Reforming Welsh Democracy: Alternative Proposals

Daniel Priestley - Writer & Editor

In this three part series I will explore the current proposals to reforming Welsh local democracy and consider how they could be changed to effectively reinvigorate local democracy in Wales.

If the current system we are using is failing and the proposals from the Welsh Government are flawed then what reforms should be brought in instead? I believe the best option is the mandated rollout of Single Transferable Vote for local elections in Wales.

STV is a proportional representation voting system that uses preferential voting and multi-member wards to produce an outcome with less wasted votes and a higher degree of proportionality. John Stuart Mill, an early advocate for the system, believed that STV was the best voting system to provide accurate and localised representation for voters (Zvulun, 2012).

File:Flag of Wales (1959–present).svg

STV as a system can be used to tackle a lack of diversity in our local politics. Whilst STV itself “may do nothing to promote the election of women” or minorities (Hirczy, 1995), the system can be used in combination with quotas to bring about effective change. Having an increased choice and number of candidates gives scope to adding quotas; as parties usually field multiple candidates under STV in each ward, legislation can be put in place to ensure that one or more of these candidates is female (Buckley, 2012). The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (2019) have put together an interactive website to show how STV can effectively interact with quotas.

In 2002, the Sunderland Commission concluded in their report of Local Electoral Arrangements in Wales that STV should be used for local elections. They argued for councillors to be effective community leaders, the “make up of the council chamber must more broadly reflect the community” (Sunderland, 2002).

One of the key advantages of STV which makes it appropriate for local elections is that “it doesn't remove a local link” (Blair, 2019). Constituencies can still be relatively small, the only difference being that citizens now have multiple councillors representing their interests. The system existed in a “pre-party era” meaning it can easily function with both parties political and independent candidates: a vital feature for local elections (Farrell & Katz, 2014).

The Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 replaced FPTP with STV in Scottish Local Elections in 2007. The premise of this electoral reform in Scotland was that “better democracy leads to better governance” (Steven, 2010).

One of the biggest criticisms of STV is that it is overcomplicated and hard for voters to understand. In the 2007 Scottish Local Elections, the number of spoiled ballot papers rose from 0.64% in 2003 to 1.83% in 2007. However, an independent review of this election by the Electoral Commission (2007) found that this was not because voters did not understand STV, but due to running Scottish Parliament elections on the same day. The review concluded that voters were “treated as an afterthought” and that confusion caused could have easily been avoided. The number of spoiled ballots decreased in 2012 from 38,851 to 27,046 furthering the idea that voters can easily understand STV (SPICe, 2012).

Scottish Voters in 2007 did manage to use STV in sophisticated ways with 78% casting a second preference and 54% offering a third preference (Denver & Bochel, 2007). This pattern continued in the 2012 elections with 81.3% of voters marking a second preference and 52.6% marking a third (Clark, 2013).

Turnout in Scottish Local Elections has not suffered nor has it significantly increased since the introduction of STV. This shows that the voting system won’t necessarily help the problem of disengagement in local politics.

The outcome of the 2007 election was also “considerably more proportional than previous contests held under first-past-the-post conditions” (Clark & Bennie, 2008) which can be seen represented in the comparison of the 2003 and 2007 elections in Figure 1 and 2 below. In 2003, for example, in Glasgow City Council Labour won 71 out of 79 available seats with only 47.6% of the vote (Bochel & Dever, 2004). In 2007 this reduced to 45 seats with 43.31% of first preference allowing for other parties to be adequately represented on the council (Teale, 2007).

Figure 1 - 2003 Scottish Local Election Results by Percentage of Vote Share and Seats Won

Figure 2 - 2007 Scottish Local Election Results by Percentage of Vote Share and Seats Won

Moving away from the Scotland example, we must consider arguments for a complete rollout of STV instead of the currently proposed choice given to local councils. This argument rests on the goals of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill which as previously discussed aims to reinvigorate local democracy and bring about electoral reform (Welsh Government, 2019b).

If we accept the advantages of STV outweigh those of FPTP, and we also accept that councils may be resistant to changing voting system (as seen from the New Zealand example), the only way to bring about effective change is through the complete rollout of the system.


Zvulun, J., (2012). The Single Transferable Vote and Voter Turnout in the 2004 Local Elections. Journal of Political Marketing [online]. 11(3), 123-142. [Viewed 7th January 2020]. Available from: doi: 10.1080/15377857.2012.699392

Hitczy, W., (1995). STV and the Representation of Women. Political Science and Politics [online]. 28(4), 711-713. [Viewed 14th January 2020]. Available from: doi:10.2307/420523

Buckley F., (2012). Ireland offers an exmaple of the way in which gender quotas can be implemented in national parliaments [online]. London School of Economics and Political Science. [Viewed 12th January 2020]. Available from:

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance., (2019). Interactive Overview of Combinations of Electoral Systems & Quota Types [online]. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. [Viewed 15th January 2020]. Available from:

Sunderland Commission., (2002). Improving Local Democracy in Wales: Report of the Commission on Local Government Electoral Arrangements in Wales [online]. blogs.cardiff. [Viewed 8th January 2020]. Available from:

Blair, J, (2019). Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee 11/12/2019 [online]. Assembly.Wales, [Viewed 6th January 2020]. Available from:

Farrell D. & Katz. R, (2014). Assessing the Proportionality of the Single Transferable Vote. Journal of Representative Democracy [online]. 50(1), 13-26.[Viewed 3rd January 2020]. Available from: doi: 10.1080/00344893.2013.902212

Steven, M., (2010). Working with STV: A Report for Parties and Councillors [online]. Electoral Reform Society. [Viewed 11th January 2020]. Available from:

Electoral Commission, (2007). Scottish elections 2007: The independent review of the Scottish Parliamentary and local government elections 3 May 2007 [online]. The Electoral Commission. [Viewed 9th January 2020]. Available from:
Clark, A., (2013).Second time luck? The continuing adaption of voters and parties to the single transferable ote in Scotland. Journal of Representative Democracy [online]. 49(1), 55-68. [Viewed 8th January 2020]. Available from: doi: 10.1080/00344893.2012.742456

Clark, A. & Bennie, L., (2008). Electoral Reform and Party Adapatation: The Introduction of the Single Transferable Vote in Scotland. The Political Quarterly  [online]. 79(2), 241-251. [Viewed 12th January 2020]. Available from: doi: 10.1111/j.1468-923X.2008.00925.x

SPICe The Information Centre, (2012). Local government elections 2012 [online]. The Scottish Parliament. [Viewed 4th January 2020]. Available from:

Bochel, H & Denver, D., (2004). ‘The Last Post’ for First-Past-The-Post? The 2003 Scottish Council Elections. Scottish Affairs [online]. 47(1), 79-98. [Viewed 4th January 2020]. Available from: doi: 10.3366/scot.2004.0028

Denver D. & Bochel H., (2007). A Quiet Revolution: STV and the Scottish Council Elections of 2007. Scottish Affairs [online]. 61(1), 1-17. [Viewed 9th January 2020]. Available from: doi: 10.3366/scot.2007.0050

Teale, A., (2007). Local Election Results [online]. Andrew Teale. [Viewed 5th January 2020]. Available from:

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