Last week a new poll for the Western Mail, carried out by Beaufort Research, found that support for more members of the Senedd is on the up. Almost half (48%) of those polled said they agreed with increasing the size of the Senedd to around 90, while less than a third (30%) said they disagreed.
To many it might seem surprising for a poll to find support for more politicians, especially one undertaken not long after a number of sleaze scandals in Westminster and trust in politicians found to be at a record low.
But really growing public support for a larger Senedd should come as no surprise. It’s clear that the public’s engagement with devolution and the way decisions are made in Wales has evolved in the past couple of years. The pandemic has highlighted the different decisions that can be made on either side of the Severn Bridge. In September, another poll demonstrated higher support for Mark Drakeford than Boris Johnson and that an overwhelming number of people in Wales preferred the Welsh approach to tackling the pandemic.
The Senedd has come a long way since its inception in 1999 and this poll shows that the public have been on a journey with it too, evident by their more positive reflections on Welsh politics in recent months and years.
It wasn’t long into the Senedd’s existence that it became clear that 60 members was just not enough. Indeed it was in 2004 that the Richard Commission recommended an increase in the size of the then National Assembly and a change in electoral systems. This was also recommended by an Expert Panel on Assembly reform in 2017, which recommended increasing the size of the Senedd to between 80 and 90 and a subsequent Senedd committee, which echoed these recommendations.
Yet, despite nearly 20 years of talking about increasing the number of members in the Senedd, and huge changes to the way the Senedd operates and growth in its responsibilities, the number of MSs has remained stubbornly at 60.
But that may be about to change, and this apparent increase in public support offers encouragement to key decision makers to bite the bullet and deliver a stronger parliament for Wales.
Back in November 2021 Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru published The Co-operation Agreement, an extensive three year deal covering a huge range of policies where there were common aims or interests. This included the biggest commitment on Senedd reform to date, stating:
“Working together we will…support plans to reform the Senedd, based on 80 to 100 Members; a voting system, which is as proportional – or more – than the current one and have gender quotas in law. We will support the work of the Senedd Special Purpose Committee and introduce a Senedd reform Bill 12 to 18 months after it reports.”
This commitment to legislate is significant and also confirms a timescale, with the Senedd’s Special Purpose Committee due to report before 31st May this year. It feels finally possible that the next Senedd election in 2026 could return around 90 MSs.
There are still remaining questions to be answered about the wider package of reform, including on the proposed electoral system and what mechanisms for diversity might be integrated into it. These have emerged as slightly more complex questions for the parties to answer and the work of the committee and internal negotiations within and between parties will be key. As Welsh political party conference season approaches, this will certainly become a live topic of conversation, perhaps bolstered by the idea that the public are more supportive of more politicians than first thought.
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