Mat Mathias, Electoral Reform Society Cymru
Today, after months of deliberation we see the report from the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform. It’s called Senedd Reform: Next Steps and sets out a path to improve the health of our democracy in Wales.
It includes recommendations from increasing the size of the Senedd, to a fairer way to elect members, and tangible steps to make our Parliament reflect the people it seeks to serve.
These are important and long overdue proposals that represent a vital and much-needed blueprint for strengthening democracy in Wales. Yet you could be forgiven for feeling a little cautious. Many of us have seen all this before.
The calls for a larger chamber date back far beyond this report. In 2004 the Richards Commission called for an 80-member chamber. As recently as 2017 an expert panel was formed specifically to consider Senedd reform, delivering a series of concrete recommendations, many of which appear in today’s report. Given the overwhelming support for these reforms now, after all this time, it must surely be time to act on them.
There still however remains opposition to the proposals, some of which comes from within the Senedd itself. One party refused to take part in the committee hearings altogether and another walked out after the initial recommendations had been drafted.
Those who oppose these changes will cry that we should be talking about health and education rather than elections and democracy. But by doing this they’re doing a disservice to the very voters they seek to represent. It’s not just naked electioneering, they’re playing politics with Wales future.
It is insulting to millions that these people think that voters cannot care about health, education, the economy, public transport, the pandemic, as well as a fair democracy.
The truth is that a strong and fair democracy ensures those vital public services can run at their very best.
It’s time to trust the Welsh people. It’s time to be honest about the challenges Wales faces and the steps needed to tackle them.
Our politicians know that the health of our democracy is vital and that a weak democracy will inevitably lead to poor public services and poor infrastructure.
Yet we know that come election time it’s all too easy for them to force democracy down the priority list. It’s not surprising though – why worry about the voice of the people when you can promise lots of more or less of something?
You don’t need details just a pithy headline, but we all know that when democracy is neglected, society soon follows.
These are unprecedented times for Wales. As a nation, we face a whole host of substantial challenges. To face such issues head-on we must have a Senedd that is equipped to deal with the challenges of the day.
Next year’s election must be the last with a 60 member Senedd, elected under an electoral system that is not offering maximum voter choice or guaranteeing diversity.
These reforms are vital for not only a stronger Senedd but a stronger Wales for all who live here – now it’s up to our politicians to show the leadership needed to make them happen.