The spectacle of a Westminster elite trying to bring each other down over garden parties in Downing Street during lockdown leaves a bad taste in the mouth, particularly when it is just seen through the lense of of a spat between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

The sad thing is that this is taking attention from far-reaching changes by the Westminster Government to Welsh and Scottish democracy.

Putting a stop to the right to peaceful protest, public sector broadcasting under threat, curtailing judicial review and weakening the Human Rights Act are just some of the draconian measures championed by this UK Government.

On top of all this, there is an attempt through the Elections Bill to turn the clock back on the important steps the devolved nations have taken to expand and deepen our democracy.

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Measures to increase democratic participation in Scotland and Wales have seen the electoral franchise extended to 16 and 17 year olds, as well as to foreign citizens legally resident in Wales, while in Scotland a fairer electoral system for local council elections has been introduced via the adoption of the Single Transferable Vote.

If ever there was proof of the increasing chasm between the approaches to politics in devolved nations and Westminster it is the Elections Bill. Not only scrapping a more proportionate voting system by changing the way Police and Crime Commissioners are elected to a First Past the Post system, it also introduces a requirement for photo identification to vote that is proven to reduce democratic participation.

The National Wales: The Elections Bill was introduced by Levelling Up Minister Kemi Badenoch last year. (Picture: PA Wire)The Elections Bill was introduced by Levelling Up Minister Kemi Badenoch last year. (Picture: PA Wire)

Westminster may not be working for anyone right now but we in Scotland and Wales can choose to do things differently – and better.

We do politics differently, coming to agreement between parties when it is in the benefit of the people of our nations.

In Scotland, we see this with the SNP Scottish Government and the Greens cooperation agreement, and in Wales between Plaid Cymru and the Labour Welsh Government.

In the Senedd, Plaid Cymru negotiated the Co-operation Agreement: a nation-building Programme for Government which will bring real and long-term benefits for the people of Wales including free school meals to all primary school children.

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And the SNP in Scotland have introduced free bus travel for all young people under 22, are on path to eradicate child poverty by 2030, not to mention the free university education already offered.

Voter ID is a Westminster intrusion on Welsh and Scottish democracy. All Plaid Cymru MPs and MSs have signed the open letter focused on the impact of voter ID on Wales and notes  how ‘voter ID will create new challenges for everybody involved in the democratic process: from poll workers, to candidates, to voters themselves.’

MPs voted 325 to 234 in favour of the £180 million plan for voter ID that will disenfranchise marginalised groups from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, disabled people, transgender people, as well as young and old voters.

The National Wales: (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)(Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

It’s no wonder the Welsh and Scottish Governments have withheld legislative consent for the Bill.

There are significant problems with democracy in the UK - and reform is needed - but reforms that will improve democracy, not hinder it yet further.

Just look at how the antiquated voting system of First Past the Post is still used for General Elections that actively disempowers many voters.

What is the Elections Bill being used for? To increase levels of First Past the Post in England and Wales, co-opt the Electoral Commission, and to introduce voter ID - all to the benefit of the current UK Government and to the detriment of Scotland and Wales.

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The Elections Bill is an insult to voters. It is crucial that we use opportunities such as the Elections Bill to improve our democracy and not for backsliding in the form of voter suppression.

But at the very least, surely the UK Government should not be taking down Wales and Scotland’s democracies with their own?

If a devolved and reserved election happened on the same day, there is a risk that a voter who forgot their ID could be turned away from their vote in both elections. An administrative nightmare at the least, a democratic nightmare at the worst.

Wales and Scotland are beacons for enhancing our election process in the UK, but this is now being put at risk by the Westminster government.

Rhys Ab Owen is Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales Central

Kaukab Stewart is SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin

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