On May 5th 2022 voters went to the polls in Wales to elect councillors for all 22 local authorities. These were not the only elections held that day; Northern Ireland held an Assembly election and there were other local elections in parts of England and across all of Scotland’s local authorities.
A mix of electoral systems were used in these elections, with both the Northern Ireland Assembly election and the Scottish local elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, while Wales and England used First Past the Post (FPTP) in their local elections.
Yet the picture in Wales could now change. Following the passing of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 a new provision has come into force allowing councils to vote to move to STV on an individual basis. To do this a council needs two thirds of its members to agree a resolution before the 15th November three years before the next election (in 2027).
Our new report Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV is published today, two years to the day before councils must have taken a vote if they intend to move to STV, and makes the case for councillors to vote to move to STV.
The 2022 Welsh local elections showed yet again why change is needed. These elections were rife with disproportional results, uncontested seats and saw a lower turnout than in 2017.
In Wales this time round we saw over a third of councils with ‘unearned majorities’ where a party holds over 50% of the seats on less than 50% of the vote, a third of all councils.
Take for instance Cardiff, where Labour hold 70% of the seats with just 47% of the vote. Or Ynys Môn, where Plaid Cymru have 60% of the seats despite winning 41% of the vote. This goes the other way too, across Wales parties lose as much as they gain from the distorting effects of First Past the Post. It was the Conservatives who suffered in Ynys Môn where they gained 19% of the vote but won 0 seats. Plaid, standing as Common Ground with the Greens in Cardiff, ended with just 2 of the council’s 79 seats despite winning 17% of the vote across the city. It really is an electoral toss up.
The Scottish local elections, which use STV, give us a glimpse of what a different system could offer; fairer results, increased voter choice and more people feeling that their vote matters.
Back in 2003 the SNP in Midlothian had 24% of the vote but didn’t win any seats. Independents in Glasgow only won 1.3% of seats with nearly 17% of the vote. That all changed massively in 2007 with the introduction of STV. In Midlothian, the SNP won 33.3% of the seats with 33.4% of the vote. In Stirling, the Lib Dems got 13.6% of seats with 11.1% of the vote – far more representative of their vote share than they achieved under FPTP.
In Wales, we now have a chance to follow Scotland’s lead. We hope councillors in Wales consider this compelling evidence, grasp the nettle and vote to strengthen local democracy in time for change in 2027.
Find out more in our new report Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV
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