Next year the Senedd will mark a quarter of a century since its establishment. For many of those 25 years it has been apparent that the Senedd is too small. At just 60 members the Welsh Parliament is currently dwarfed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and not least, nearly half of the councils in Wales.
The first report officially calling for the Senedd to increase in size was released way back in 2004 and nearly two decades later we are finally seeing progress.
More members means more scrutiny
This week the Welsh Government introduced the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill. This Bill will finally deliver long overdue reforms to the size of the Senedd, increasing it from 60 to 96 members.
This will shore up the Senedd’s vital scrutiny function, better holding the Welsh Government to account. The government spends over £20bn each year on key public services, affecting our health, education and our jobs. It is only right that there are enough people in the parliament to properly examine budgets and go through legislation line by line to check for any mistakes. Good scrutiny pays for itself and poor scrutiny leads to poor decisions going unchallenged.
Alongside plans to increase the capacity of the Senedd the Welsh Government have also proposed changing its electoral system. It is really important that the Senedd has enough members to carry out its work, but it is equally important that they are elected in a fair and transparent way.
A new electoral system for Wales
The voting system proposed by the Welsh Government is a closed proportional list system, where voters pick a party rather than individual candidates. The system removes the public’s chance to vote for their preferred candidate, removing the key personal link between voters and their elected representatives. It is important that the Senedd accurately represents the way the people of Wales voted.
The problem with this system is that it limits accountability by making it harder to vote out someone not doing a good job.
Both the Expert Panel back in 2017 and a committee in the previous Senedd recommended increasing the size of the Senedd but using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system to elect a larger chamber. STV is ERS’ preferred system too and we regret that this hasn’t been chosen by the Welsh Government. But in the absence of STV we would hope that the Welsh Government can look again at making lists more flexible or open, thereby giving voters their say on their preferred candidates.
Long-awaited reforms for the Senedd
Whilst we are critical of the voting system chosen there is no denying that this legislation will bring long awaited, necessary reforms to the Senedd.
In his legislative statement in June the First Minister Mark Drakeford also set out a number of other laws due to be introduced that will reform Welsh democracy, including a bill to increase the representation of women in the Senedd via gender quotas. Another bill to improve electoral administration will introduce important initiatives to increase the number of people registered to vote in Wales. It is also great to see the commitment to establishing an Electoral Management Board for Wales, which we hope will learn from the Scottish model.
Whilst we await these further pieces of legislation it is clear that this is a real moment of reform and change for our democracy. The next Senedd elections in 2026 will look very different to those in recent years and finally deliver a parliament fit for the nation of Wales.