The twentieth anniversary of the first elections to the Welsh Assembly passed earlier this month, on 6 May. One day later, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee held its fifth evidence session regarding the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. Laura McAllister believes that the bill contains much needed reforms, arguing here for its proposed lowering of the voting age for Assembly elections to 16.
It seems to me to be a fundamental democratic and constitutional principle that an elected parliament or assembly should be able to determine its own system of election and its own franchise. I spent all of 2017 chairing an Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform having been appointed by the Assembly’s Presiding Officer to make recommendations on the number of Members the Assembly needs, the system by which they should be elected, and the minimum voting age for Assembly elections. We were asked to make recommendations which, provided the required political consensus could be achieved, might be implemented in time for the next Assembly election in 2021. I was fortunate to be joined on the Expert Panel by a stellar line-up of practitioners and academics themselves immersed in parliamentary structures, franchise matters, effective scrutiny, different electoral systems and gender representation. We reported in December 2017, with one of our recommendations being that the franchise should be extended to include young people aged 16 and 17 for the next Assembly elections.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill is currently at stage one of the Welsh legislative process. Amongst other things, it proposes to legislate on votes at 16, bringing Wales in line with Scotland where 16- year olds vote in local and national elections since 2015 (they were also able to vote in the 2014 independence referendum). There are other important elements to the bill. Part 2 proposes a name change to rename the Assembly as the ‘Senedd’ (or Welsh Parliament in English). Some rather technical matters have been raised about how this change is instituted through changes to the Government of Wales Act 2006, alongside concerns over a bilingual (or otherwise) title and the risk of potential legal challenge. Nevertheless, I’d argue that this is a logical and timely move that reflects the move to a reserved powers model of devolution, alongside the accrual of new powers and competences (including over its electoral system) and several important new tax powers meaning the institution is now responsible for one fifth of its fiscal income. The name change might also assist better understanding of the different roles of the Assembly/Parliament (the legislature) and the Welsh Government (the executive), which remains an area of confusion in Wales.Continue reading →
Over 40,000 e-petitions have been submitted to parliament since the current system was introduced in 2015. Cristina Leston Bandeira and Viktoria Spaiser have conducted research into how the public views the consequent parliamentary discussion of issues raised in these petitions by analysing comments made by those watching the live parliamentary coverage. Their findings lead them to conclude that parliamentary debates should be adapted to be more inclusive of the original petitions’ aims.
Parliament introduced an e-petitions system in 2015 with the aim of enhancing its relationship with the public. The system has seen extraordinary levels of usage, with over 40,000 e-petitions submitted and plenty of other evidence of very considerable engagement from the public, such as petitions debates regularly being the most read debates on Hansard. The extraordinary usage is only one element of this new system, however. At the Centre for Democratic Engagement, we have been investigating it, focusing in particular on the more subtle expressions of engagement, beyond usage numbers. We have interviewed petitioners, developed participant observation, and analysed petitions data, parliamentary documentation and social media activity associated with e-petitions.
Some of this research has now started to come out, namely our latest article in Policy & Internet, where we use natural language processing, machine learning and social network analysis of Twitter data to explore what it shows about the extent of people’s engagement, the contents of Twitter e-petition conversations, who is taking part and how they interact. In this blog post we focus on how the public react to the format of the e-petitions parliamentary debates, through their comments on Twitter whilst they watch these debates. Our findings provide interesting insights into how people perceive the e-petition procedures in terms of fairness and responsiveness, suggesting that petition parliamentary debates could be more inclusive of the original petitions’ aims. Continue reading →