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Opinion

Changing the electoral system – how it will affect the government of Wales

09 May 2023 5 minute read
A polling station in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Picture by Catrin Davies

Mike HedgesSenedd Member for Swansea East 

Whilst discussion often takes place about electoral systems little discussion takes place about the effect of the electoral system on the result.

There are advocates of STV which is used in Scotland for Council elections, but the SNP have resisted bringing it in for Scottish parliamentary elections.

The Irish result where Sinn Fein won the most votes but not the most seats showed STV is not a strictly proportional system.

The 1945 general election, like all general elections, took place under the first past the post system giving a large Labour majority but Labour actually polled less than the Conservatives and Liberals combined.

It was the electoral system that meant a change of government, if the system had been proportional, we could have had a Conservative/Liberal government and no NHS.

The Senedd currently has sixty seats with forty directly elected by first past the post and twenty additional members elected via the D Hondt system on a regional basis to bring some proportionality into the system.

This was brought in at the creation of the Senedd and whilst Labour has always won a majority of the first past the post seats, it has never won more than three of the twenty additional member seats. This has led in good years to Labour winning thirty of the sixty seats but in poorer election years, the number of seats won reduced, to 26 in 2007 and 29 in 2016.

Coalition

What happened in 2007 is that an attempt, which almost succeeded, was made to create a Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat Government but the Liberal Democrats eventually withdrew their support and the attempt failed.

Plaid Cymru then formed a coalition with Labour and Rhodri Morgan continued as First Minister.

In 2016 UKIP and the Conservatives backed the Plaid Cymru leader to become first minister which only failed because the sole Liberal Democrat did not support them.

I think both sets of actions show that anyone who thinks Plaid Cymru are natural allies of Labour are either overly optimistic or delusional.

The new proposal currently being discussed is to create a ninety-six member Senedd by pairing the thirty-two proposed parliamentary constituencies into sixteen constituencies electing six members each via the D Hondt election method.

These parliamentary seats, many of which are substantially different from the current parliamentary seats have not had an election so it is difficult to make any prediction on how they will vote at a general election and in the joined constituencies at Senedd elections.

What would have happened if the forty first past the post had been paired and elected three members per constituency or if the five regions had elected twelve?

The advantage of doing this is that we know how people voted in 2021 so it does not mean that predictions and estimates are needed.

The assumptions made are that the constituencies joined must be adjacent, turnout would have been the same and that people would have voted the same way.

If constituencies became more marginal turnout would probably increase but also tactical voting could reduce.

The formula used to calculate the result using D Hondt was provided by the Senedd research service.

Creating a sixty member Senedd based upon using D Hondt with twenty current constituencies created by pairing neighbouring constituencies to calculating the result would produce Labour on thirty five seats, Conservatives on thirteen seats and Plaid Cymru on twelve seats.

This is a better result for Labour than was achieved on the current additional member system.

If they were paired as above and elected six members each Labour would win less than half the seats.

Applying D Hondt to create a sixty member Senedd based upon twelve members per regional constituency would produce twenty six Labour members, eighteen Conservative seats, fifteen Plaid Cymru members and one Liberal Democrat.

At the 2022 Senedd election

On 40% of the vote Labour got thirty seats

On 26% of the vote the Conservatives got sixteen seats

On 20% of the vote plaid Cymru got thirteen seats

Any more proportional system will see Labour winning less than half the seats.

The proposals for new constituencies are based upon pairing the thirty-two new parliamentary constituencies producing sixteen constituencies and having six members in each.

Pairing

The boundary commission has decided on the thirty-two constituencies, we do not know how they will be paired, and we have not had an election on these boundaries so predicting the result with any accuracy is impossible. What can be done is estimate the number of seats by using the 2021 results and allocating votes cast  to each of the new constituencies and then pairing them.

The result I get from this is that Labour win between 46 and 44 seats, the Liberal Democrats 1 which would mean the combined vote of the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru would be over half the seats.

For a ninety-six seat Senedd assuming the Liberal Democrats win one seat then on a strict proportional system Labour remain the main party on forty-four seats but the Conservatives win twenty-nine seats and Plaid Cymru twenty two.

To do as well under the proposed system as the current system Labour would need to win four seats more than it would on its proportion of the vote. Unless the new system is less proportional than the current one then we do not get a majority Labour Government

We also know from 2007 and 2016 that when Labour wins less than half the seats then the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru try and form an alternative administration – each time the Liberal democrats stopped them by not supporting them.

On these figures they would have enough between them to not need the support of the Liberal Democrats.


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CJPh
CJPh
11 months ago

Have been waiting to write this fir a while, so glad Mr. Hedges has written here. I’m not a Labour supporter, not a socialist, don’t like the vast majority of elected officials in Wales (or in general, in fact), but Mike Hedges is a genuinely principled, hard working, community-oriented politician. He actually cares, does the graft and presents his case for his community despite party line or affiliation. If we had more people of Mike Hedges’ character in government, we’d quickly see a better, freer Welsh political system. Just waiting for him to bite that bullet and declare support for… Read more »

Dewi
Dewi
11 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

I happen to live in his constituency and agree with the personal endorsements here. He’s a good guy and, as much as he wouldn’t admit it, is a whisker away from Plaid Cymru.

However, the article itself isn’t quite as credible. As CapM sets out, the whole article fits into the “this forecast is just for a bit of fun category” and, therefore, is simply scaremongering – if you vote Plaid you’ll get Tory type of thing. I’d expect more and better from Mr H.

CJPh
CJPh
11 months ago
Reply to  Dewi

Diolch Dewi, and 100% agree. I didn’t want to comment as to the content of the op ed, just wanted to praise a genuine public servant. As much as I often find myself disagreeing on matters of policy with any number of politicians all over the spectrum, there are good people in office. On being a whisker away from Plaid, maybe. He does seem to be a split-end on a mouse’s whisker away from supporting independence though

CapM
CapM
11 months ago

“The assumptions made are that the constituencies joined must be adjacent, turnout would have been the same and that people would have voted the same way.” That puts the whole exercise into the ‘this forecast is just for a bit of fun’ category so beloved by those covering local election results. It comes across as cynical when politicians weigh up what electoral system we should have by focusing on potential outcomes. A genuine commitment to better democracy would focus on fairly reflecting the electorate’s views in the Senedd. Labour has taken a step in that direction with the new system… Read more »

Some1
Some1
11 months ago

Obsessing over a perfectly proportional system isn’t a good idea because it ignores that densely populated urban areas tend to vote differently to rural areas because they have different priorities and demographics. If parties can win just on the urban vote rural areas will be ignored. It’s more important to look at how individual voters engage with democracy. Too many think voting is pointless because most of the time they’re voting *against* who they don’t want, not *for* who they want. Preference voting changes this, letting them support candidates and smaller parties closest to their own politics without inadvertently supporting… Read more »

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