Wales Green Party has welcomed the Senedd’s recent decision to allow councils in Wales to adopt a fairer voting system in future local elections, starting in 2022 when the next elections are due to take place. The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill passed by the Senedd on 18 November gives councils the option to drop the unfair First Past the Post system in favour of the Single Transferable Vote, alongside other welcome reforms.
This is a significant move to a fairer, more representative democracy. Councils play a vital role in every aspect of our lives and the wellbeing of our communities and it is crucial that people have a vote that really counts in choosing their representatives in local government. The current, disproportionate, winner-takes-all, first-past-the-post system often results in councils being controlled by one party, despite achieving less than a majority of votes and frustrates voters in safe seats who are left feeling their vote has no value. This disillusionment results in increasingly lower voter turnout, with many seats across the country going uncontested.
The fairer and more democratic single transferable vote (STV) system could help fix this broken system by giving an equal voice to all voters. This would also result in more diverse representation in local government, with councils reflecting more fairly the communities they work for. In the last elections in Wales only 28 per cent of councillors elected were women.
Other measures in the Bill include extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year olds and to all foreign citizens legally resident in Wales. Giving the vote to 16 and 17-year olds brings local elections in line with Senedd elections, where this group will have the vote for the first time next year. As in other nations of the UK, young people in Wales are playing an increasingly vital part in the campaigns to tackle climate and social justice issues and it is only right that the voice of future generations are given a democratic say in the decisions that will impact most on their futures.
The Bill also introduces Automatic Voter Registration, another welcome change that will help increase participation and strengthen local democracy. As a party that has long campaigned on these issues of electoral reform, Wales Green Party welcomes these changes that have the potential to truly change and revive local democracy in Wales. We would argue that the Bill should have gone further and legislated for a change to the STV in these elections in all local authorities across the country, as opposed to allowing individual councils to make the decision themselves.
We would now urge all councils across Wales to make this change and ditch the archaic First Past the Post system. Or else, we risk a situation where votes in some parts of Wales are fairer than in others.