In just over six short months voters in Wales will head to the polls for the Senedd elections. This election will be different in many ways, with many alternative measures expected to be in place as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
It will also be different in terms of the people who vote. Since the last election the franchise has been extended to 16 and 17 year olds, something we’ve long been campaigning for. All qualifying foreign citizens have also been given the right to vote in next year’s election.
Yet, for all these differences some things remain the same. Despite now having more powers than ever before with ability to legislate and vary tax t Senedd will still have just the 60 seats it began with in 1999. It also will be another election which uses the Additional Member System, relying heavily on a disproportionate First Past the Post element and topping up with list seats, which have been heavily criticised over the past four and a half years as Members have repeatedly switched between parties.
We also have no guarantees that the members returned after the election will be more diverse than at present. The Senedd has never had a BAME woman elected and for all of our calls to address this, plus a myriad of other organisations saying the same thing, there is no certainty that this will change come May 2021.
The picture is scarcely better for local government. With low turnouts, a disproportionate voting system and a clear lack of diversity, councils are ripe for reform. The current Welsh Government has however been pushing for change with the Local Government and Elections (Wales) bill. The bill, which is currently going through the Senedd, would extend the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds in local elections, give councils the opportunity to move to a Single Transferable Vote system and makes provisions for automatic voter registration. These are all good steps and changes that we have long been campaigning for but they’re just the beginning. The truth is we need to go much further to ensure local government in Wales is fully representative of voters.
The reality is that Wales has a democratic deficit that underpins many of the problems we see in our democracy today. Turnout for Wales only elections is historically low and our media provision is heavily limited. While media representation has perhaps improved in the last few months we still face huge challenges in ensuring that news and politics in Wales is properly reflected back to the people who live here.
All of these areas are ripe for reform and which is why it is vital that parties use this election to commit to change.
Manifesto for Democracy
Today we publish our Manifesto for Democracy, which outlines the changes Wales needs to ensure that our democracy is strengthened for all who live here.
In it we set out four priorities for reform we need from the next Welsh Government, and ask for radical commitments to meet these challenges in the party manifestos ahead of the 2021 elections:
- Full implementation of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform’s recommendations. This would increase the number of Members of the Senedd to around 90, alongside implementation of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) with an integrated gender quota. This should happen early in the term of the next Senedd.
- Further reform of local government to include the full rollout of STV for local elections in all authorities. Parties should also commit to decisive measures to promote diversity, such as gender quotas, collecting and publishing diversity data, and a far-reaching Access to Elected Office Fund to include support for people from a much wider set of backgrounds than current provisions. Quotas, in particular, are essential to ensure we do not continue to see low numbers of women elected in Local councils.
- Adoption of deliberative democracy tools into standard policy making processes. To use tools such as participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies regularly used to address lack of engagement in communities and to resolve particular political debates
- A commitment to statutory political education within schools. We must tackle the democratic deficit and ensure young people leave school with much more knowledge of the political system than previous generations of school-leavers.
Combined these reforms would revolutionise democracy in Wales. These four manifesto asks reflect a much wider voice than ERS Cymru alone, and are supported by Colleges Wales, Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS), Oxfam Cymru, WEN Wales, IWA and Chwarae Teg.
Throughout the next few days we’ll be exploring each of these topics in more detail, examining the need and the potential impact of reform in each area.
We are just over 20 years into Wales’ devolution journey and this is the first time we have powers over areas like elections. Parties must take advantage of that, commit to our roadmap for reform and together we can build a stronger democracy for Wales.
Read A Manifesto for Democracy: The 2021 Senedd Elections