As the political world shifts from its axis in a tumultuous first month of 2017, you’d be forgiven for missing on some other developments in the electoral reform agenda in Wales. Whisper it, but all in all, this has been a remarkable week.
Two developments are advancing our cause significantly – and are the culmination of ERS’ long-term campaigns.
First, the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, Mark Drakeford, announced on Tuesday that local councils could soon be able to choose to adopt the STV system for local government elections, after the government released their new White Paper on Local Government Reform.
This is real movement from the Welsh Government and indicates a seriousness about substantive democratic reform. And we’re looking forward to making the case for the Welsh Government to introduce STV for all Welsh local authorities. Moving away from the Westminster winner-takes-all system across the board would mean everyone’s vote counted in local elections, drawing to a close the era of wasted votes and ‘holding your nose’.
After all, using a proportional voting system is a normal part of life for voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensuring that all council seats are contested, and that all votes count. An electoral system that is more responsive to voters’ views will also be more responsive to their needs on concrete issues that affect us every day.
There’s more good news though. The Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales has announced the formation of an Expert Panel on Electoral Reform, to look at the question of the number of AMs and what voting system to use.
Over five years, ERS Cymru has made a strong evidence-based case for a larger, more effective Assembly, and before Christmas, we published a key report, ‘Reshaping the Senedd’, on how best to secure that.
Our report includes seven principles of a good voting system for the Assembly, which we hope the panel will look at closely. They are principles we think all parties can sign up to, forming a common ground for discussion that goes beyond simply partisan interests.
Following or recommendation, any change would require a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly, to ensure a cross party consensus and to guard against partisan self-interest.
But while it’s important that consensus is achieved in the Senedd Chamber, it is also important to bring people along with any changes. We hope to enlist your help over the course of the year in our work around these issues (we’ll be in touch!).
Encouragingly, both of these processes will also examine how to ensure Votes at 16 for both local elections and elections to the National Assembly. Following Scotland’s example, we believe this has the potential to transform engagement in democracy for a new generation of citizens in Wales.
So – an exciting start to the new year on the democratic front from both the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales. There is much work to be done, but we’re looking forward to playing an active and prominent part in all these discussions. Watch this space!