When the referee blew that whistle on Sunday time felt like it stood still.

Pride. Relief. Elation. I felt it all.

Wales qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 64 years is as historic as it is quite literally a game-changer.

That same feeling that we’re on the cusp of something historic is how I feel about today’s debate on reforming the Senedd.

Bear with me for a second.

Sure, politics may not be as attractive as football but what the Senedd is about to vote on today is equally as historic as it is a game-changer for our nation.

We all know the story by now.

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In 1997, Wales voted Yes. We took that small but sure step towards self-belief and self-determination by voting in favour of creating a National Assembly for Wales.

A step that would, in time, lead to another Yes vote in 2011 in favour of law-making powers.

Now, 25 years since that very good morning, our Senedd is no longer an ‘Assembly’ – it is now a fully-fledged parliament with full-law making powers.

And it’s about to take another step.

Plaid Cymru has long championed empowering our national parliament.

For years, we’ve argued that the Senedd is too small to fulfil its role of holding the government of the day to account.

After all, the Senedd is where key and crucial decisions about health, education, the Welsh economy are made. Things that impact people’s daily lives. It’s crucial that elected members can do their jobs. 

Now we have an opportunity to deliver a parliament that’s fit to work for Wales.

After months of hard work, the cross-party Senedd Special Purpose Committee published its official report that said the case for change was “urgent”. It backs expanding the Senedd to 96 members via a proportional voting system with integrated gender quotas – all by 2026.

Their report will be officially debated in the Senedd today and, if passed, means the Welsh Government will begin work on a Senedd Reform Bill. Making a stronger Senedd another step closer.

I know what some might say.

Do we really need more politicians? Especially during a cost-of-living crisis?

But the truth is, a stronger Senedd is exactly what Wales needs right now.

A stronger Senedd will have a greater ability to make a difference to the lives of people across our nation, it will also boost our democracy - making it more powerful, fairer and more representative and reflective of all the voices and aspirations of Welsh society.

The National Wales: Rhys ab Owen MSRhys ab Owen MS

The Senedd is the smallest of all the devolved legislatures and still has the same number of Members as it did in 1999 when the National Assembly was created. Since then, Wales has taken on new powers, including primary law-making and tax-making powers. By comparison, there are 129 members of the Scottish Parliament and 90 members of the Northern Irish Assembly.

The scrutiny role of the legislature is vital to a healthy democracy, and it is right that we should give this subject proper consideration to ensure that the Senedd is fully equipped to carry out its role in holding this government to account.

The role and responsibilities of the Senedd have changed considerably since it was first established in 1999, and we must ensure that it is appropriately sized to be able to carry out its scrutiny functions.

The increase to the size of the Senedd to 96 members is a significant move to improve the capacity of our parliament and deliver better outcomes to the people it represents. The role of scrutinising over £17bn of spending every year, significant legislation and undertaking inquiries into issues that matter requires a properly resourced Senedd that is fit to do its job both now and into the future.

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This is a case of levelling up the Senedd, so it is fit for the modern, confident, self-governing Wales of today.

And in fact, Wales has already lost representation and is likely to lose more. We have lost MEPs since the UK left the EU and we are due to see a reduction in the number of MPs representing Wales in Westminster down from 40 MPs to just 32 because of constituency boundary reforms. Expanding the Senedd will go some way to achieving fairer representation.

Because democracy is about representing everyone’s voices.

And in our current system people’s voices aren’t represented equally. Quotas lead to the election of political leaders who better reflect the diverse communities they serve and can ensure their perspectives and lived experiences is brought to the decision-making table. Contrary to being undemocratic, quotas can help us strengthen our democracy in Wales and make space for those currently not represented in politics.

Quotas should also be seen as a tool to break down some of the barriers that prevent women, disabled people, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and people from the LGBTQ+ community becoming politicians. Quotas can help us advance towards a true meritocracy, rather than being an obstacle to it.

Think of how ground-breaking this could be. And Wales could become the first nation in Britain to abolish First Past the Post (FPTP) system at a parliamentary level – ensuring our electoral system is fairer and better reflects the communities it serves and engages more citizens in Welsh democracy.

And let’s be clear.

Supporting Senedd Reform does not in any way mean that we have forgotten about the crisis that is hitting so many individuals and families in Wales.

The cost-of-living crisis is a tory-made crisis that is being worsened the longer we remain at the whims of a cruel Tory government in Westminster, a government determined to undermine and disempower our national institutions, most of all our Senedd. Any claim to the contrary is a distraction tactic.

And in any case - the House of Lords costs taxpayers almost £15m a year in daily allowances alone – equivalent to almost £700 for every debate contribution and the “basic cost” of the restoration of the Palace of Westminster is estimated at between £7bn and £18.5bn.

The people of Wales deserve a stronger, more representative Senedd that is better placed to protect them from this crisis and any further crises made worse by an indifferent and out-of-touch government based in London.

Just like the Wales football team, we’ve seen a growing confidence in Wales over the past couple of years. A confidence in our national parliament – in our capability to do things differently.

Last year, the people of Wales voted by a margin of more than 2:1 for parties that stood on a platform of greater powers for the Senedd. The home of Welsh democracy has the full mandate of the people of Wales.