Welsh Labour vote to back Senedd reform
Welsh Labour have voted overwhelmingly to back a larger Senedd and reform to how elections take place.
75.64% voted for the changes and 24.36% against at a special conference.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “I am delighted that Welsh Labour delegates have today decided to support Senedd reform.
“Today’s vote will strengthen Wales’ democracy, secure the future of our Senedd and ensure people across Wales are better represented – reflecting the modern Wales in which we live.”
Proposals to expand the Senedd to 96 members and change the voting system had already received support from a majority of Senedd Members.
Three unions closely affiliated with Labour had however had said that they opposed the reforms, saying they were concerned they could make it harder for Labour to hold on to power in Wales.
GMB, Community and Usdaw were understood to be against the proposals. In the end however they passed comfortably.
Welsh Labour MPs Chris Bryant and the party’s deputy leader Carolyn Harris had also criticised some aspects of the plans.
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant had said that his party branch had “voted unanimously” to oppose the plans because the new constituencies would be too large.
“Although we support reform in principle, the Rhondda Labour Party voted unanimously last night against the present proposals for reform of the Senedd,” Chris Bryant said.
“We object to electing six representatives in each 200,000 constituency on closed lists. It will make MSs much less connected to local people.”
The Welsh parliament voted last month to rubber-stamp the reforms which will see the number of members expanded from 60 to 96.
The 32 Westminster new constituencies will be paired to create 16 large constituencies, electing six Senedd members each.
Senedd elections will also use closed proportional lists with integrated statutory gender quotas, in practice giving parties full control over their list of candidates.
Following the vote, Plaid Cymru spokesperson on the constitution, Rhys ab Owen MS said: “Plaid Cymru welcomes Welsh Labour’s decision to formally endorse proposals for a stronger, more diverse and more representative Senedd.
“Our parliament will be better equipped to improve the lives of the people of Wales thanks to Plaid Cymru’s Co-operation Agreement with the Welsh Government.
“This is a significant and positive moment in our nation’s history. It is nevertheless disappointing to see some dissent particularly by Westminster MPs. They are on the wrong side of history when it comes to Wales’s democratic journey.
“We turn our sights now to ensuring the work of implementing our vision gets underway in earnest and with urgency – to ensure reform becomes reality by the next Senedd election in 2026.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds had earlier called on Welsh Labour to back the reforms, saying that they must be “on the right side of history” in building a stronger and more fair democracy in Wales.
“We all really hope that Welsh Labour delegates vote to do the right thing tomorrow and support a much fairer and more democratic voting system in Wales,” she said.
“Too often Labour have blocked electoral reform across the UK and now is a chance to put Wales’ interest over their party political interests.
“It is disappointing that the GMB, Usdaw and Community trade unions groups have come out against introducing a more proportional voting system in Wales, blatantly stating they are against the proposals because it may make a Labour Government less likely.
“Elections should be competitive and a more promotional system means that more voters can vote for who they believe will deliver the change their communities and our country needs, not just to stop the other side from winning.”
This week however one of the architects of the Senedd reform plans raised concerns with the proposals for Senedd reform, saying that a closed list system will deny voters choice.
Professor Laura McAllister, who chaired an Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform in 2017 that produced many of the recommendations on which the reforms have based, raised concerns with the closed lists.
The pairing of proportional representation and a party-chosen list of candidates would in practice almost guarantee some prospective representatives’ seats in the Senedd.
Writing for the Constitution Unit Blog, Prof. Laura McAllister said that their expert panel had rejected the closed list system as it lead to less “voter choice and accountability”.
“It is a strange choice, as there are a host of problems with closed list PR systems, most notably over promoting party control over voter choice,” she said.
“Under closed lists, voters have no influence on the hierarchy in which candidates are elected – this being pre-selected by the party, locally or nationally.
“Furthermore, in this specific case, candidates will be ordered not only by party preferences but also by gender, which gives even less independent choice for voters.”
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