I’ve changed my mind – the Assembly needs more members

Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Daran Hill

I’ve changed my mind. Independently, without coercion, and without a single Damascene moment, I have come to realise I have become wrong.

By that, I do not mean I was wrong in the past, but rather it would be wrong to continue to believe something now which is demonstrated as palpably untrue.

I have accepted the case for the increase of the number of members of the National Assembly for Wales.

Ok, that may be a so what moment outside the bubble, but at least within it I’ve been known as one of the most trenchant and vocal opponents of expanding the number of AMs.

Put simply, my opposition has always been twofold: the cost and public perception; and the argument that AMs should do what everyone else does – prioritise.

The publication of the report by Professor Laura McAllister and her team of experts has helped change my view. They have brought academic rigour to bear.

They are not part of the Bigger Bubble Brigade who just want more, more, more without ever really justifying it. McAllister’s work is at a higher level.

Strain

Aligned to this is Brexit. Back in November, I was one of the signatories of an open letter by Electoral Reform Society in Wales calling for an expansion of the number of AMs.

They place at the heart of this the added workload from Brexit and that is a point with which I concur.

Also over the last eighteen months, I have seen – and this is a purely spurious and subjective point – a significant increase in the thoroughness and demands of the work of Assembly Committees.

This has been partly fuelled by Brexit, partly fuelled by the rigours of legislation, partly fuelled by the more engaging nature of the Committees as a whole, and partly fuelled by disproportionate over servicing of Committees by their bloated secretariats, churning out forests of papers so that AMs sometimes find it hard to see the wood for the trees.

The situation is at straining point. The recent creation of a subcommittee to deal with a piece of primary legislation shows this very clearly.

Aligned to this is the expansion of Welsh Government last year, with three extra backbenchers taken out of the Committee system by being appointed to Government. This will place Labour backbenchers, particularly, under ever-increasing strain.

Costs

These are the myriad reasons I have changed my opinion. But, at the same time, I accept more politicians is a very hard sell.

If that is to be done effectively, then the issue of cost needs to be addressed head on. I am pleased that an article I wrote for Nation.Cymru last summer didn’t just generate headlines, it  helped shape a much forensic and critical environment in which the Assembly scrutinised the budget of the Assembly Commission.

The report of the Finance Committee eloquently demonstrates that our elected politicians are acutely aware of this.

The Assembly Commission has acknowledged this too. The new Chief Executive and the Llywydd have embarked on a staffing review. Such a move is welcome.

Cost and staffing are critical parts to winning some sort of consensus on moving forward. More AMs will of course mean a bigger cost but – and here’s the challenge – if the number of AMs and staff are expanded that should not necessarily mean an expansion of the funding of the National Assembly.

Square that circle and try, genuinely try, to make the whole thing as cost neutral as possible and the major objection is immediately eliminated.

Yes, that means tough choices and it also means the same prioritisation argument I’ve used for years. But get it right and the case for increasing AMs without increasing costs will make itself.

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Nicky Roberts
Guest

In our own government I think it’s really strange that we are still following the British boundary system. The idea that a county as large in size as Ceredigion is represented by a single Assembly Member (yes I know there are regional seats too.. but come on!) is madness. Looking at Ceredigion, you’ve got Llandysul, Llangrannog and places like that right down in the south of the county – going all the way up to Talybont, Tre’r Ddol in the north and places like Lampeter, Tregaron etc to the east. You’ve got a big university town in Aber, a smaller… Read more »

Rob Bruce
Guest

Trouble is, Nicky, that that implies retaining a wholly first-past-the-post electoral system with single member constituencies, which is a legacy of the Westminster system that we could do without inheriting. Larger, multi-member constituencies and STV is probably the way to go.

Nicky Roberts
Guest

Very fair point, this is definitely something to think about. I guess a lot of it comes down how we see our representatives. I for example, would’ve always gone straight to my elected AM (Elen Jones – Ceredigion) if I needed Assembly assistance – I wouldn’t have really thought to go to my “Mid and West Wales AM”/List seat AM for example. When you look at places like Rhondda and Ceredigion from a Westminister perspective, you can understand why perhaps, they only have one elected member. But if we’re making the rules here, lets play our own game. Rhondda should… Read more »

JD
Guest
JD

I wholeheartedly agree but you can extrapolate that argument for Wales as a whole. Blaenau Gwent and Anglesey may as well be on different planets. Then compare south Pembrokeshire with Bethesda or Barmouth with Radnorshire.

JE Lloyd
Guest
JE Lloyd

Wouldn’t it make sense to find some offset savings for the additional costs of the new AMs? How about abolishing the post of Secretary of State for Wales (and disbanding his office) now we have a First Minister with a democratic mandate from the Welsh electorate?

Rob Bruce
Guest

Like.

Philip Bowyer
Guest
Philip Bowyer

Yes. More AMs. Bring them closer to their electorate. Get rid of the list system. But cut out the 21 or is it 22 unitary authorities. Wales is too small for all these layers of governance. Strengthen Town and community councils bring them closer to their electorate. Get rid of the Sec of state and all that goes with it. Abolish the House of Lords. Elect a 100 seat second chamber. Savings might balance the cost of needed extra AMs.

Kev Cymru
Guest
Kev Cymru

I’m going to try this logic with the wife:

Dear, I have changed my mind. Before I said the opposite, but I have come to realise that while I am now right to have my current position, I was not wrong to have the opppsite position previously. I know that sounds confusing but what you need to remember is that at all points I have been right, even when i was wrong.

Petroc
Guest

Wales has less AMs than needed to do the job properly. Less than Scotland and Ulster. And a lot less than the 500+ English MPs. No need yet for a second chamber when Westminster still can delete or amend our laws freely. Wait until independence!

Colin Cheesman
Guest

Totally agree – no effective back bench to oppose policies internally. Just the usual ‘them and us’ government. I’d be in favour of fewer MP’s as the Senedd takes on more powers and responsibilities that affect our day to day lives in Wales.

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

This has got to be done, for the sake of Wales.

Is there any explanation of how it could happen? Does Labour need to back it?

Cofi Dre
Guest
Cofi Dre

This is all obvious to anyone who cares about Welsh governance. What makes it unusual is the author’s trademark self-aggrandizement. The sheer ratio of first-person pronouns to fact and comment is amazing. It’s as if the whole nation waited bated at his pronouncements before deciding on what is in front of our very eyes. Daran Hill does have a tendency to write in this way, but come on: the article, when it’s not about him, is simply a basic and well-known set of arguments, plus an equally consensual wish that it not cost too much. It’s hardly the news. As… Read more »