Our Senedd must be empowered to take on the role it will inevitably play in the decades to come as the home of Welsh democracy and the legislature of a future independent Welsh state

Rhys ab Owen MS, Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on the Constitution, writes for the Sunday Times 


“And it’s a very good morning in Wales.”

Those words uttered by Ron Davies on that seminal morning in September 1997 would go down in history as the first words in a new chapter for Wales.

I was only ten years old at the time, but I still remember the elation, the relief, and the pride.

Because the people of Wales had spoken. They had voted for a National Assembly for Wales. They had voted for self-determination.

Fast-forward twenty years and our Senedd is no longer an ‘Assembly’ – it is now a fully-fledged parliament with full-law making powers.

And now, Wales has taken another giant step forward with a Co-operation Agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, which will further empower our national parliament via a truly nation building programme of government.

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.

In May this 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.

Westminster's reaction to this mandate so far has been not just to ignore it but to seek to reverse it. They have a plan for Wales; it just doesn't involve us.

Devolution - that most basic democratic principle that decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales - is under attack from Boris Johnson’s sleaze ridden Tory government.

Funding - snatched. Devolved powers - grabbed. And the number of Welsh MPs to be cut by a fifth.

We’re not just low down, we barely register on Westminster’s priority list.

Westminster has never seen itself as Wales’ partner in constitutional terms, but now it is devolution’s enemy, openly seeking every opportunity to subvert and reverse our hard-won democracy.

Our answer to this must be to strengthen our Senedd even further.

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. 

The Scottish Parliament has 129 Members. Stormont has 90. Some county councils have the same – if not more – members than our Senedd.

The 2017 Expert Panel  chaired by Professor Laura McAllister concluded that “a 60 Member Assembly does not have the capacity it needs to fulfil its responsibilities, now and in the future.” They stressed the need for more Assembly Members to ensure that the Senedd was to “work effectively in meeting the scrutiny and legislative challenges and opportunities that it faces today as well as in the future”. 

Professor McAllister has since said, “…our expert panel heard no compelling argument, backed up with real, hard evidence or suggestions for further innovations in working, as to why 60 members is sufficient to properly deliver for the people of Wales – and nor have I since”.

We must now act to ensure that our Senedd and wider democracy reflects our modern nation in all its diversity and reflects all the voices and aspirations of Wales’ citizens.

And act we will.

On Wednesday, the first day of December, Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price, together with First Minister Mark Drakeford, signed a Co-Operation Agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government. The Agreement represents a unique Welsh departure from the British Constitution – in fact, it has been hailed by Adam Price as a “down-payment on independence.”

The Agreement is driven by one core principle: The need to work together to make a real and lasting difference for people in Wales. What better way to do this than to reform our electoral system to enable Wales’ parliamentarians to represent people more effectively and by seriously considering all options for the future of our constitution?

Working together, the Co-operation Agreement enables plans to reform the Senedd – based on 80 to 100 members; ensuring a proportional electoral system that is fairer and more representative – with gender quotas enshrined in law.

We will also support the work of the Senedd Special Purpose Committee and introduce a Senedd reform Bill, twelve to eighteen months after it reports.

It’s not about more politicians. It’s about super-powering our parliament – making it fit to represent our people. Ensuring that the seat of power over Wales, resides in Wales, and not in another country.

Senedd reform also provides an incredible opportunity to reform our electoral system, so it better reflects the communities it serves and engages more citizens in Welsh democracy, increasing political awareness and participation.

With devolution under threat from this Conservative UK Government, we must send a clear message to Westminster that the Senedd is here to stay and decisions about Wales are made in Wales.

The home of Welsh democracy has the full mandate of the people of Wales.

Now, more than twenty years since it was first established, it’s time to take stock and ensure our Senedd is empowered to take on the role it will inevitably play in the decades to come as the home of Welsh democracy and the legislature of a future independent Welsh state.