Devolution has taken time to become the settled political will in Wales. Two referendums and a quarter of a century after the initial ‘Yes’ vote, the country now looks to Cardiff more than Westminster for leadership.

The problem is that the winds of change have not swept our core institutions along with it. Recently upgraded from its status as an ‘assembly’, the Senedd is still akin to what the journalist Martin Shipton titled his 2011 book: a poor man’s parliament.

Yes, law-making powers have flowed down the M4. More policy areas, such as justice and broadcasting, are not far from Cardiff’s grasp. But the number of elected members has not followed suit.

Wales needs more politicians. Not less, nor the same, but thirty six more in the Senedd for £12 million a year.

A bargain, really. Especially if one considers the costs of restoring the Houses of Parliament (£22 billion); the amount written off by the UK government on unsuitable PPE equipment during the pandemic (£9 billion); or the rising investment that goes into the endless stream of ennobled Conservatives in the House of Lords from taxpayers across Britain.


I am not writing to repeat the often wonkish arguments of why a bigger parliament is needed but to address calls for a mandate to be secured via a referendum – as self-serving, dangerous and hypocritical an argument it is.

It is not pure coincidence that its main champions are the Welsh Conservatives.

First, let me explain that there is some merit to a vote even if you believe in a bigger Welsh parliament. For example, I do not think it would be a contest that would be lost.

Polls say the public want more MSs; the 2011 referendum showed public opinion had turned after a decade of devolution; in addition to how the ‘Yes’ campaign would not only have the support of popular leaders (Mark Drakeford, Adam Price) but third parties: footballers, actors, businesses.

On the contrary, then, a vote would embolden the campaign for greater Welsh self-governance and, again, reaffirm the will of the Welsh people.

Yet there is always risk to referendums, in particular those that have one side arguing for taxpayers’ money to be spent more on the NHS and education rather than on what they’d dub ‘distant bureaucrats.’

Nonetheless I still pity the Welsh Conservatives who froth at the mouth over these proposals.

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Tory tacticians have clearly decided that a referendum is one way to make themselves relevant, though it must be painful for the party’s moderates to think they could gain notoriety by association through such cheap politicking.

Deep, deep down even the devo-sceptics must realise how ridiculous it sounds for a referendum, when there is no such vote on reducing the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 32.

And, of course, the notion of expanding the Senedd was clear in Labour and particularly Plaid Cymru manifestos ahead of the devolved elections, and has been researched in depth by various public sector consultations.

At the time of writing, one petition to stop the expansion of the Senedd has just over 1,000 signatures – best of luck to the organisers hoping to get much more.

The issue of further politicians in Cardiff may exercise some, yet for the majority of the public it is probably seen as the next natural course; a logical step on the devolution journey that is long overdue.

Is it really that drastic? Northern Ireland’s assembly has 90 members despite Wales having almost twice the population of the province, after all. 

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A “crazy idea” to a Welsh Conservative is just common sense to others. The Welsh right may not like being shut out of the corridors of power but they have had the opportunity to be there. They just haven’t taken it, time and again, and make the same tired cheap shots in opposition.

They wish for a referendum that would be damaging and divisive for democracy, re-running unpopular debates started during the Senedd election over the institution’s existence altogether.

Putting the reform plans to the public would undermine not just the two political parties who command a majority in Cardiff, but bodies such as the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform that have considered the evidence and recommended a Welsh Government Bill to be introduced next year.

Should every policy recommendation from Senedd committees go to the public for a confirmatory vote? No matter the result of such a referendum – and I emphasise that it would be a 'Yes' vote – it would be an unpleasant and damaging period for our politics.

The symbolic vote held this week saw a supermajority backing Senedd reforms, the 40 member figure that would be needed to deliver this legislation.

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An expanded Senedd looks pretty guaranteed in the current political climate and could be in place in time for the next election.

It will be no great surprise if calls for a referendum continue, however, led by the secretary of state for Wales. And for what?

It would take a political earthquake for a referendum to be triggered. Let’s hope it never does.

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