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Wigley urges rethink over Closed Lists Senedd voting system

01 Dec 2023 4 minute read
Dafydd Wigley. Picture by Plaid Cymru.

Martin Shipton

Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley has urged the Welsh Government to reconsider its controversial plan to change the voting system at Senedd to one based on so-called “Closed Lists”.

Under the Senedd reform package agreed between the Welsh Labour government and Plaid Cymru, the number of Senedd Members will be increased from 60 to 96. The electoral system will also be changed, so that votes are cast for political parties rather than for individual candidates.

Wales will be split up into 16 “super constituencies” with six MSs elected from each, with seats being allocated to parties in proportion to the votes cast. But unlike the better-known Single Transferable Vote (STV) system of proportional representation, where voters can rank candidates in order of preference, there is no such option with Closed Lists, where parties decide candidate rankings.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has said that First Minister Mark Drakeford made it clear that without the Closed Lists system there could be no increase in the number of MSs. Plaid therefore reluctantly backed the proposal.

Opposition

But opposition to Closed Lists has been mounting. The leading academic Professor Laura McAllister, of Cardiff University, who chaired the expert panel which recommended Senedd reform has come down heavily against Closed Lists.

In the recent Welsh Political Archive annual lecture at Cardiff University, she said: “I recently gave evidence to the Committee that’s examining the new Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill. There’s plenty to applaud in the Bill, but some elements that need serious challenge.

Our Expert Panel rejected the Closed List PR system at the first stage of evaluation, for two simple reasons: it reduces voter choice and creates no direct lines of accountability with electors; and secondly, it encourages the over-dominance of the party machine.

Closed Lists put more power into the hands of party bosses, risking rewarding loyalty and longevity, rather than calibre and contribution. Closed Lists promote conservatism and conformism, risking a race to the bottom.”

Dafydd Wigley represented Caernarfon in the House of Commons from 1974 until 2001, and the same seat at the then National Assembly from 1999 to 2003. He was Plaid Cymru’s President from 1981 to 1984 and from 1991 to 2000. In electoral terms, he was the most successful leader that Plaid has had. The party won 17 seats at the first devolved election in 1999, an achievement that hasn’t been equalled or surpassed since. He was made a life peer in 2010.

Scandal

Following Prof McAllister’s comments, Lord Wigley posted on X a comment of his own: “Closed lists are a democratic scandal – and isn’t a price worth paying for an enlarged Senedd.”

He explained his position in greater detail to Nation.Cymru, saying: “I fully support what Laura, for whom I have enormous respect, said. She has raised very serious concerns about the method of proportional representation that is being proposed for Senedd elections.

“I accept the need for the Senedd to have more members, but the question then arises about how they should be elected. Ever since I was first elected as the MP for Caernarfon in February 1974, I’ve realised how important it is for an elected member to have a close relationship with the people he or she represents.

“I had 28 community councils in the constituency and did my best to visit all of them once a year to talk about local issues. If the seat had been any bigger, it would have been impossible to do that.

“I understand that with a proportional voting system, constituencies need to be larger, but I think there has to be a balance. One thing I think essential is for members of the public to be given the opportunity to decide which individuals they want to vote for.

“I remember back in the 1970s that a constituent told me that unless I voted to bring back hanging, he wouldn’t vote for me. I was totally opposed to capital punishment and said I was fine with him voting for someone else. The point is that he was able to make a choice about who to vote for.

“Closed Lists give all the power to the parties and the ordinary voter has no power. It’s not the electoral system that Plaid Cymru wants, nor, I suspect, do a lot of Labour members. I think it would be a serious mistake to bring in Closed Lists.

“I hope there’s time for this to be looked at again before the legislation is passed and I urge the Welsh Government to reconsider.”

 


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Ianto
Ianto
2 months ago

I quite agree. Plaid should call Drakeford’s bluff, and go for the no-enlargement option. With Labour in perpetual power, putting the election of the First Minister in the hands of a handful of party members, at the behest of London, would hardly be democratic.

KC Gordon
KC Gordon
2 months ago
Reply to  Ianto

…as happened at the very first Assembly election.

Llyn
Llyn
2 months ago

It will not reflect well on Plaid at all if they vote through an electoral system which they are clearly not in favour, in a desperate grasp for more Senedd members. Especially for a party who are constantly taking the moral high ground when denouncing any Labour Gov spending cuts and the Tories.

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago

Dafydd yn lygaid ei le – da iawn 👏👏👏

Gwyn Hopkins
Gwyn Hopkins
2 months ago

To date many people have fairly consistently voted for their favoured party at elections, pretty well irrespective of the party’s candidate. However, many have voted for the candidate that would, in their view, best represent their constituency – on the evidence of their past experience, both politically and/or otherwise. My guess is that many of the latter group will not vote at the next Senedd election if they can’t vote for particular individuals. My wife and I certainly won’t vote if we disapprove of any of the 6 candidates in my favoured party’s closed list.     

Alun
Alun
2 months ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

Yes, whilst I thoroughly support an expanded Senedd, it’s surely relevant that the system proposed is very likely to significantly reduce turnout by those not politically committed.

Rhddwen y Sais
2 months ago

Cymru politics leads the way.

Richard E
Richard E
2 months ago

Da iawn Dafydd ✔️

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
2 months ago

Absolutely no point enlarging the Senedd if democracy is then to be hobbled by an electoral system that further promotes the stifling mediocrity of the current system that favours Welsh Labour. There are good people in Welsh Labour, but also far too many apparatchiks. The system needs to be able to be shaken up, not made to conform to one party’s whim.

hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

“Stifling mediocrity” – 2 words that hit the bull’s eye when describing the Bay regime. An expanded Senedd should afford an opportunity for minority delegates to be elected, people not burdened by toeing a party line but there because their local electorate wants them as representatives.

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

I welcome expanding the Senedd as this along with the reduction of MPs will mean that the emphasis will be on the Cardiff Bay and not Westminster from now on. I also welcome abolishing first past the post as its such an outdated system. However I do have concerns about this system. 16 super sized constituencies are going to be quite large in rural areas. For example, what happens if say Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion merge into a single large constituency and all the six candidates happen to come from the Aberystwyth area, leaving Pembrokeshire without a representative in the Senedd.… Read more »

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