Phew! Well, we’re not used to political drama in Cardiff Bay of the scale witnessed over the past few weeks. With the election resulting in Labour winning 29 of 60 seats, the tie between Labour’s Carwyn Jones and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood for First Minister was highly unexpected, even to the most seasoned commentators.
So amid all the sound and fury, what does this mean for electoral reform?
While there was no doubt a lot of political posturing and point-scoring in the aftermath of May 5th, it's not without effect. It all served to dramatize to the new Welsh Government that the Assembly arithmetic means they will have to work more consensually and collaboratively, and seek support from other parties to enact their policies.
Arithmetic and politics didn’t add up to an immediate win on local voting reform this time, but with the Leader of the Opposition (Leanne Wood) making clear that ‘fair voting’ is a key demand of many in the Assembly, and key opportunities on the horizon, electoral reform will remain high on the agenda. The negotiations are perhaps an opportunity missed, but not an opportunity lost.
The shift in tone and rhetoric to a more inclusive and consensual approach that has followed has been welcome, and we expect cooperation among the parties to enact policies for a better democracy in Wales - as well as providing a greater chance for constructive challenge and scrutiny to the government of the day. As Wales’ (eventual) First Minister Carwyn Jones put it this week, it is this approach that the Welsh people voted for on May 5th.
After all, 29 of 60 (48.3%) seats falling Labour’s way is not the whole story. They achieved that result on around a third of the vote (34.7% on constituency vote; 31.5% on the regional vote). You can read more about how the system works here, but it's important to remember that due to the relatively small proportion of regional Assembly Members, the Welsh variant of the AMS system is only semi-proportional.
Local government reform is on the government agenda. The Wales Bill - which is currently going through Parliament - will devolve powers to the Assembly over the voting system for National Assembly elections, the size of the Assembly, and Votes at 16. ERS Cymru look to will make to use these powers and push for electoral reform at every level, and we’ll be encouraging the Welsh Government to back up its pluralist rhetoric with concrete actions.
Constitutional and political reform should be held above and beyond partisan point scoring and we will hold all parties to account on this front. The current arithmetic in the Assembly offers opportunities to make the case, and by the end of the 5th Assembly session in 2021, a chance that Wales will have a better democracy to better serve the people of Wales.
We live in interesting political times in Wales. Thanks for your support – we’re looking forward to continuing our campaign for a better democracy in this renewed Assembly.