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Electing a Larger National Assembly

5 December 2016

Three years ago, colleagues at the Wales Governance Centre, working alongside the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, published a report advocating a larger National Assembly for Wales. The case they made then is, I think, yet stronger now. While the Assembly may have been adequately sized, at sixty AMs, for its initially very limited powers, it is no longer fit for purpose. Since 1999 the chamber has acquired primary law-making powers, and also some taxation and borrowing powers – with more on the way.

Brexit is also likely to bring substantially greater scope for legislation and policy innovation in devolved competences like agriculture and the environment. Many observers are concerned at whether the Welsh Government (and indeed the British Government) has adequate administrative capacity to deal effectively with the manifold implications for Brexit. But similar concerns also apply, I think, to the National Assembly, which will have a key role in scrutinising the policy and legislative implications of Brexit.

However, if we are to have a larger National Assembly, something will have to be done to the electoral system. It simply isn’t possible to add more members to the Assembly without in some way changing the system of election. This topic was not covered in our previous report. So last week we published a new report, Reshaping the Senedd, which explored the electoral implications of enhancing the size of the Assembly.

I’m not going to spoil the surprise for you of how the report goes. Read it for yourself – though beware the plot twist near the end, involving the butler…

I do hope that our report can contribute some important principles to the debate on how we elect our Assembly, as well as some worthwhile hard evidence. The debate needs to be a broad one, and people in all parties should be contributing to it.


  1. Graham Hathaway

    What defines a Nation is its ability to bring forth good legislation relevant to its own needs.

  2. James

    The file’s a 404, but I’d favour the absolute minimum change to the electoral system. When we get the new Westminster constituencies, have the Boundary Commission bisect each of them (for 58 constituencies) and then scale the 50% regional top-up up to 29. Yes, AMS is an ugly compromise, but trying to replace it will just result in an unedifying ding-dong where self-interested reform proposals can be guaranteed to get single-party support.

  3. Graham Burnby-Crouch

    I have always been a fan of AMS it is a compromise but I don’t think an ugly one. Germany runs it on a much bigger scale and avoids extreme parties unless they get to popular. The German system works a little differently. Also there is no reason why the system has to be 1/3 list, it isn’t in Germany. The minimum change might be to keep Westminster boundaries and increase the list AMs, to say 30 or 40. This would produce a more proportional result. The largest objection made about AMS is the two types of AMs but I don’t feel this is a big enough objection to overcome it’s other advantages.

  4. Graham Burnby-Crouch

    I couldn’t access the link but found the report by googling it

  5. Nigel Marriott

    Personally I favour the 3-member open list d’Hondt system. I wrote an article about this last year for the General Election

    So when the new boundaries for 29 seats are agreed for Westminster, each seat could then elect 3 members to give 78 in all for the Sennedd.

    I thought long and hard about the AMS system which has its attractions but in the end I just don’t like the idea of 2 different types of AMs. I note Roger’s previous work where he showed name recognition of list AMs was lower than seat AMs. I think my proposed system overcomes this issue.

  6. Rowena Hiscox

    I don’t really like any of the options presented here. With STV or Open List, 3 AMs per constituency wouldn’t really be enough for a decent level of proportionality. Four would be better, but that would mean nearly doubling the size of the Assembly, which might be pushing it a bit.

    We have to acknowledge that in the current climate, any proposal to increase the number of politicians is going to be unpopular, however strong the arguments in its favour. Especially since, judging by the figures in the report, Ukip would be the party most likely to be hurt by any switch to STV or Open List; one can certainly see them exploiting the issue.

    (I should add that I’m not a fan of STV for other reasons: I think it’s too open to parties playing manipulative games with preferences.)

    In my view it would be better to abandon coterminosity. Scotland has already gone down that route, and there’s no reason while Wales shouldn’t do the same. Also, the number of Westminster Wales seats is bound to change again at some point, and it seems silly to be constantly rejigging the Assembly electoral system at the behest of London. Best to keep the current boundaries and increase the number of list AMs.

  7. Christian Schmidt

    One other way of having proportionality but not the constituency-list split is to use the system they have in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Here voters have one vote, which is both for a candidate and the candidate’s party in a constituency. All votes are counted together and seats allocated to parties. Constituency winners are elected. If a party has won more seats than constituency winners (which is nearly always the case for all parties), then losing candidates in order of relative strength are elected until all seats are filled.

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