FOR all the talk of historic change to Wales’s electoral system this week, it looks more like business as usual on closer inspection.
Labour/Plaid want to introduce a new voting system for the Senedd for the 2026 Election, increasing the elected members from 60 to 96.
This would involve choosing 6 members to represent each of 16 newly-formed constituencies which will mirror Westminster’s plans to create 32 new constituencies in Wales to replace the current 40 – i.e. for every two Westminster constituencies there would be one Senedd constituency returning six members.
It’s certainly good that first past the post is to be scrapped, with more proportionality now to be introduced with every single seat.
But by keeping the D’Hondt voting system, rather than opting for the Single Transferable Vote option, it looks like Labour and Plaid want to ensure that only the established parties get a place at the table.
Since with the D’Hondt system, the voting threshold for electing politicians will probably be at around 12% for each seat in the vast majority of new constituencies.
Which will be above what smaller parties – essential to reinvigorate Welsh democracy – could hope to achieve in a Welsh Election.
Gwlad’s Policy Officer Stephen Morris said that on the one hand, the party accepted more numbers were needed to properly govern Wales as a nation.
‘Estonia for example, which has one-third of the population of Wales, has 101 members, so it does make sense to have some increase in the Senedd here’ he said.
But, on the other hand, he added the new policy was flawed since there was no mention at all of the obvious need for an associated big reduction in councils and councillors in Wales.
‘We have way too many councils and councillors in Wales, and if Labour/Plaid were serious about better governance they should have included a reduction in their numbers as well with this plan.’
‘We also need fewer MP’s – Westminster is already proposing to reduce Wales’s representation there from 40 MPs to 32, but ideally as a party we would like to see their numbers reduced to zero: which would save a huge amount of money!’ he said.
There’s also some other problematical features to the Labour/ Plaid package once you look beyond the glitzy headlines.
New members will be voted on a ‘closed list’ system which means the party machinery will in essence be able to dictate which individuals get voted in.
As opposed to a ‘open list’ system usually used with STV, which gives the actual voters more freedom to choose who they want to represent their areas.
It all smacks of party, party, party, rather than a genuine attempt to encourage more democracy and engagement amongst the Welsh voting public.
We’ve also got the customary nod to identity politics, with the ‘gender quotas’ element, which would see all parties compelled to introduce such quotas in their nomination lists.
No one denies that more women need to be encouraged to partake in Welsh politics, but top-down quotas again only entrenches an imposed party-politics mentality.
And takes away the right of the public to make their own individual judgements on who they want to vote for in their localities.
One can also anticipate some further challenges for this policy, in view of the current trend for some men to want to self-identify as women, which could potentially create havoc for both parties’ nominating committees.
The timing of the announcement also seems a little odd, seeing that the Senedd Reform Committee, who were looking at this issue, had not yet completed their work.
But after the decimation of the Tory vote last week, it appears that Mark Drakeford and Adam Price now feel newly emboldened here to press ahead with their reforms.
It remains to be seen what the Welsh public make of all this, especially in this time of hardship and things likely to become tighter still over the next period of time.
Politicians are not popular at the best of times, but their stock has never been lower at this point in time.
With more and more evidence coming to light of the ruinous effects that lockdowns caused to individuals and society alike, there may well be a groundswell of genuine anger against all politicians who voted for these.
And in Wales, people will no doubt remember that both Labour and Plaid were fervent advocates of lockdowns.
Not the best backstory to gain widespread public support for their new initiative.