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Opinion

The introduction of the closed list system for Senedd elections after 2026 is a profound mistake

06 Dec 2023 4 minute read
Polling station. Picture by the Welsh Government

Jane Dodds MS

The Bill that will enlarge the Senedd and reform its electoral system is currently going through its Parliamentary scrutiny.

I strongly support the creation of a bigger Senedd; the Welsh Government’s responsibilities have expanded enormously since 1999 and the Senedd remains smaller than many Welsh local authorities.

It is necessary to expand the Senedd to provide the effective scrutiny that is essential to good government.

But at the same time, I believe that Labour and Plaid Cymru’s choice of the closed list system for elections after 2026 is a profound mistake.

It reduces the electorate’s role to choosing between party lists whose composition, and crucially whose order, is chosen by party machines without any say from the electorate.

Even now, with our mix of constituency and list members, electors can split their votes, and many people do vote differently in the constituency and list ballots.

Increased choice

The point of the Single Transferrable Vote (STV), which I support and which the Expert Panel chaired by Laura McAllister in 2017, as well as the Senedd Committee chaired by Dawn Bowden in 2020, recommended, is that it increases choice and provides outcomes that, of all systems available, are likely to match the proportions of votes cast most closely.

Put frankly, It provides the best democratic outcome.

I have yet to hear a single credible explanation from either Labour or Plaid Cymru of what has changed since those reports were published, let alone why Mark Drakeford and Adam Price were willing to pre-empt the work of the Senedd Special Purposes Committee, set up to recommend a new voting system, by presenting a closed list system as a done deal.

And it was disappointing to read Mike Hedges’ comments in Nation Cymru, in which he complained that under STV party organisations would need to select longer lists and that it sometimes produced perverse outcomes.

Democracy

On the first point, I believe we should choose our electoral system based on what is best for democracy, not what is convenient for political parties.

On the second, no electoral system is perfect.  No system completely avoids a risk of perverse outcomes, but it is accepted, including by Laura McAllister’s panel and Dawn Bowden’s Senedd committee, that STV is likely to lead to outcomes that reflect best how electors voted.

Having seen how Welsh Labour’s London head office are reported to have intervened in Westminster Parliamentary selections in Carmarthen and Merthyr, it is difficult to avoid the impression that Labour is more concerned with control than choice.

As a Liberal Democrat, I believe that strong, local campaigners are what makes politics tick, and that voters should have the chance to express a preference for individuals who work hard and effectively for their communities.

But Labour appears to think differently.

Moreover, for all the mythology of “clear red water”, Welsh Labour is a brand, not an independent party; it remains answerable to its London headquarters.

Intervention

As we move towards 2026, with Labour likely to be in power in Westminster, how can we be sure that there will be no intervention from head office to ensure a compliant Senedd?  It’s not a guarantee that Welsh Labour can ever give.

Labour’s closed lists, based on constituency boundaries made in Westminster, are a second-best approach, something Plaid Cymru have recognised in their long-standing support for STV.  Why are they now accepting that second-best is good enough for Wales?

I support Senedd reform because I want to see a more effective Senedd in a more democratic Wales, with greater participation by the people of Wales at, and indeed in between, elections.

I believe that Labour’s and Plaid Cymru’s closed list system, apparently tailored to suit Labour’s organisational purposes, will do the opposite.

Closed lists are exactly that, they close the choices available to voters on polling day.  They reduce the value of each individual vote.

I support STV because it opens up those choices, allows voters to express real preferences, within and across party lists, and enshrines the principle that politics is about more than party labels.

STV means each vote does more.

Above all, I want the best for Wales.  And that’s why I believe that Welsh democracy, and the people of Wales, deserve so much better than the electoral system that Labour and Plaid Cymru think is good enough for them.


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mike hedges
2 months ago

Can I urge supporters of STV to read my article on Nation Cymru and look at Scottish council and Dail election results

Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
2 months ago
Reply to  mike hedges

Can you give the reference.

John Brooks
John Brooks
2 months ago
Reply to  Arthur Owen

Nation Cymru 18.10.23
Search Mike Hedges and then scroll down until you reach it.

G Horton-Jones.
G Horton-Jones.
2 months ago

We have simply been conditioned to accept a two party system where the only alternative to A is B which is controlled by the first past the post ideology. In England this seems to be set in perpetuity regardless of the consequences for its people. Here in Wales things are slightly different with four choices in theory if not in practice but even here the two party ideology exerts it’s influence Logic says that coalitions more accurately reflect the democratic will but historically this may not be the case. Other factors for us in Wales to consider are that.that inward… Read more »

Peter
Peter
2 months ago

I suspect that Welsh Labour support this measure because they think that it will favour them,

I also suspect that Plaid Cymru support the measure because they think that it will favour them.

The Tories are obviously peeing into the wind.

However over recent years Labour and Plaid have both criticised the Tories for using similar tactics.

Wales we have no hope of getting a fair fight between the three main parties.
They are all up to using underhand tactics.

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
2 months ago

I really suspect that there is a group within Welsh Labour AND Plaid Cymru who want 50:50 male/female representation in the Senedd and they have adopted closed lists with mandatory zipping as the simplest way of achieving that. People like Jane Dodds who favour STV need to grapple with the question of how to achieve 50:50 under STV. The case of Ireland does not inspire confidence in that regard.

G Horton-Jones.
G Horton-Jones.
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Meagher

This is so true
I attended in Cardiff an interview a a candidate for a well known Welsh political party with a 50/50 strategy
The interviewing panel walked past me and one said to another we don’t have to bother now we have our quota
Needless to say on interview on I was greeted thanked for coming and left

Erisian
Erisian
2 months ago

It’s just Labour contol-freakery.
The same people who prefered a Tory / LibDem coalition to giving us all a chance to vote for PR.

Welsh labour needs clear green white and red water between Cardif and Worstmonster.

We need representatives – not National Executive place-men (& women)

PeterC
PeterC
2 months ago

The electorate must surely be able to relate to the individual candidates; this will not happen with closed lists.
Closed lists put far to much power in the hands of the party machine and are open to bribery and dare I say corruption.
With closed lists I suspect that the numbers of people voting will decrease over time because it all becomes very remote and uninvolved.
Any system must be simple and able to be explained in just a few seconds, closed lists do not meet this criteria

John Brooks
John Brooks
2 months ago

STV is not PR. It allows the people who vote for a losing candidate to effectively chose through second/third etc preferences to pick the winners. It tends to favour the centre. Labour voters will be more likely to favour Lib Dems in their preferences than for example the Tories. Maybe why Lib Dems are keen on the system. The big problem is that in 6 member constituencies there could be 30+ candidates (Labour, Plaid Cymru, Lib Dem, Conservative, Communist Party with six each plus independents and other smaller parties. Do you really think that voters are going to want to… Read more »

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
2 months ago
Reply to  John Brooks

In STV you don’t have number of candidates equal to number of seats. Even a large party like Labour might only field 4 candidates in a 6-member constituency. For a small party like the Communists it would be suicidal to field more than one candidate per constituency.

John Brooks
John Brooks
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Meagher

Communist Party fielded a full list in each of the regional polls last time out. Even four each could give over 24 choices. In Ireland SF lost our in some seats because they didn’t put in enough candidates.

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
2 months ago
Reply to  John Brooks

You are perfectly right but it needs to be remembered that in STV it is harmful to field too many candidates as well as too few. This is because candidates from one party are competing against each other for votes as well as against candidates from other parties. Each party locally has to guesstimate how many votes they will receive in each constituency and select just enough candidates to maximize the number of seats potentially winnable, all the while adjusting their ticket for geographic and gender balance. It is a very subtle and individualistic system, in many ways the polar… Read more »

Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
2 months ago

It is doubtful that I will vote in Senedd elections again.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
2 months ago

I agree with what Jane on the point that adopting a fully party list system of elections to the Welsh Senedd is a backward step. It is no use blaming Plaid Cymru for this Jane. You know that Plaid Cymru wants the election system to be Single Transferable Vote (STV) as much as your Liberal Democrats party. I can suggest it is the Labour Party (the largest party in the Senedd…Still !) that wants the party list system as (like their Tory friends) want to control who is nominated to the Senedd by the their central party. It is what… Read more »

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