Super-Majority Requirement Would Be a Very Good Thing; the Scottish Independence Referendum Opened Up Huge Debate over the Future of the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Here, Professor Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre, Looks at the Arguments over Devolving the Responsibilities of National Assembly Elections to the Assembly Itself, Who Currently Makes the Rules and Who Should Make the Rules

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Super-Majority Requirement Would Be a Very Good Thing; the Scottish Independence Referendum Opened Up Huge Debate over the Future of the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Here, Professor Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre, Looks at the Arguments over Devolving the Responsibilities of National Assembly Elections to the Assembly Itself, Who Currently Makes the Rules and Who Should Make the Rules


t is often said that the United Kingdom doesn't have a constitution.

I(Thus, the renowned constitutional expert Prof Vernon Bogdanor has quipped that his entire career has been based on talking about something that doesn't exist!) That is not quite true. The UK does not possess a single document termed a Constitution. But the functional equivalent of one does exist - albeit spread across various Treaties, Acts of Parliament and other documents, and placing far fewer restrictions on the law-making abilities of parliament than most democratic constitutions do.

The UK's devolved institutions, however, are in a somewhat different position.

The various Acts establishing them and revising their powers operate as the very close equivalent to a written constitution: a core text that does much to define the main governmental institutions, their shape, and the scope and scale of their powers.

Among the things that such legislation determines is how the institutions are elected. In Wales, the 1998 Government of Wales Act provided for a 60-seat National Assembly, with 40 seats to be elected on a constituency basis and 20 seats to be elected from five regional lists.

The 2006 Government of Wales Act made one specific amendment to the electoral system: it prevented individuals from standing as candidates both in a constituency and on a party regional list (so called 'dual candidacy'). The current Wales Bill provides for the removal of that ban on dual candidacy.

But common to all these pieces of law is that control over how the NAW is elected has been retained wholly within the hands of Westminster.

The same is true for the other devolved chambers as well: while the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly have many powers, they cannot alter the systems under which they are elected. The electoral systems remain firmly under the control of parliament in London.

Things are different for local government.

There was a major reform of the electoral system for Scottish local government introduced in time for the 2007 Scottish local elections.

The Single Transferable Vote system was introduced - a very different system to the mix of single- and multi-member district plurality used previously.

This was done entirely by an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

In Wales, Local Government is one of the twenty subjects that are devolved to the Assembly; therefore, it would be possible for the NAW to alter the electoral system, and other aspects of how local elections are conducted, in Wales.

Thus, the devolved chambers are in the slightly ironic position where they control the electoral system used by other entities - Welsh local authorities - but have no control over how they, themselves, are elected.

In this context, it was interesting to read the following point within the recent joint statement made by the four party leaders in the Welsh Assembly: "7. Calls on the UK Government to give the National Assembly for Wales the power to determine its electoral arrangements."

I welcome this statement, and would welcome the change if enacted. However, I do so with a signifi-cant qualification.

Political parties are, inherently and unavoidably, interested actors with regards to electoral systems. …

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Super-Majority Requirement Would Be a Very Good Thing; the Scottish Independence Referendum Opened Up Huge Debate over the Future of the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Here, Professor Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre, Looks at the Arguments over Devolving the Responsibilities of National Assembly Elections to the Assembly Itself, Who Currently Makes the Rules and Who Should Make the Rules
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