By Alberto Smith, Alliance Executive at Make Votes Matter

Electoral reform has taken centre stage at every level of Welsh politics in the last few weeks. Thanks to a brilliant campaign led by ERS Cymru and supported by MVM, Powys and Gwynedd councils voted to begin a consultation on changing the voting system for local council elections from First Past the Post (FPTP) to the Single Transferable Vote (STV). Meanwhile in Cardiff Bay, legislators are debating the shape of the Senedd’s most significant transformation since 1998. Both reform proposals are an implicit acknowledgement that to address today’s major challenges, government needs to better reflect the people it serves.

Of course, unlike in local councils, the choice being discussed in the Senedd is not between PR and FPTP. National elections in Wales have been held under a version of the Additional Member System (AMS) since the inception of the Senedd, with 40 MSs elected in single-member districts under FPTP and 20 MSs elected through a list system. The new system proposed in the Reform Bill would see the chamber increase to 96 members elected to one of 16 new constituencies via a closed party list.

In early November, Make Votes Matter was invited to the Senedd to give evidence to the Reform Bill Committee on the proposed legislation. In this session we made the case for seeing PR not simply as a moral endeavour that improves the quality of people’s engagement with politics, but also as a key part of the political infrastructure needed to tackle our greatest challenges.

We welcomed the Welsh Government taking steps to improve the proportionality of its voting system, while noting there is still some room for improvement.

Much of the debate over the Senedd’s enlargement has been with a view to making the executive more functional in light of its new devolved powers, as well as creating greater capacity for scrutiny of its work. We believe that the most effective check on the executive is ensuring that it cannot wield disproportionate power on a minority of the vote. A voting system that better reflects how Wales votes will guarantee that for a government to pass legislation, it must either represent a majority of voters on its own, or reach a broader consensus with other parties in the Senedd. This reform takes us much closer to government by consent and consensus in which a fuller range of opinion can be incorporated.

However, this is not to say that the proposed system is perfect. At the evidence session, we advocated  for the introduction of flexible lists, instead .

A flexible list system in which the number of MS’s elected per constituency can vary – according to geographic and historical factors and/or future demographic changes – has a distinct advantage: it would provide increased personal accountability, by allowing voters to express their opinion on individual candidates, while retaining the simplicity and proportionality present in the existing proposal. Should this not be feasible within the current round of reform, we would hope it was taken up during the 2026 scheduled review.

When asked, the public repeatedly back measures to make politicians more representative of their voting intentions, more diverse and more accountable. People are crying out for a politics that is more effective and capable.

The Welsh Government’s proposals are a welcome step in the right direction. We hope our recommendations on flexible lists, in particular, will be taken in the constructive spirit they were intended, and look forward to further opportunities to support the Welsh Government in their work to ensure an equal stake for all in Welsh democracy.