Senedd reforms could be ‘very dangerous’, warns academic

Welsh voters could be voting for more Members who won’t appear on the ballot from 2026 – but are the reforms feasible?

Senedd members are further discussing reforms to the legislative body, but there are worries a new voting system will be less democratic.

The reforms, first introduced in September 2023, plan to increase the number of Members from 60 to 96 to oversee 16 new constituencies, which will be the first expansion since the Senedd’s creation in 1999.

The plans also include changing the voting system to a type of proportional representation (PR) that will mean Welsh voters will no longer vote for individual candidates, but political parties as a whole. 

“Whilst the system will be marginally more proportional, it takes away some fundamental powers from electors. In the current climate of lack of trust between politicians and electors,” says Professor Laura McAllister, who was co-chair on the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.

Professor McAllister believes the current Senedd proposals will damage fragile trust between voters and politicians

The Senedd is showing signs of division over the reforms, with a recent cross-party committee criticising the proposed ‘closed list’ system and its potential to reduce voter choice, echoed by Professor McAllister.

“With an open list, electors can choose their preferred candidate, but with closed lists gives greater power to party managers. We’re ending the link between an individual politician and the elector which is a feature of British politics,” says Professor McAllister.

Professor McAllister has written extensively about Welsh politics and the need to reform its political infrastructure. She has previously promoted the system of a Single Transferable Vote as a potential alternative to the proposed ‘closed list’ system.

The costs involved for having more Members are also proving to be a sticking point. One estimate from the Labour Party puts the additional cost of 36 more politicians at £17.8 million.

However, Professor McAllister says effective reform is needed for effective politics in Wales.

“I’ve never believed that the constitution is separate to matters such as the NHS, the economy, education – both are very closely related. We need to have a parliament that is fit for purpose and that includes an effective electoral system.”

Those views are echoed by Plaid Cymru leader Rhun Ap Iorwerth, saying “There’s a feeling in first-past-the-post that votes can be wasted. With this proportional system, which gets rid of the first-past-the-post element altogether, there’s a feeling we can say that all votes do matter.”

The reforms are still some way from a deciding vote and 40 of the 60 members are needed to vote in favour for a bill to pass, though Plaid Cymru and Labour are working together on the reforms to form a supermajority. Professor McAllister hopes that politicians revisit the plans again.

“I would hope there will be amendments to the reforms as it progresses. There may be more fundamental amendments, but I don’t see that getting support. Hopefully, we can bring in tweaks that lead to something more efficient, effective, and transparent.”