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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Examining our own navel

The Western Mail this morning reports on the anger felt by the Assembly's Tory leader at proposals to change the electoral system for the National Assembly from 2007 onwards. Nick Bourne accuses the Secretary of State for Wales 'of acting like a "colonial governor" by seeking to rig future elections to the National Assembly that fix the rules in favour of Labour.'

Although Nick has a point here there is a real danger that we are fighting on Peter Hain's ground whilst allowing more important changes to go through unchallenged. We should bear in mind that whilst politicians are getting worked up about this important issue, voters have more other concerns.

I have made it clear in the past that I believe that the Electoral Commission is essentially right in their claim that the adoption of the Ukrainian system of preventing candidates fighting both a constituency and on a list is gerrymandering. That view is repeated by Nick Bourne. What has remained clear to me throughout this argument is that the objective should be to achieve clarity and equality so that all 60 AMs operate with a comparable role and common constituency base. If we are to retain proportionality then STV is the only way to achieve that.

The problem seems to be that the role of a list AM has never been properly defined and as a result we find ourselves trying to determine their job by the way they are elected, a wholly unsatisfactory and absurd position. Hence the Western Mail this morning is able to promote the view that if STV is not acceptable to the UK Government then they should consider a National list. Such a change would accentuate tensions within the Assembly by reinforcing the perception that there are two different classes of AM, taking away the regional role and local links from the list members, leaving them as pure legislators whilst their constituency equivalents would continue to evolve into glorified social workers.

That is a recipe for chaos. It will inevitably lead to an uneven provision of resources to the different categories of Assembly Member, undermining their ability to do the job they were elected for. Such a system would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions within one Assembly term. Nevertheless the paper is able to promote it because they are fixated on process rather than outcomes.

Behind all of this scrapping lies a wider issue, the role of the Assembly itself. A letter in the same edition of the Western Mail sums up where the real debate should lie. It is written by a Gareth Butler of Aberystwyth. Mr. Butler shares the name of a former Plaid Cymru Councillor in that town but I cannot be certain if they are one and the same. Nevertheless, his point is very valid:

The purpose of devolution is to transfer more power from Westminster to the Assembly not from the Assembly to the desk of the Secretary of State. The targeting of the opposition is a side issue to the real debate surrounding the Government of Wales Bill which is how workable the law making proposals will be when Mr Hain has left for another place?

Lord Richard marked the proposals as 'B+'. With a Tory Secretary of State from Chesham, Worcester or Wokingham they'll become 'B' unworkable.

Important as it is that we get the representation right, so that all parts of Wales gets a say and political parties and independents are represented in accordance with the wishes of the electorate, the big issue in the new Government of Wales Bill is whether or not it produces an Assembly or Parliament capable of implementing the changes necessary to make a real difference to people's lives. We should not allow that goal to be lost in petty party political point scoring or in the rhetoric and arguments over electoral systems.
Your quite right on this issue....the whole thing is a massive distraction from the issues that people care about.......its a clever distraction campaign ....Hain seems to have ruled out the National list idea....if we must have list systems a national one would be fun at election time as we would put Wigly at number one....Forward Wales would put Ron Davies at number one and the Tories would run Nick Bourne and the lIbs would find someone inoffensive as would the greens etc....Labour would get well stuffed with this system.....obviously I prefer stv but would have loved Labour to go for a national list....
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