The introduction of the closed list system for Senedd elections after 2026 is a profound mistake
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.
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.
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.
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.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.