No.1 ELECTORAL REFORM
First Published in Pembrokeshire Herald by Maria Pritchard
YesCymru Milford Haven 27 May 2022
This month, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, and First Minister, Mark Drakeford, announced plans for significant electoral reforms to Welsh elections, as part of the Plaid-Labour Cooperation Agreement.
The proposed changes would involve pairing the 32 constituencies in Wales that will likely arise as a result of the 2023 Boundary Commission, multi-seat constituencies of six elected representatives, gender quotas and the introduction of proportional representation. These changes are likely to be in place by the 2026 Senedd elections.
Predictably, the announcement was met with dismay by the Welsh Conservatives, citing the cost of implementing these changes at £75 million over five years, as a factor, as well as the increase of 36 Senedd representatives, however on closer scrutiny, is the criticism justified?
Proportional representation is an electoral system that allocates seats to parties based on the proportion of votes won, rather than on the total number of constituencies won, and a quick glance shows that proportional representation is used across much of Europe, Central and South America, Eastern Asia, and Africa.
Indeed, proportional representation is used by some of the world’s major democracies such as Germany and New Zealand, and STV (single transferable vote) was used for the first time during Northern Ireland’s elections this month.
Furthermore, although PR (much like other electoral systems) is not perfect, the shortfalls of the current First-past-the-post system have not gone unnoticed.
This is because the current system encourages many people to vote against parties, rather than for them.
For example, take a typical Labour-Conservative battleground during a crunch election. Rather than voting for the party of choice, many people will resort to voting for the party most likely to keep the other major party out. This means that the current system favours large parties.
Under proportional representation, an individual may be more inclined to vote for their favoured parties and candidates, knowing that several – rather than just one seat – are available.
FPTP also leads to disproportionate outcomes. For instance, during the 2005 UK Parliament elections, the Labour party won over 56% of seats, but only 36% of the popular vote. Indeed, it can be argued that such a system is not truly “democratic”.
Cost has been cited as opposition to these changes, and while yes, we undoubtedly do need more doctors, nurses and teachers, as well as measures to combat the cost of living crisis, however let us examine the costs associated with the restoration of the Palace of Westminster which may reportedly climb to £14bn, or HS2 which may rise to an astronomical sum of between £72 - £98bn, a total cost of £75 million to reform an electoral system, recommended by constitutional experts, may seem more cost-effective in comparison.
Also, when addressing claims that 96 elected representatives for Wales may be excessive, this does not stand to scrutiny either.
Take the Northern Ireland Assembly which has 90 elected representatives to serve a population of 1.9 million, the Scottish parliament which has 129 seats representing a population of 5.45 million and the current number of 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament may appear inadequate.
To conclude, while PR may not be perfect, electoral reform has the potential to improve representation and transform democracy in Wales for the better.