‘May you live in interesting times’ goes the old Chinese curse. And few could deny that we do: Brexit, a party system in flux, and a constitution in tumult all mark new times for the UK. But with potentially significant powers going to the Welsh Assembly after Britain leaves the EU, and with the current Wales Bill set to shake up the Senedd, it’s interesting times especially for Wales.
With greater powers come greater responsibilities. And therefore a lot more strain on our political institutions. In the face of that, Wales needs greater capacity to scrutinise, legislate, challenge and act to govern in this emerging political context.
So it’s in that knowledge that new proposals for electing a larger, more effective and accountable Assembly have been set out by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre and Electoral Reform Society Cymru.
The Assembly is set to be given the power to change its size and voting system, subject to the passing of the Wales Bill, but only with two-thirds of AMs voting in favour, meaning cross-party agreement is needed.
Reshaping the Senedd is the first analysis of how a larger Assembly should be elected as it takes on increased powers. It outlines seven principles, such as simplicity and proportionality that should inform how a larger Assembly could be elected. We want all parties to sign up to these principles as a basis for rational debate.
The report finds several systems, such as Westminster’s “First Past the Post” system, unsuitable. So after looking at a wide range of options, we come down with two possible choices:
- Single Transferable Vote (STV) – 87 members elected in 29, 3-member constituencies
- Open List – 87 members elected in 29, 3-member constituencies
As well as those, adapting the current Additional Member System (AMS) is also a plausible, if unwieldy, option (you’ll have to read the report to find out why).
Of course, there’s no perfect system that fully satisfies every principle, so this is about finding the right balance.
The report follows the cross-party Silk Commission’s recommendation for a larger Assembly, which formed the basis of the cross-party St David’s Day Agreement in March 2015. After the Silk Commission, many recognised the need for a more effective and accountable Assembly. So Reshaping the Senedd moves from the ‘why’ to the ‘how’.
We look at practical ways to achieve a larger, more democratic Assembly that can deal with the new challenges and opportunities that will arise through the Wales Bill and following Brexit.
Parties will approach this from different standpoints, so Reshaping the Senedd can be used as a serious basis for building the common ground needed to take Welsh democracy forward. What is clear though is that consensus is not just desirable, but essential for change to happen.
And that’s how it should be: changes to the rules of the game require a different kind of debate that goes beyond partisan politics.
Whatever the case, new tax powers, and the prospect of additional powers from Europe make the case for a larger, fairly-elected Assembly, stronger than ever.
This report gives people the key principles and practical tools to have a clear-headed and positive debate about how we make a bolstered Assembly work better for voters and Welsh politics as a whole.
We do live in interesting times – but it doesn’t have to be a curse. Let’s seize the opportunities for building a better democracy.