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Electoral Reform Society Cymru Manifesto

Breathing New Life into Politics

Making Elections Work Better

Over the last two decades the shape of Welsh politics has changed enormously.  We now live in an era of multi-party politics, with institutions under growing strain and a voting public feeling increasingly disconnected from politics.  It’s time to change the way we do politics, and bring democracy closer to the people.

Over the next five years, the Assembly will gain new powers over elections.  There’s a real opportunity for Wales to develop new ways of running elections and show mature democracies around the world how to breathe new life into politics.

In the next Assembly we want political parties to:

  • Reduce safe and uncontested seats and give voters more choice by introducing the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for local and Assembly elections;
  • Make voting easier by piloting new methods like on-line and electronic voting, weekend voting and early voting;
  • Allow people to ‘vote on the go’ in any Polling Station in their county, not just the one in their local community;
  • Make voter registration a core part of how they campaign and organise;
  • Lower the voting age to 16.

Giving Power Back to People

Local government is where bread and butter matters get decided.  From schools to social services, planning to economic development, the decisions that local councillors take affect millions of people across Wales.  Yet for many of us, Welsh town halls can often feel like dusty, remote and un-representative. Sovereignty lies with the people and as many powers as possible should be devolved to local councils and communities.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to:

  • Support the establishment of  Area Boards and ‘mini-publics’ – residents’ meetings that empower neighbourhoods, towns and villages to run their own affairs;
  • Review the role and effectiveness of Town & Community Councils;
  • Protect the independence of councils by enshrining in legislation the powers of local government and introduce the power of general competency;
  • Ensure any directly elected mayors, health commissioners or NHS boards are elected via a multi-preference voting system (Single Transferable Vote/Alternative Vote) as opposed to the two-preference system Supplementary Vote used for elected police commissioners and English mayors.

Making the Assembly Work Better

Despite gaining a raft of new responsibilities over the years including taxation and law-making powers, the Assembly remains small by UK and international standards.  Northern Ireland has 108 Assembly Members and the Scottish Parliament has 129, yet our Assembly has just 60 Members.  More Assembly Members would make election results more proportional, fairly reflecting Welsh voters’ choices. It would also mean Welsh Ministers are better held to account, laws fully scrutinised, and public spending more actively monitored.

In the next Assembly we want political parties to:

  • Support an increase in the number of Assembly Members to 100;
  • Review how the Assembly uses its time and its committees are structured;
  • Pilot a Citizens’ Committee, selected like a jury for a limited term-length to scrutinise Welsh Ministers;
  • Introduce a monthly Citizens’ Question Time, whereby members of the public can submit written questions for answer by Welsh Ministers.

A Diverse Democracy

Making Every Voice Heard

Whilst no one expects our political institutions to be exact carbon copies of the wider population, we need our town halls, public bodies and the Senedd chamber to be broadly representative of society.  Some progress is being made on gender equality, but more needs to be done.  And much more needs to be done on age, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith and religious belief.

Diversity in democracy isn’t just about who’s standing for election: it’s about making sure that every citizen’s voice is heard, regardless of any protected characteristic.  And with more decisions being taken at a community-level, this has never been more important.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to: Establish a new, independent Diversity in Democracy & Public Service Governance Review. There’s an emerging consensus that more decisions should be taken closer to the people who are effected.  We welcome this push for ‘community devolution’ – but there’s a danger that those who are already excluded from the decision-making process will be further shut out.  And with local government re-organisation on the horizon, there’s a high chance that diversity amongst local councillors will be further eroded.

The Diversity in Democracy & Public Service Governance Review will look at how citizens with protected characteristics can be more involved in decision-making.  The Review will evaluate previous Welsh Government and National Assembly work on women in public life and make recommendations on how an even broader range of individuals can be encouraged to seek election and public appointment.

Gender Equality

Wales has been a world-leader and for a time the majority of AMs and the Welsh cabinet were women.  But the Assembly is starting to slip back, and at its current snails’ pace of progress, local government won’t achieve gender equality until 2076.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to:

  • Support an increase in the number of AMs as a means of boasting the number of women elected;
  • Each appoint a ‘No Woman Left Behind’ Champion to ensure local government re-organisation doesn’t result in a decrease in the proportion of women councillors and candidates;
  • Fund initiatives like Women Making A Difference which support women from a range of backgrounds to enter public life;
  • Support the target of standing women in at least 40% of winnable council seats.

LGBT

The Stonewall Cymru report Where We Are Now shows a number of issues that affect lesbian, gay and bisexual people entering politics. 77% of LGB people believe that being an out politician opens them to a greater level of scrutiny and all major political parties in Wales are still perceived to have barriers to being an LGBT candidate. These concerns also reach into other areas of public life where 55% believe they could face discrimination as a candidate for a public appointment. There has been progress in local government and at Westminster with LGB people holding prominent positions. However, across all areas there are no known elected trans politicians in Wales.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to:

  • Urge their respective leaders to publicly commit to increasing the number of openly LGBT candidates and representatives;
  • Ensure that schools teach active citizenship and include examples of LGBT rights campaigners;
  • Train party members who are school governors in challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying; and celebrating difference in schools.
  • Ensure future candidates programmes better support LGBT activists to stand for selection and support heterosexual candidates to be good allies;
  • Give LGBT groups prominence in the party’s policy development and campaigning structures;
  • Publicly fund personal development programmes that give LGBT people, particularly trans people, confidence to put themselves forward for selection.

Disability

Despite a raft of legislation, the way we run elections and the way political parties work still exclude people with disabilities.  Dimensions UK found that just 1 in 10 people with a learning disability voted in the 2010 General Election, whilst RNIB found that local authorities are not following Electoral Commission guidance and sometimes fail to fully comply with legally required action to assist blind and partially sighted people to vote independent.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to:

  • Urge the Welsh Government to establish a task force bringing together disability groups, the WLGA, the Electoral Commission and the Equality & Human Rights Commission to ensure barriers are removed, guidance is followed, and recommendations on further access improvements are implemented;
  • Work with the UK Government to explore how disabled candidates and representatives can be better supported during elections and in office;
  • Provide manifestoes and election literature in accessible Easy Read, Audio, large print and Braille formats;
  • Require local authorities to provide the information on the order of the candidates on the ballot paper via email or over the phone to ensure that blind and partially sighted people can vote in secret and without assistance.

Faith and Religious Belief

Issues around faith and religious belief are often closely attached to wider issues on race.  The proportion of Welsh people identifying with religions other than Christianity is smaller in comparison to other parts of the UK.  In the 2011 census, 57.6% of the Welsh population described themselves as Christian; 32.1% as having no religion; and 7.6% declined to answer.  2.7% of the population identify with religions other than Christianity, the largest of which is Islam (1.5%).  Communities of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jews also exist in Wales.  The Equality & Human Rights Commission in Wales has paid particular attention to rising levels of negative attitudes and hostility towards Muslims in Wales.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to:

  • Urge all public institutions in Wales to maintain a continual, pro-active dialogue with faith groups;
  • Ensure that all public institutions in Wales operate in a manner that has due regards to the needs of citizens and elected representatives which arise from their faith or religious belief;
  • Ensure that specific programmes are supported to enable more Muslim women enter public life.

Race

The 2011 census showed Wales as one of the least ethnically diverse parts of the UK, with 93.2% identifying as a category within ‘White British’ and a further 0.5% as ‘White Irish’, 0.1% as ‘White Irish Traveller/White Gypsy’, and 1.8% as ‘White Other’.  The total white population of Wales is 95.6%, with 2.3% ‘Asian/Asian British’, 0.6% ‘Black/Black British’, 1% ‘British Mixed’, and 0.5% ‘Other’.  Individuals from Black & Minority Ethnic groups in Wales are more likely to experience social isolation and poverty; and a greater lack of knowledge of available support from public services.  Consequently, individuals from some BME groups are far less likely to participate in public life and decision-making.  Issues of race are often further compounded by other factors like gender, gender identity, faith and religious belief, and sexual orientation.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to:

  • Ensure existing programmes aimed at promoting diversity in public life are tailored appropriately for traditionally excluded BME groups;
  • Ensure citizenship and political rights feature within social inclusion programmes and support informal networks: initiatives like Cardiff’s ‘Friends & Neighbours’ (FAN) groups, which bring together communities together and provide space inform BME groups of their democratic rights;
  • Commit to working with advocacy groups like the Welsh Refugee Council to ensure refugees and asylum seekers have a voice in the design and delivery of public services.

Letting the Light In

How to open up Welsh Politics

Wales is sometimes described as a nation of communities, and whilst our social connections and consensus style of politics can be a strength, there is a downside for democracy. 

Rightly or wrongly, perceptions exist that decisions are often taken behind closed doors; making it difficult (if not occasionally impossible) for citizens and elected representatives to hold to account those in power.  The “village like nature” of Welsh politics is creating a land of pulled punches, where challenge and criticism is sometimes discouraged and avoided.

Transparency in public life isn’t just welcome as a measure that reduces the risk of bad decision-making; it’s an essential step in restoring the public’s faith in politics and politicians.

It’s time to rewrite the rules on how we do politics in Wales.

Lobbying

  • The Welsh Government should instigate an independent inquiry, and if necessary bring forward legislation, with a view to ensuring meaningful information about lobbying activity in Wales is made available to the public;
  • Guarantee the ability of public sector and third sector bodies in receipt of public funding to speak out, inform public policy and challenge Welsh Government.

Welsh Government

  • The Welsh Government should continue to support the establishment of the Wales Open Government Network and fully commit to the adoption and delivery of open government commitments;
  • The Welsh Government should improve access to public sector data by developing and implementing a National Data Plan for Wales;
  • The Welsh Government should establish a Public Register of Welsh Government Evidence as a web-portal that contains all Welsh Government-commission research, timely published and available for others to use; and work with Open Government stakeholders to develop and implement an Evidence Transparency Standard that shows citizens when/how Welsh Government has used evidence;
  • The Welsh Government should make readily available on its website, an updated organisational chart detailing the name, role and organisational placement of all civil servants at Grade 7 and above.  A live list of special advisors and specialist advisors should be made readily available on the Welsh Government website with details of each advisor’s role and portfolio responsibilities.

Public consultation and public access to government-commissioned research

  • Establish the Office for Public Engagement within Welsh Government to develop and spread best practice on consultation and public engagement amongst public sector bodies in Wales;
  • Provide either the Auditor General for Wales and/or the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales with the remit to monitor and evaluate public sector consultation and engagement.

National Assembly for Wales

  • Welsh Government should introduce legislation that would require candidates for all major public appointments to be subject to a public pre-appointment hearing by a relevant National Assembly subject committee;
  • Establishment of a Cross-Party Group on Transparency in Public Life by AMs;
  • The National Assembly should establish and publish a register of urgent questions tabled by Assembly Members but which were rejected by the Presiding Officer.

Local Government

  • Welsh Government should include in legislation measures that curtail the frequency of local government meetings going into closed session; stipulate minimum requirements on local authorities to broadcast meetings; and safeguard rights for the public to use social media in council meetings;
  • Welsh Government should work with the WLGA and the Open Government Network to establish a Wales Open Local Government Partnership which includes Public Service Boards and City Region Boards.

Getting Young People Active in Democracy

Youth Involvement

Young people care passionately about the world around them, but more and more are switching off from formal politics.  There’s a danger that without action today, future generations of young people will turn away from politics completely.

In the next Assembly, we want political parties to commit to:

  • Establish an independent National Youth Assembly for Wales, similar in operation to the Scottish Youth Parliament;
  • Create statutory youth mayors and youth councils for every local authority in Wales;
  • Place the roles and responsibilities of school councils on a statutory footing;
  • Boost the number of young people on the electoral register by requiring local authorities and regional education consortia, further and higher education institutes, and training providers to work together on voter registration drives;
  • Back the Donaldson Review’s recommendations on Citizenship Education, and ensure it is effectively prioritised and resourced;
  • Direct Estyn to review the teaching of Citizenship Education to inform the delivery of Donaldson’s recommendations.

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