A landmark review carried out in 2017 recommended sweeping electoral changes for the Senedd. Wales’ Assembly had grown and developed beyond recognition over the previous 20 years, and the time was now to create a political system in Wales that reflected that fact.

Among its findings and conclusions, 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 has been implemented, with 16- and 17-year-olds voting for the first time earlier this month.

Wales’ Assembly is now a parliament, yet it has the same electoral system and same number of members as it did in 1999, when it had no legislative power.

Naturally, increasing the number of politicians in Wales and implementing a new voting system are complex, both practically and politically.

More politicians along with ripping up the way people vote is not the easiest sell, but it is now exactly what the majority of members in the Senedd intend to move forward with.

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Last Monday, First Minister Mark Drakeford said there was growing enthusiasm among MSs to bolster the Senedd’s ranks, but that it would be for all members – not his government – to make a decision.

With Welsh Labour now seemingly backing the plans for Senedd expansion, it means more than two thirds of the Welsh Parliament’s members are on side, giving the plans the supermajority of 40 needed to deliver them.

As well as Labour, Plaid Cymru and single Lib Dem Jane Dodds all back expansion, leaving only the Welsh Conservatives in opposition.

While Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies has said Mr Drakeford is “badly mistaken” to think there is cross-party support for increasing the number of MSs, he certainly seems to have a strong majority.

Since the report’s initial release in 2017, it has been backed up by the Senedd’s committee on electoral reform.

Among its recommendations, the committee again pointed to the need to increase the number of MSs to between 80 or 90 members due to limitations over scrutiny, and introduce a single transferable vote.

Cardiff University’s Professor Laura McAllister, who chaired the expert panel on electoral reform in 2017, believes now is the time for Senedd Members to push forward with reforms.

She told The National: “The signs are positive, the fact the First Minister has raised it as a big ticket item is significant and it opens the door for further meaningful discussion.

“You cannot put the genie back in the bottle, and I don’t think Mark Drakeford would have put it on the agenda, unless he wanted that constructive approach.

“If not now, when? They have been handed a great mandate by the people and the manifesto highlighted Labour’s intentions.

“The hard miles are ahead, but within the next five years we can have a 90-seat Senedd, using single transferable vote, and embracing quotas.

“There is no more research needed, now. If they are serious about doing it this time, you cannot push it to the wire, you cannot leave it late, and you need that legislation on the statute book within two and a half years of this Senedd term.

“How much longer can we carry on with an underpowered Senedd, without damaging its legitimacy?

“Better scrutiny creates a better parliament, which creates better government, which creates better outcomes for the public. Labour now have a responsibility to improve Welsh politics, and to be fair to Mark Drakeford, that seems to be the direction he is moving in.”

Wales’ parliament being underpowered is no new theme. As its powers have grown over 22 years, the number of members doing the work to legislate, debate and scrutinise have not.

Sixty members could become eighty or ninety  as Senedd's powers outgrow the number of people working for Wales.

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 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.

Sixty members could become eighty or ninety  as Senedd's powers outgrow the number of people working for Wales.

Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, the Senedd’s lack of members should be a cause for concern for everybody.

Ms Blair told The National it is time the question was put to bed once and for all: “I think we have been having these conversations for 22 years now, a quarter of a century, and until we bite the bullet, we won’t get anywhere.

“It is now time to implement the rest of the recommendations, introduce more members, reform of the voting system, and deliver diversity quotas so that we have people of all backgrounds representing us in the Senedd, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity.

“It is weird that our national parliament is the same size as my county council in Pembrokeshire.”

“Westminster has 650 MPs, around 100 don’t sit on any committees, yet in the Senedd, multiple members sit on two or three committees.

“My fear is we will have to have these conversations for the next 20 years if we do not do it now. Good scrutiny pays for itself and the reality is, this is the best chance we have to do this.”

Sixty members could become eighty or ninety  as Senedd's powers outgrow the number of people working for Wales.

While Plaid Cymru has always been in favour of electoral reform, Labour has at times been more guarded in showing its hand.

The first minister has now moved the issue forward, and several on the Labour backbenches appear to have also moved.

Hefin David, Labour MS for Caerphilly, is a strong supporter of reforming the Senedd. For him, it starts not with the number of members, but the system used to elect them.

Dr David told The National: “My starting point is the single transferable vote. If Labour gets 40 per cent of the vote, it should have 40 per cent of the seats.

“Unless you can get 50 per cent of the vote, you must work with other opinions.

“The only way you will make single transferable vote work is by having more members. Currently you have five members representing you anyway, and with STV you would still have a constituency element.

“Moving forward, you start with the voting system, and then work on more members. The issue with the voting system is you have a Conservative party and Plaid Cymru who are under-represented.”

READ MORE: 'Independent Welsh labour party inevitable and logical'

Dr David, a father of two, sat on two committees during the last Senedd term. He believes increasing the Senedd’s size will give members more time to balance duties in the Senedd, represent their constituencies, and maintain a balance with family life.

“I want to concentrate on three or four areas that I know will benefit my community and people and residents within it,” Dr David continued.

“Having more members will mean more representation and if you have more Senedd members that shares those duties.

“As a parent, I struggle working specific times, I probably do 50 hours a week, spread across seven days. I thoroughly enjoy my job, it is a vocation, and as challenging and difficult as it is, work is spread amongst everything in my life like family life,” he said.

“My message to my colleagues in Labour who may feel we are shooting ourselves in the foot by pressing ahead with this is simple: nobody stays in power forever. One day you will be making the same arguments that Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives are making now.”

A lot of work remains to be done on further electoral reform, with the number of members a mere starting point.

After that, the debate will shift to how members are elected, what the Senedd’s new constituencies would look like, whether or not parties will have to meet specific quotas and the very role of a Senedd Member.

The can of electoral reform has been kicked down the road for long enough. There may never be a better time for members to create a parliament truly fit for Wales.

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