Wales, like any other vibrant democracy, is constantly evolving. As part of its journey towards enhanced representation and accountability, the Welsh Government has proposed the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill.
This comprehensive piece of draft legislation encompasses a range of reforms aimed at reinvigorating Welsh democracy. In this article, I provide an introduction to what exactly this bill entails, how it will benefit ordinary people, and the potential challenges it may face.
Senedd size and proportionality
One of the key aspects of the bill is the increase it proposes in the number of Senedd Members (MSs) from 60 to 96. While some may argue that this move is untimely from a cost perspective, it is essential to understand that a larger Senedd will bring more voices and perspectives into the decision-making process. This expansion aims to ensure that the diversity of Wales is better represented, ultimately leading to policies that address the concerns and needs of a broader range of citizens.
The bill introduces a new electoral system that abandons the current two-tier model. Instead, it would establish 16 ‘super constituencies’, each electing six MSs. While critics may raise concerns about this change, it is important to recognize that a proportional electoral system can be more reflective of the popular vote, reducing disparities in the Senedd between the votes cast and the seats won.
The bill also increases the number of ministers that can be appointed, rising from 12 to 17, along with the First Minister and the general counsel. This adjustment recognizes the growing complexity of governance in Wales and the need for specialized ministers to address various policy areas. It ensures that the government can be more responsive to and knowledgeable about the needs of its citizens and how they might be met.
The bill fosters diversity in representation by allowing candidates to stand for elections only if they are registered residents of Wales. This measure strengthens the connection between elected officials and their constituents, ensuring that those who make decisions on behalf of the people are rooted in Welsh communities.
Frankly, this is an incredible potential change, in my view. No longer would candidates be parachuted in from anywhere to sit in what can be considered ‘safe’ seats.
The bill aligns with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by empowering children and young people to voice their opinions on decisions that affect them. The expanded Senedd’s improved capacity for representation will enable it to better consider the views and needs of younger generations. This also makes room for an increase in youth government, though plans for this have not yet been formalised.
While not directly legislated in the bill, schools and educational institutions are expected to provide support for voters aged 16 and 17 to learn about the new electoral system. This reinforces the right to education by promoting awareness and civic engagement among young people. This could also, in the long term, work towards combating the increased political apathy that is being seen across the UK as well as at home in Wales.
Obstacles and opportunities
The bill faces its share of challenges, notably concerning gender balance. Although the commitment to gender balance will not be included in this bill due to potential legal complications, a separate Gender Quota Bill is expected to address this issue.
Striking a balance between representation and transgender rights may prove complex, but it’s an essential conversation to have. Another challenge the bill faces is on cost; the Welsh Conservatives have already made it clear they intend to vote against the bill on this basis. It remains to be seen if that will in any way be able to stop the ascent of the bill.
In a democratic society, change is inevitable. The Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill represents an ambitious step toward improving Welsh democracy. While it may face opposition and debates on various fronts, it is a testament to a commitment in Wales to adapt and evolve for the betterment of citizens.
This bill ultimately aims to empower ordinary people, ensure their voices are heard, and create a more inclusive and representative government. As it moves through the legislative process, we can expect robust discussions and refinements, reaffirming the vitality of democratic dialogue in shaping the future of Wales and its people.