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Opinion

Does Wales need more Senedd members?

05 Feb 2024 5 minute read
The Senedd in Cardiff Bay

Mike HedgesMS for Swansea East

Do we need more Senedd members is the question currently being asked and whilst the answer from the abolish the Senedd campaign is that one member is one is one too many, I urge those with a more positive view of the Senedd to take part in the debate on the size and electoral system.

On the number of Members, in the 1990s, the initial proposal was 80 Members, but that was overturned for the 60 Members we have today. Scotland has 129 seats for an electorate of 4,245,000 giving one Member for every 32,900 electors.

Northern Ireland has 90 Members for an electorate of 1.3 million giving one Member for every 15,260 electors. Wales currently has 60 Members for an electorate of 2,348,000, giving 39,140 electors per Member. Wales has a higher elector to member ratio than Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Moving to 96 Members would produce 24,464 electors per Member, which is approximately midway between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There are many councils in Wales with more members than the Senedd including Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taff, and Carmarthenshire who all have more than sixty members.

We currently have small committees, I serve on the Finance Committee, we have four Members if one is taken ill, one held up in traffic, the meeting becomes inquorate. Anybody who travels along the M4 will be aware of just how easy it is to get held up in traffic for several hours.

How do you pay for these additional Members? If you have more Members, then the commissioners, such as the children’s commissioner and the older persons’ commissioner, will need less staff to scrutinise the Welsh government.

Smaller budgets

Wales has also lost its four members of the European parliament and following the boundary review, at the next election Wales will lose eight members of parliament, therefore, they would need smaller budgets.

The current closed list system proposed would mean that voters would only be able to choose between parties and groupings, rather than choose individual candidates.

The committee that David Rees chaired regarding Senedd reform heard evidence from experts that this would reduce the choice available to voters and risk voter dissatisfaction and reduce turnout. The committee were also united in their concerns about the impact of the voting system being put forward by the Welsh Government on the level of the voter’s ability to choose who represents them.

Getting the electoral system right is fundamental to the health of democracy in Wales, and I agree with the committee on their significant reservations about the closed list system.

With the bill having completed its first stage then we need further consultation on the electoral system. In democracy, gerrymandering is the political manipulation of electoral boundaries with the intent of creating an undue advantage for a party.

We do things differently in Wales. Where other parties bring in electoral systems so that they can win a majority, Labour in Wales brings in one to make it difficult to win a majority.

Paired

We now have suggested an electoral system where the new Senedd constituencies will be a paired combination of the thirty-two seats set out for Westminster each electing six members from a closed list system where candidates will be ranked by political party.

Six members elected for each of sixteen constituencies created by merging two parliamentary constituencies gives ninety-six members. Many people, including me, were concerned about the size of the parliamentary constituency of Brecon, Radnor and Cwmtawe, stretching from Knighton and Presteigne on the English border to Lower Brynamman and Gwaen-Cae-Gurwen on the border with Carmarthenshire.

To create a six-Member constituency would involve Brecon, Radnor and Cwmtawe either going northwards with Montgomery and Glyndŵr, westwards with Ceredigion and Preseli, or with Carmarthenshire; southwards produces a choice of Monmouthshire, Neath and Swansea East, Blaenau Gwent and Rhymney or Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare.

Whichever way of creating a six-Member constituency is used the constituency would be very large and involve communities with very little in common.

Whilst this is the most extreme example, there will be many others outside the cities that will also be covering very large areas. We could elect 96 Members using the parliamentary constituencies, with three from each, elected via D’Hondt or STV.

The advantage of that is that these constituencies will have already had a general election for voters to get used to the new seats, and, whilst some will be large, they will be much smaller than any of the joint seats.

This is why I am asking for thirty-two three-Member constituencies, where the Senedd and Westminster Parliament have the same boundaries.

I support the principle of more Senedd members, if only so that we can have at least one extra Member on the Finance Committee so that we do not end up with a situation where we are dependent on the M4 not having a serious accident.


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David Smith
20 days ago

“Getting the electoral system right is fundamental to the health of democracy in Wales, and I agree with the committee on their significant reservations about the closed list system.
With the bill having completed its first stage then we need further consultation on the electoral system. In democracy,” Very well said, Mike.

hdavies15
hdavies15
20 days ago
Reply to  David Smith

Not likely to be achieved with a closed list system, is it ? Just imagine 96 party hacks posturing their way around the Bay. That should ruin your Monday morning. Have 80 or 96 seats open to STV selection and then you might be getting something worth crowing about.

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
20 days ago

Maybe we should abandon the idea that all constituencies need to be the same size. Let Brecon, Radnor and Cwmtawe be a standalone 3-seater. But keep the proposed 6-seaters in more densely populated areas.

Rob
Rob
20 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Meagher

Agreed. I can’t imagine Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire merging into one big constituency being workable. Are candidates from Aberystwyth going to have to campaign on the streets of Haverfordwest to get themselves elected? Its the same the other way round. Is someone standing on a platform to save Withybush Hospital going to have to reach out to voters in Ceredigion who won’t use it?

That being said, anything is better than First Past the Post.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
20 days ago

A great article, and manages to explain to a simple farmer like myself where the number 96 came from. I’m all for more Senedd members, but if that means a closed list system then forget it. I’d honestly rather stay as we are now. At least people actually have a choice now over which individual they’d like to represent them. There’s something very sinister about a closed list. It’s effectively a way of keeping the ‘trouble makers’ out and the ‘chancers’ in.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
20 days ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

We need the Single Transferable Vote System as recommended by :
1) The Electoral Reform Society.
2) Plaid Cymru.
3 ) Green Party.
4) Liberal Democrats.

Anything else is a failure.

Steve George
Steve George
20 days ago

I used to work in the Senedd and have seen up close the problems the current numbers cause. There are simply not enough members for them to be able to give the job of scrutinising the government the attention it deserves. So I absolutely agree with Mr Hedges that the number of members needs to increase. The number proposed seems reasonable given Wales geography and other factors. I have no strong views about 6 member constituencies, although he makes a fair point about the size of some of these. I also think it would make sense for the new boundaries… Read more »

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
20 days ago

Does Wales needs more Senedd members? Simple answer. Yes. Wales is the only nation in the UK that has a Senedd Cymru undermanned since the inception of devolution in 1997 compared to overmanned overrepresented English Westminster machine that has over a 650 MPs & 783 Peers , not forgetting hundreds civilians servants to grease the gogs of government. And take Scotland with its 129 MSP, especially Northern Ireland’s Assembly, who initially had twice the members of Wales before a reduction of MLAs from 110 to 90 with their constituency boundary changes. Besides more members our Senedd also needs more powers… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by Y Cymro
Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
17 days ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

We could call it Cardiff Syndrome, like Stockholm Syndrome, only ten times worse!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
14 days ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Of course there is the Lima Syndrome which turns the Stockholm Syndrome on its head. Then there is the Helsinki Syndrome…

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
20 days ago

For a Welsh government to function you need more members plain and simple as that Scotland has more reflects their population of 5.5 Million with 129 seats in their parliament 2.4 million more people but 69 more seats where as Northern Ireland has a population of around 1.9 Million with 90 seats in the assemby of Northern Ireland so again we have not enough to function properly as a democracy paving the way to day we can rule our selves NOT THE ENGLISH but they and our Tories try to block and stop our path to FREEDOM

Annibendod
Annibendod
20 days ago

I agree with Mike Hedges on this matter (couldn’t disagree more on his opinions wrt our Statehood). STV, 3 memb’s per constituency will produce a reasonably balanced, proportional outcom whilst retaining that crucial local link with the electorate. These closed lists are terrible!

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
20 days ago

One compromise to the “closed list” issue that virtually everyone is against would be for each political party to have “primaries” (as they have in the usa) so the electorate could decide the ranking order of those seeking election.

Richard E
Richard E
19 days ago

The welcome interventions by Dafydd Wigley re the “ Party “ list system must allow for this debate to be re visited.. I am yet to find anyone who supports the destruction of the named member to the named constituency system we have had since gaining universal sufferage .

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard E

I want to see true proportional representation and if that means the “destruction” of “named member” to “named constituency” then it has my support.

I do agree that, as currently planned, the “party” (closed) list system has major issues but I believe it has been proposed with good intentions—to ensure and guarantee gender balance of 50% male and 50% female.

Steve George
Steve George
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Two small but important points:

1. The electoral system proposed is not ‘true’ PR, it favours bigger and more established parties. (In fairness, no system provides complete proportionality.)

2. The legislation will not guarantee equal numbers of Senedd Members who are men and women. In fact, the Bill before the Senedd does not even mention this issue.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard E

Ambition, greed and arrogance count for so much again…

The return of the rotten borough, fit for today’s corrupt mentality…

KC
KC
19 days ago

…and the Consul- General is adamant that the closed list is democratic!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
19 days ago
Reply to  KC

Solicitor politician, one of many, most if not all in favour of closed lists and hidden charges…

Ianto
Ianto
19 days ago

The proposed closed list system would mean the likely leader of the opposition (i.e. a Tory) would be enforced on the nation by a couple of thousand right-wingers who could be bothered to pay for party membership, all hell-bent on ending Welsh democracy.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
18 days ago

No. I dont think we need any more Senedd politicians. Too many already.

Richard
Richard
17 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Too many councils & councillors Linda ….just what do they do ?

TomTom82
TomTom82
13 days ago

Why on earth would we need more politicians? I mean, really? We’re facing the prospect of having our council tax hiked by 10% here in Gwynedd and the Assembly is just AOK with that. Just think, where is the money for extra Ams going to come from?

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