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Vast majority of local elections’ uncontested seats are in Wales, analysis shows amid calls for reform

02 May 2022 4 minutes Read
Polling station sign. Picture by Yui Mok / PA Wire

The vast majority of the uncontested seats in Thursday’s local elections are in Wales, with only a handful in Scotland and one in England.

91 people will be elected automatically across the nations of the UK – with 72 of those in Wales, despite elections taking place across Britain on May 5.

The Electoral Reform Society has called for Wales’ councils to switch over to multi-member single transferable vote wards to stop such circumstances from arising in the future.

The most extreme example is Gwynedd, where 28 of the council’s 69 seats – just over 40% – saw only one person put themselves forward for election. The 28 are made up of 19 candidates from Plaid Cymru, eight independents and one Liberal Democrat.

In another Welsh council, Pembrokeshire, 19 of the 60 seats are uncontested, comprising 10 independents, four Tories, four Labour candidates and one from Plaid Cymru.

Wrexham council has eight of its 56 seats uncontested, along with seven out of 68 in Powys, five of 38 in Ceredigion, three of 60 in Neath Port Talbot, one of 48 in Denbighshire and one of 75 in Carmarthenshire.

The figures mean around 6% of all council seats up for election in Wales on May 5 have already been filled.

Polls

In Scotland, five councils reported they have uncontested seats, though none are on the scale of Gwynedd or Pembrokeshire.

Some five of the 23 seats in the Shetland Islands are uncontested, along with four out of 29 in the Western Isles, three of 22 in Inverclyde, three of 26 in Moray and three of 74 in Highland.

This accounts for just over 1% of all council seats in Scotland.

Just one seat in England is uncontested: St Oswald in Sefton on Merseyside, where the only candidate to stand was from the Labour party.

Uncontested seats are a common factor at local elections in Britain and while the rate is high in certain parts of the country, the overall total has fallen in recent years.

In 1979 nearly one in five (18%) of all council seats up for grabs was unopposed but since 2012 the rate has never been higher than 4%, according to research published by the House of Commons Library.

The total can also vary from year to year, depending on how many councils are holding elections.

In 2018 there were no uncontested seats anywhere in Britain while the following year the number stood at around 2%.

And despite there being a bumper number of elections in 2021, due to many polls having been postponed from 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, only one uncontested seat was reported.

This year 200 local authorities in Britain are holding elections on May 5.

Every council seat in Scotland, Wales and London is up for grabs and there are polls across much of the rest of England.

The 91 uncontested seats account for just over 1% of approximately 6,900 that are due to be filled.

‘Unhealthy’

Jess Blair, Director ERS Cymru, said last month that the electoral arrangements in Wales were behind the number of uncontested seats.

“For over 100,000 voters in Wales May’s elections have been effectively cancelled,” she said.

“Local elections are the cornerstone of our democracy – a chance for local people to have their say over how their local area is run and, importantly, over who represents them. But yet again thousands of voters are being denied a voice with results decided weeks before polling day.

“Uncontested seats are yet another symptom of our broken First Past the Post system – one which creates safe seats for some candidates and parties but no-go areas for others.

“However, we now have an opportunity to break this unhealthy cycle and give local democracy a much-needed shot in the arm. For the first time, local councils in Wales have the opportunity to switch over to the more proportional single transferable vote, which is already used in Scotland.

“This would mean politicians will have to fight for every vote as well as ending the scourge of safe seats and travesty of contests being won without a single vote being cast.”


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The Original Mark
The Original Mark
15 days ago

I wonder if there’s a link between number of 2nd homes and number of people coming forward for election, especially in areas like Pembrokeshire and Gwynedd?

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
15 days ago

The Electoral Reform Society has long favoured STV but using STV it is difficult to achieve gender balance. The ERS needs to conduct some research into that aspect of electoral reform, a hynny ar frys!

John Brooks
John Brooks
15 days ago

This doesn’t include the Town/Community Councils where there are many uncontested elections and in a lot of cases insufficient candidates for vacancies. I live in Aberriw in Powys. There has never been an election for the community council The problem, in my view, is we are looking for too many representatives at local levels in relation to the population. A lot of council seats sounds very democratic but when there is an insufficient pool to draw on it becomes the opposite.

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