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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Balancing the case for more Welsh Assembly Members

Increasing the number of politicians is never a popular move so I don't expect the very weighty expert report commissioned by the Assembly's Presiding Officer calling for exactly that to gain much traction on doorsteps.

As the Western Mail reports, this tome recommends amongst others that the number of Assembly Members elected to the Senedd should rise from 60 to 89 or 90, that they should be elected by the far more proportional Single Transferable Vote system and that the voting age should be reduced to 16.

I anticipate that the last of these will be the least controversial. Even UKIP appear to be in favour of letting younger people vote. I suspect that the Assembly will be able to find the necessary two thirds majority to increase its own size to 80 but that the adoption of a more sensible voting system will be ditched in favour of one that is more favourable to the ruling Labour Party.

It may though, turn out that the whole exercise has been academic, as already Labour are threatening to kick it into the long grass of their 2019 Welsh Conference, far too late to properly enact the recommendations for the 2021 Assembly elections.

But where should the Welsh Liberal Democrats stand on these proposals. My view is that we need to be wary of them.

The case for a bigger Assembly is actually overwhelming both in terms of comparison with other legislatures and the workload faced by AMs. Good government requires time to properly scrutinise legislation and ministers, but that is not available simply because there are far too few committees, all meeting at the same time to do the job.

This is not an argument to increase the hours worked by AMs, they already give 70 plus each week, but to increase the capacity of the Assembly itself.

The case for more AMs is based on the steady accumulation of law-making powers by the Assembly over the last few years. These powers have been devolved from Westminster. It makes sense therefore that if we need more AMs then there should also be fewer Welsh MPs, as logically their workload will have decreased.

Welsh Liberal Democrats support for these proposals should be based on that quid pro. If one institution gets more politicians, another should have fewer. That way we do not add to the cost of politics,

Secondly, if a bigger Assembly is not going to be more proportional then it should not be supported. We have lived with the compromise d'hondt system now for 18 years. It creates two tiers of Assembly Member and effectively guarantees continuous government by one party.

The people of Wales deserve to get the Assembly they vote for, both politically and geographically and that can only be achieved with a sensible system of election based on STV.
I had seen this already in the posting by Alan Renwick on the Constitution Unit blog. https://constitution-unit.com/2017/12/12/reforming-the-welsh-assembly-how-do-you-choose-an-electoral-system/#more-6219

I noted that the panel only advocated STV in conjunction with gender quotas. You do not mention gender quotas at all; can you clarify your position on this?

Also what is your position on job-sharing the AM role, another recommendation of the panel?

Laurence Cox
I don't agree with gender quotas or job sharing. I don't see why STV should be dependent on such a qualification.
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