Jess Blair examines the impact of reform to both local elections and the Assembly.
We’re only a couple of months into 2018 and already some pretty major changes have been announced on the future of elections in Wales. These changes have the potential not just to alter the experiences you have on election day – challenging those traditions of heading to your local polling station – but the potential to fundamentally change the way Wales works.
There are two major areas of reform in Wales currently underway; changes to Welsh local elections, and the proposed changes to the way the Assembly works.
At the end of January, Local Government and Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies AM, announced his intention to modernise and widen council elections. Next due for 2022, our local authority elections in Wales will be subject to fundamental reform including the extension of the voting age to 16, the chance for councils to choose whether they use a Single Transferable Vote (STV) proportional system instead of the current winner-takes-all system of First Past the Post (FPTP), and changes to the way elections on the day will actually work. These include pilots over the next few years on voting in different places (for example, supermarkets or GPs’ surgeries), voting on different days and online methods of casting your ballot, which could be formally introduced across Wales at the next elections.
Just last week, electoral reform came to the fore once again as the National Assembly for Wales unanimously voted to launch a public consultation on recommendations to change the Assembly, nearly twenty years after it was created. These recommendations came from a key report, published in December, which was chaired by Professor Laura McAllister. The report backed:
- Votes for Assembly elections for 16 and 17 year olds,
- A larger Assembly of between 80-90 Members,
- Changes to the voting system including a preferred option of STV,
- Recommendations around improved gender diversity, including quotas and job sharing.
As a result of last week’s vote, on Monday this week the Assembly published their full consultation into these recommendations. Information on the consultation is available on the Assembly’s website, and responses will be accepted until Friday 6th April.
This is a consultation that could result in a more representative Assembly with the capacity to deliver better outcomes for the people of Wales. Let’s not forget that the Assembly is at the centre of most of the really important things in this country, from the NHS and how it responds to the challenges it faces, to education and the success of our children under a new curriculum. What can sound like constitutional tinkering would in fact have a direct impact on how the Assembly functions, and that in turn has a direct impact on the daily lives of people across Wales.
The next Assembly election is scheduled for 2021, with local elections taking place the year after. Bringing both these area of reforms together, the big picture is of a modern and hopefully thriving democracy and of institutions that better reflect and serve the people they represent.
I would encourage as many people as possible to have their say on the proposed changes to the Assembly. Devolution is about bringing decision making closer to the people who those decisions affect and these reforms will shape how the Assembly operates in the decades to come.
If reforms to both local and Assembly elections are passed it would send a loud and clear message across the border to Westminster that if the UK Government continues to turn a blind eye to its democratic deficiencies it will find itself on the wrong side of history.
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