Wednesday, 14 May 2014

National lists

One of the ‘no-hope’ amendments put forward during the discussion on the Wales Bill in the House of Commons was the replacement of regional lists by a national list.  It wouldn’t be my preferred option; I’ve long been convinced that the best electoral system is STV in multi-member constituencies.  STV not without its problems (no system is), but it seems to me to be the best compromise between electoral accountability and representation of opinion.
I wouldn’t rule out a national list though as an improvement on the present system.  One step forward is better than no steps forward, and holding out for the ‘perfect’ solution shouldn’t stop us from making an improvement if we can.
There are two main positive effects which would flow from the implementation of a national list, in my view.
The first is that the election result would be more proportional than it is now.  The overall composition of the National Assembly would better reflect the range of opinions held by Welsh voters.  Based on the last election, under a national list UKIP, Socialist Labour, the Green Party, and the BNP would all have been represented in the Assembly.  (I can’t say that I’d particularly welcome representation from UKIP, let alone the BNP, but I’m not a great believer in rigging the electoral system to exclude those of whom I disapprove. Their arguments need to be countered, not simply gerrymandered away.)
The second is that it might cause a rethink about the assumption that all AMs are the same and have the same types of responsibilities.  It’s not an assumption that I’ve ever been convinced about.  They are all ‘equal’, of course, and should all have an equal voice in the legislative process, but equality isn’t the same thing as sameness.  I can see advantages in having two different types of AM – all equal when it comes to voting and selection for posts within the Assembly, but with list AMs being less encumbered with constituency casework and freer to become experts in particular fields of legislation.  Would that really be such a terrible thing?
One other thought strikes me as well.  When the legislation for the additional member system was drawn up, did the authors really think through the implications of allowing parties to put candidates on the lists and then not stand in any constituencies at all?  I had thought that the intention was to try and introduce a proportional “top-up” element to offset the result of the FPTP system in the constituencies, but if a party decides not to stand in most – or even all – of the constituencies, is there an injustice to offset? 

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