’t be for ministers to decide an increase in the number of ministers.

“That ought to be a decision that is made by the Senedd as a whole through full scrutiny … that is a point in the bill that I have a clear concern about.”

The expert panel recommended increasing the size of the Senedd to 80-90 members but the bill allows for 96 politicians.

Prof McAllister said: “That probably gives an added security to future proofing the size of the Senedd because nothing would be more problematic than to increase the size once then having to go back and increase the size again.”

She told MSs it is a fine balance between costs, benefits and public opinion, saying the panel found there would be less return for the costs beyond 90 members.


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Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago

In these days of increasing control freakery amongst party leaders, such as Starmer, it’s vital that electors have a full choice of who they are voting for. Closed lists represent too much if a ‘lucky dip’ scenario not fitting in any system that calls itself democratic. As the article points out, the electorate needs to be able to ‘throw the rascals out’, or even better, be able to properly scrutinise them in the first place. Local accountability is also a crucial consideration, and I would suggest that in the interests of that, and wider democratic issues, that the practice of… Read more »

Steve George
Steve George
7 months ago

I support increasing the number of Members but the Senedd should listen to the learned Professor. This is an awful electoral system that has more to do with the internal politics of the Welsh Labour than the needs of the electorate.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve George

It’s actually far more to do with Plaid Cymru. In every election since 1999 the party has (with a very few exceptions in its so-called heartland) concentrated on the list to ensure that party faithful and unquestioning are elected. Perish the thought of actually winning an election!

Andrew
Andrew
7 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

I believe Plaids preference was for full PR but Labour refused saying it was “The only option on the table.

That would very much fit in with Labours central control of selection lists.

Fully support increasing the numbers of The Senedd but have serious concerns about closed lists and further switching off voters who are yet to really buy into Senedd elections

Steve George
Steve George
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

But Dr Ball’s comment is still valid as I don’t get any sense that they put up much of a fight against Labour’s ultimatum. Perhaps the truth is that this system favours political parties in general over the needs of the electorate.

G Williams
G Williams
7 months ago

I fully agree with Steve George. It is imperative that the Senedd has more members, But the proposed Closed List voting system is an anti-democratic abomination for reasons ably outlined by Professors Renwick and McAllister. An urgent rethink is required.

Sally-Anne
Sally-Anne
7 months ago
Echoing the points others have made... Padi Williams has it dead on when he says that this is about Welsh Labour's internal politics.
Richard E
Richard E
7 months ago

We must not spoil the plan for aditional members with this party list system – already anti Senedd Flntshire are using this as s fig leave to oppose …. No doubt their Wrexham
Council chums will joun them soon ?

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
7 months ago

The Senedd is getting too big for its boots!

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago

Absolutely 100% agree. It’s Labour who want the lists. It’s just such a list that gives us the oafish Andrew RT Davies. STV would be a huge improvement on what we have.

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
7 months ago

I firmly support the expansion of the Senedd (and extension of its competence) but not closed lists/d’Hondt. The latter would be a retrograde step that would become a no-exit dead-end. If enacted, how could it ever be changed? STV is the only appropriate system for a unicameral parliament. The proposed reduction in the length of the parliamentary term is similarly unfortunate. Having personally experienced 3-year terms (in Aotearoa New Zealand), it was obvious that members did not have time to develop good policy and apply it. I propose 6-year terms with staggered elections. No general elections – which are in… Read more »

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