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Labour and Plaid agree on Senedd carve-up

LABOUR and Plaid Cymru this week pre-empted the results of a Senedd Committee’s enquiry and announced a huge increase in the number of Wales’s Senedd Members.
While the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform continues to hear evidence ahead of its final report, Labour and Plaid announced they had agreed that Wales would elect 96 Senedd members instead of the current sixty at the next election.
Securing electoral reform and expanding the Senedd were Plaid Cymru manifesto commitments while expanding the Senedd was a Labour policy pledge.
However, the arrangements announced on Tuesday (May 10) are likely to increase questions about how accountable Senedd members are to their electorate.

FIXING THE SYSTEM

One of the key gripes of those in favour of Senedd reform is the abolition of regional members selected using Wales’s complex PR system.

The new arrangements will see 32 constituencies based on the new Westminster constituency boundaries electing three members each but grouped with six other constituencies to ensure seats are allocated (theoretically) more proportionately.

If that sounds complicated, the system will have one simple result.

It will sever the link between elected and electors.

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Voters will vote for parties and not individuals. The party-list will decide who gets elected to represent you.

You will no longer have a say in the identity of your representatives.

Instead, the parties have all the power to decide who gets elected.

You’re made for life if you get in via the system proposed.

And if that sounds like modern Welsh democracy, it’s a very peculiar form of it.

The arrangement suits Labour as its voters won’t have any chance to vote for anyone else. In a properly proportional single transferrable vote system (STV), votes get the chance to rank their preferences.

Under the proposals, voters will vote for one party and whoever else gets elected depends on the system churning out results and favoured and otherwise unelectable party hacks.

Like most current regional members, Senedd Members elected under the proposed system will become

invisible in their communities.

MPs will have far greater local profiles.

Suppose the proposals want to encourage nation-building and create a stronger and more democratic Welsh Parliament. In that case, the results are likely to entrench Labour and Plaid in a permanently symbiotic relationship with very little chance for other parties to breakthrough.

It’s a system ripe for abuse by party managers and rooked to exclude small parties from any national say.

From Labour and Plaid’s perspectives, it will ensure the Conservatives are permanently excluded from power in Wales.

THE WIND OF CHANGE

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The case for Senedd reform has been made.

“We now need to get on with the hard work to create a modern Senedd, which reflects the Wales we live in today. A Parliament that truly works for Wales.

“The joint position statement we are publishing today will help support the important work of the cross-party Special Purpose Committee to move Senedd reform forwards.”
Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, said: “These reforms will lay the foundations for a stronger Welsh democracy and a fairer, more representative Senedd that will look entirely different to the outdated political system at Westminster.

“A stronger, more diverse, more representative Senedd will have a greater capacity to perform its primary purpose of making a positive difference to the lives of the people of Wales.”
Ensuring that the Senedd is more diverse is an interesting step forward.
The statement detailing the proposals says that electoral law in Wales will include “integrated statutory gender quotas and mandatory zipping.”
The first part of that phrase indicates an aim to ensure equal representation between the genders in the Senedd.

The second part, “mandatory zipping”, requires parties to put forward equal numbers of male and female candidates and alternate between men and women when preparing their candidate lists.
If number one on the internal party list is male, the second is female, the third male, the fourth female &c.
It is unclear whether the Welsh Government has the legal power to force those measures.
Mark Drakeford and Ada Price wrote to the Reform Committee’s Chair, Huw Irranca-Davies, saying their proposals are “most likely to achieve the two-thirds Senedd majority required by law to deliver reform.
“We are confident that the statement below will enable you to make recommendations on these fundamental issues.”

DRAKEFORD AND PRICE “TRYING
TO STRONGARM COMMITTEE”

The Welsh Conservative response was swift.

Andrew RT Davies said: “Wales does not need more politicians in Cardiff Bay – we need more teachers, doctors, dentists, and nurses.

“While we have consistently objected to more politicians, we recognise Labour and Plaid have enough votes to push ahead.

“That’s why we have engaged constructively with the Senedd Reform Committee.

“Sadly, both parties have completely undermined the committee’s work with this announcement.”

Darren Millar, the Conservative Member of the Senedd Reform Committee, was even more scathing.

Announcing his decision to quit the Committee, he said: “It was extremely disappointing to see the Committee undermined by the publication of a joint position statement on Senedd reform by the First Minister and the Leader of Plaid Cymru.

“Issuing the position statement to the media in the absence of any written or oral statement to the Senedd was extremely discourteous to the Welsh Parliament.

“The publication of such a prescriptive statement before the Committee completes its work. However, this announcement effectively terminates its ability to draw independent conclusions.

“It is with regret that I have resigned from the Committee, but after the stunt pulled by the First Minister and Plaid’s leader, it has become futile.

“It is unacceptable that they have tried to strongarm the Committee by imposing their position in this way. Senedd committees should not be fettered in this way.

“We joined this committee and process in good faith as there was a mandate for change, but it looks like that was misplaced.”

The Reform Committee will report on May 31, but it looks like its decisions have been made for it.

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