In 2017, a landmark review carried out by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform recommended sweeping electoral changes for the Senedd.

Wales’ Assembly had grown and developed beyond recognition over the previous 20 years, it said. The time was now to create a political system in Wales that reflected it.

Among its findings, the report made three broad recommendations: to increase the number of Senedd members; to introduce a new voting system in Wales, redrawing its electoral map; and to extend the voting franchise in Wales to 16 and 17-year-olds.

One of those three recommendations has been implemented, with 16 and 17-year-olds due to go to the polls for the first time.

The other two remain undelivered, with the window of opportunity for implementation seemingly closing by the day.

Yesterday, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, committed to no further politicians for the Senedd.

Rather than funding more politicians, Wales should be putting that money towards more nurses, doctors and teachers, Mr Davies said.

He continued: "The priority for any party should be getting Wales on the road to recovery with a stronger economy and rebuilding our public services, not increasing the size of the Senedd.

“We would use that money to fund more nurses so that we can bring down the waiting times in our NHS and recruit more teachers so we can improve our education system and give children across Wales the best start in life.

“Labour and Plaid should be up front and honest in their respective manifestos about their intentions as the Welsh Conservatives have been clear that there’ll be no more powers, no more politicians, no more taxes, and no more constitutional chaos.”

All parties would admit that calling for more politicians is a hard sell with the public, but how do the numbers stack up?

More Senedd Members: The numbers game

Compared to other parliaments, Wales has relatively few members. The Scottish Parliament has more than double Wales’ number of seats at 129.

Northern Ireland, despite having a population significantly smaller than Wales, has 90 members in its Assembly.

The Basque and Catalan parliaments have 75 seats and 135 seats respectively.

But you do not even have to leave Wales to recognise how few members the Senedd has.

Nine local councils in Wales have more councillors than the Senedd has members:

  • Caerphilly 73
  • Cardiff 75
  • Carmarthenshire 74
  • Flintshire 70
  • Gwynedd 75
  • Neath Port Talbot 64
  • Powys 73
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf 75
  • Swansea 72

The National Wales:

For Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, the Senedd’s lack of members is a reason for concern.

Ms Blair told The National: “The role of the Senedd has changed massively over the last twenty years.

“Having so few members scrutinising the decisions that impact our daily lives simply isn’t good enough, and as a member of the public, I would want to know that decisions made on my behalf are being scrutinised as effectively as possible.

“The Tories are essentially calling for politicians to continue doing a job with their hands tied behind their backs.

“In the Senedd you have some members sitting on multiple committees, while in Westminster you have over a hundred members not sitting on a single committee.

“Good scrutiny pays for itself and poor decision making can cost money further down the line.”

Andrew RT Davies’ calculation that an additional thirty Senedd Members would cost £12 million a year can also be put into context.

Wales lost four Members of the European Parliament when it left the EU, saving a total of £7.16 million per year.

Wales also looks set to lose eight MPs in an upcoming boundary review. Each MP costs around £680,000 per year. That is an additional saving of £5.44 million.

Add those two numbers together, and the price of losing 12 elected political representatives in Wales is £12.6 million a year.

Subtract the £12 million that thirty new MSs would cost, and you are still left with a surplus of £600,000.

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What are Wales’ other parties saying?

Unsurprisingly, both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have committed to electoral reform in Wales.

Plaid have called Andrew RT Davies’ move an example of “devo-scepticism”, while committing to more Senedd Members and a new voting system.

Likewise, the Lib Dems have committed to increasing the size of the Senedd to 80-90 members, while implementing a new electoral system also inline with the 2017 report.

Any support for reform will need to carry the support of Wales’ largest party, so where do Labour stand on the issue?

When asked its position by The National, the party remained coy.

A response from a party spokesperson said: “Our priority is leading Wales’ recovery after Covid, giving care workers the Real Living Wage, guaranteeing young people jobs and training, protecting the environment, and creating the new green jobs of the future.”

Such a non-committed response will not sit overly well with Labour MSs who have already pinned their flag to the mast of electoral reform.

Hefin David, standing for re-election for Labour in Caerphilly, said in the Senedd last year that more members, as part of a more proportional system, would help hold the government to account.

Dr David said: “We need to look at representation as a whole across the UK and I think you need a mandate for that particular change, and it has to be put into a manifesto that is presented at an election.”

If such a commitment is in Labour's manifesto, the party is playing its cards close to its chest for now.

An opportunity lost?

Such is the constitution of Wales, such a move to wholesale reform, including more members, would require a Senedd voting majority of two thirds, or forty members, also known as a ‘supermajority’.

The last Senedd had such a majority, with Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrat's seats totalling forty.

Jess Blair now fears the opportunities the last Senedd term had may be at risk of being buried.

Ms Blair said: “They have absolutely missed an opportunity.

“There was a real chance to do something on a cross party basis to address issues apparent over the last 20 years. The parties failed to grasp that, and failed to make a decision that is really necessary.

“Yet again we are heading to the polls with not enough Senedd members and debating this instead of issues.

“I don’t think we can go another five years without addressing these issue. In a way it is the reason we are having so many conversations about the role of Wales and the role of the UK. All of these things have a butterfly effect.”

With the Tories firmly in the ‘no’ camp when it comes to reform, and a number of seats predicted to go to at least one anti-devolution party on May 6, the supermajority needed for reform is on thin ice.

With the status quo caught in the crossfire between calls for independence and a movement to abolish the Senedd all together, advocates of a more powerful devolved Wales within the UK may regret not moving more quickly when they had the chance.

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