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Concerns ‘one-man bands’ independent candidates will lose out in Senedd reform

Caerphilly County Borough Council offices

A COUNCILLOR has sought assurances independents will not lose out if Wales adopts a new election system for the Senedd.

Kevin Etheridge, from Blackwood, said independents like himself were “one-man bands” taking on major political parties in the polls.

He wrote to Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford lodging his opposition to the proposed expansion of the Senedd and a new list system for Welsh election ballot papers.

Cllr Kevin Etheridge (Pic: CCBC)

Mr Drakeford defended the policy, claiming the growth of the Welsh Parliament would “reflect the way the role and responsibilities of the Senedd have grown since it was first established”.

The first minister noted the Senedd was the smallest of the UK’s devolved legislatures and had remained the same size, at 60 members, since it opened in 1999.

By comparison, the Scottish Parliament has 129 members and the Northern Ireland Assembly has 90.

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Cllr Etheridge, a member of Caerphilly County Borough Council, said he “failed to see why” another 36 members were necessary.

Mr Drakeford told him the Senedd’s responsibilities had “changed considerably” over the years and “we must ensure that it is appropriately sized to be able to carry out its scrutiny functions”.

Senedd expansion had been a Welsh Labour manifesto commitment at the last elections, he added.

Mark Drakeford (Pic: Welsh Government)

The proposed new ballot system will require parties to submit lists of candidates for each constituency, and each person named will win seats in the order they are listed, based on the number of votes each party wins in that area.

“We are retaining the ability for independent candidates to stand for election in the reformed electoral system, ensuring voters have a wide set of options to decide from,” Mr Drakeford said in his letter to Cllr Etheridge.

“In light of that information, a voter will be able to make their decision in much the same way they currently do in Senedd constituency elections – where parties decide who will stand as their candidate in a particular constituency, and voters can decide to vote for that party’s candidate, vote for another party’s candidate, or vote for an independent candidate,” the first minister added.

Following Mr Drakeford’s letter, Cllr Etheridge told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he believed Senedd expansion should have been put to the people of Wales in a referendum.

“On such important issues the public of Wales should have been consulted, as it will cost millions and I fail to see why we need an increase to 96 Members in the Senedd,” he said. 

“I also raised the very important issue of independent candidates standing under the new system.

“Being a one-man band fighting the major parties I believe independents will always be at a disadvantage, but the public need a choice.”

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