Written evidence from Dr Jonathan Bradbury,
Department of Politics and International Relations, University
of Wales Swansea and & Dr Meg Russell, Constitution Unit,
University College London
Better Governance for Wales: the proposal
to abolish dual candidacy in National Assembly electionsEvidence
to the Welsh Affairs Committee
This evidence assesses the proposal to abolish
dual candidacy in National Assembly (NAW) elections. First, it
looks at the NAW electoral system in comparative context. Secondly,
it looks at the case for the reform. Thirdly, it looks at the
case against it.
The discussion echoes the view expressed in
evidence to the Arbuthnott Commission that abolishing dual candidacy
is an option worthy of consideration for solving perceived problems
of electoral representation in Britain's mixed member electoral
systems (Bradbury and Russell, 2005, 58).
1. The National Assembly electoral system
in comparative context
1.1 Among mixed member (MM) electoral systems
dual candidacy has only been abolished in the Ukraine. The research
literature does not discuss the potential of abolishing dual candidacy
more widely. That said, the comparative literature suggests that
we should see the NAW electoral system as highly distinctive,
and that in developing any MM system there is much scope for variation.
From this basis abolition of dual candidacy emerges as a reasonable
reform option for the NAW. These points need some explanation.
1.2 The mixed-member (MM) electoral system
is a general type of which there are two principal sub-types:
mixed member majoritarian (MMM) and mixed member proportional
(MMP). The NAW is an example of the latter. What distinguishes
MM systems is that in the MMM type there is no seat linkage between
elections for constituency seats and list seats. Irrespective
of results in constituency seats, parties receive list seats equal
to the proportion of the list votes they have received. In MMP
electoral systems, however, there is a seat linkage, meaning that
the allocation of list seats is corrective of disproportional
results in constituency seats.
1.3 Shugart and Wattenberg's survey of MM
systems showed that the great majority are of the MMM type (Shugart
& Wattenberg, 2001). They identified only four cases of MMP
at the national level. The electoral reforms in Scotland and Wales
were therefore of substantial interest in that they represented
additions to the still very small band of MMP electoral systems.
The Welsh case, however, is distinctive even among MMP electoral
systems in that whilst it does clear a recognised 25% list seats
threshold to call it an MMP system (Farrell, 2001) in having only
33% list seats it is much less explicitly aimed at proportionality
than other MMP systems.
1.4 The Welsh system has most in common
with the systems recently proposed in New Brunswick and Prince
Edward Island in Canada. Both have considered reform in the context
of a Westminster system, in which the simple plurality voting
system has been used in single member districts. In New Brunswick
the proposal has been for an almost identical 2/3 constituency
1/3 list seats split in an assembly of very similar size to the
Welsh Assembly. The expectations are that reform would relax the
dominance of a single party, guarantee the existence of an effective
opposition, as well as allow a range of executive outcomes. It
is precisely in this system that the proposal to disallow dual
candidacy has also been made.
1.5 The lesson to draw from this discussion
is that one should be very careful how one places the NAW into
comparative perspective. Comparison with MM systems as a whole
is problematic given the fact that the bulk are of the MMM type.
Even within the family of MMP electoral systems the National Assembly
system is quite distinctive and has relatively few close comparators.
1.6 Equally, it is important to recognise
that the distinction between MMM and MMP types, and then within
MMP types, is indicative of the fact that there is no body of
"fixed" practice in the detailed operation of MM systems.
Variation has been suggested or practiced on a wide range of issues,
including seat linkage in the allocation of list seats; vote linkage
in the allocation of list seats; whether voters have one or two
votes; the formula used for allocating list seats; the operation
of thresholds; district magnitude for constituency and list seats;
and whether lists are open or closed. Changes on any of these
issues have implications for both parties and individual candidates.
MM electoral systems are generally defined by their openness to
experimentation, and usage of mechanisms that take account of
1.7 In this context, a proposal to abolish
dual candidacy emerges as an idea that is legitimate for debate,
given the parallel development of the same idea in another proposed
MMP system most comparable to that of Wales, and the highly varied
usage of other mechanisms in MM systems that have affected both
candidates and parties.
2. Abolishing dual candidacy: three problems
it may address
(a) Public disquiet over defeated constituency
candidates winning list seats
2.1 This is the principal problem cited
in the White Paper. However, it is the weakest part of the case
given the lack of clear evidence to prove that there is a problem.
The advocacy of disallowing dual candidacy in New Brunswick was
based on a consensus in the electoral commission that both representatives
and the electorate would consider it wrong that a candidate voted
out in a constituency election should nevertheless still get elected.
Again, though, this was not backed up by research.
2.2 Generally, it would appear that possible
public disquiet about constituency losers winning list seats is
intuitively a reasonable concern, suggesting the logic of abolishing
dual candidacy. However, there is no evidence that there actually
is public disquiet. Of course, there is also no evidence to clearly
prove that there is not.
(b) Labour constituency AMs' perceptions of
inequality between candidates
2.3 A stronger argument can be made that
dual candidacy is unfair in the extra opportunities for election
it provides individual candidates from the major opposition parties
compared to those standing for Labour. This is not a universally
held opinion. One view may be that many Labour constituency AMs
have relatively "safe" seats and in comparison candidates
for other parties face a struggle to get elected in the small
number of constituency seats left or on the list. However, Labour
candidates' defeats in "safe" seats such as the Rhondda,
Llanelli and Islwyn in 1999, without hope of compensatory list
election, provides a sharp corrective to this view. Labour candidates
would argue that the important thing is that they only
have prospects of being elected in constituency seats (with the
possible exception of one seat in Mid and West Wales) compared
to many opposition party candidates having genuine opportunities
in both constituency and list elections
2.4 This emerges as a distinctive problem
for Labour candidates in Wales if we compare with other MM systems.
In MMM even a list candidate standing for a party which has won
nearly all the constituency seats has a chance of being elected
because the list seats are allocated entirely independently of
constituency results. In the case of MMP, taking Germany as a
key example, candidates from the major parties also have a chance
of being elected by either means. This is for two reasons. First,
50% of the seats are list seats, meaning there are sufficient
to go round. Second, party competition throughout Germany is based
predominantly on two major parties. Thus, most constituencies
are won by a major party candidate, but the defeated major party
candidate as long as (s)he is high up the party list is also able
to get elected as well as many minor opposition party candidates
on the list.
2.5 The limits to individual Labour candidates'
prospects arise from the operation of the electoral system. Labour's
success as the only major party in constituency seats is relatively
very high and the proportion of list seats is relatively very
low. Labour would have to lose a significant number of constituency
seats before becoming eligible for many list seats. It could be
plausibly argued that the abolition of dual candidacy would correct
an inequality over the number of opportunities for election between
individual candidates of different parties, which is fairly distinctive
to Wales, by establishing that all candidates would have only
one route to election.
(c) Constituency AMs' critiques of equal status
for List AMs
2.6 A related argument is that, partly because
of their feeling of vulnerability to competition, constituency
AMs (predominantly Labour) have also developed critical views
of sitting List AMs. These views arise largely from the perception
that many List AMs engage in seat targeting, in which they focus
local representation on a particular constituency to help them
in a future election campaign when they will stand for that constituency
as well as on the party list. Survey data, based on a 50% AM response
rate, gives some support to the view that List AMs do significantly
more local constituency work if they stand as dual candidates
in elections than if they just stand as list candidates. Interview
data also partly confirms that targeting has been engaged in by
Conservative List AMs (Bradbury & Mitchell, forth, 2006).
2.7 The fact that List AMs play local representative
roles and in some instances focus on targeted constituencies may
not be a bad thing in itself. One may debate whether it creates
unnecessary duplication and confuses the public or whether it
inspires beneficial competition and gives constituents more choice.
However, in the context of them facing the comparatively distinctive
limitation of not having the same recourse to a compensatory form
of election if they are subsequently defeated in a constituency
contest, Labour constituency AMs view List AM constituency work
negatively. It has led to the politicisation of the status of
List AMs. In 2004, while List AMs overwhelmingly supported the
current lack of guidance on member roles, 75% of constituency
AMs disagreed or strongly disagreed. 70% of constituency AMs did
not think that there should be equal status between constituency
and List AMs, or that List AMs should have the same level of allowances.
65% of constituency AMs thought that list AMs should prove that
they are working in more than two constituencies in their region,
suggesting support for the introduction of something akin to the
Scottish Parliament guidance. Only on the issue of having to call
themselves by their "Constituency" or "List"
title rather than referring to themselves as the "local member"
was there agreement between them.i
2.8 Such attitudes have been corrosive in
relationships between AMs and threaten some reform options that
would poison relations further. The abolition of dual candidacy
may be viewed as preferable in that as well as correcting perceived
inequalities between candidates standing at election it might
reduce tensions between members once elected. It is unlikely to
be a panacea for all the ills perceived by constituency AMs. Even
if sitting List AMs are not intending to be candidates in future
constituency contests, one would still expect them to contribute
to general party efforts in marginal seats. Where sitting List
AMs wished to keep their options open one would expect their efforts
to be even keener. In sustaining equal status between AMs this
should be accepted as a normal competitive dimension of representative
politics. Nevertheless, abolishing dual candidacy would probably
have quite a big impact on the local roles adopted by many List
AMs by reducing their incentives to compete in representing constituencies.
Those who consider the current incentives for List AMs to play
constituency roles to be excessive, undermining incentives to
play other more strategic Assembly roles, would consider that
a better balance may be struck. In such a way many of the heightened
tensions that fuel criticisms of list members and advocacy of
reforms of List AMs' rights might be lowered.
3. Abolishing dual candidacy: two problems
it may create
(a) Introduce reform that looks deeply partisan
3.1 Wyn Jones and Scully (2005, 4.4) suggest
"that electoral systems and arrangements in a representative
democracy should be, as far as possibleneutral, and not
matters of partisan dispute . . . Any changes that create the
perception of partisanship . . . are therefore highly problematic
by definition, and may well undermine public confidence. At the
very least, such changes should have other compelling, overwhelming
advantages if they are to be justifiable". They suggest that
Better Governance for Wales does not offer any other reasons why
dual candidacy should be abolished. Public disquiet is not proven
and in that they accept that relationships between constituency
and List AMs are problematic they suggest that this would be better
solved by having a national list and Scottish Parliament Style
3.2 Answering the charge of perceived partisanship
is a major challenge. In the case of Wales, MMP has been introduced
in to a country where there has been a long standing one party
dominance under a simple plurality electoral system. Labour can
justifiably claim that MMP has diminished their prospects of a
guaranteed hold on power, and opened Wales up to a variety of
options in executive formation. However, the MMP system is only
a revision of simple plurality under which Labour are seen to
have sustained much of their partisan advantage. It may well be
that Labour have no consistent stake in list as well as constituency
seats, which causes problems for constituency-list member relations.
However, in a system, under which Labour can still generally be
the largest party, any mechanism that seeks to overcome problems
generally experienced only by Labour AMs, will also be open to
being seen as partisan. It may be worth reminding Labour AMs that
whilst they may feel individual resentments at "unfair"
competition from List AMs, the current electoral arrangements
were created with their party's overall aim to remain the
largest party in mind. They are in danger of being seen to want
their cake as well as to eat it.
3.3 Nevertheless, if one regards individual
Labour AMs' perceptions of inequality between candidates and the
criticism by predominantly Labour constituency AMs of the roles
and rights of List AMs in the NAW as problems that should be addressed,
then something needs to be done. The problem then is that all
of the available options may be seen as partisan, although arguably
none of them have any implications for party electoral fortunes.
Let us consider four principal options and the likely problems
of perceived partisanship.
3.4 First, a logical approach would be to
explore giving Labour an interest in list seats by introducing
vote linkage as well as seat linkage into the allocation of list
seats. As Shugart and Wattenberg suggest (2001, 16) "parties
that outperformed their list vote in a nominal tier district (constituency)
would have the difference added to their list votes, thereby boosting
large parties' overall seat share while maintaining a fundamentally
compensatory allocation of list-tier seats". This would need
exploration, and might require changes in the ratio of constituency-list
seats to ensure that while Labour had the opportunity to win more
list seats other parties had the opportunity to win more constituency
seats. Nevertheless, almost certainly the introduction of any
mechanism that artificially created extra list votes for Labour
would be open to portrayal as gerrymandering.
3.5 Secondly, it may appear logical instead
to have a debate about the purpose of list members other than
to make the overall result more proportional. This could lead
to formal resolutions that list members perform different roles.
However, the allocation of different roles is highly problematic,
and even if achieved could compromise the principle of equal status
between members, and the allocation of equal allowances. Any such
development which changed the roles and rights of List AMs against
their wishes would be open immediately to the charge of partisanship.
3.6 Thirdly, it may equally be argued that
list members should be elected from a national list or have their
roles constrained by Scottish Parliament Style guidance. However,
list members are opposed to being elected on a national basis,
suggesting they might resist such a move as "partisan",
and a national list would be open to the accusation of under-representing
North Wales, and/or opening the floodgates to Cardiff-centric
lists. Guidance would also be open to the criticism that list
members were being discriminated against. List member acquiescence
to the guidance in the Scottish Parliament has only come with
the realisation that it has little teeth (Bradbury & Mitchell,
forth 2006). Indeed this casts much doubt on whether it would
achieve what Labour AMs would expect, thereby leaving the original
3.7 Abolishing dual candidacy presents itself
as the fourth option. It has already been discussed as to how
it might address the potential problems of public confusion, Labour
constituency AM perceptions of unequal candidacy and critiques
of equal status with List AMs. Conversely, the abolition of dual
candidacy can be presented as partisan in the sense that it is
suggested that it will create problems for the major opposition
parties in deciding whether to place their best candidates in
constituencies or on lists. This needs some further consideration
(see below) but of all the possible reform options it is potentially
the least open to the charge of partisanship. Whilst it may affect
decisions over candidate selection, significantly it leaves well
alone options which have definite consequences for the allocation
of votes, and/or reforming the status and role of List AMs.
(b) Make it difficult for opposition parties
to get their major figures elected and thereby also reduce the
quality of representation
3.8 Wyn Jones and Scully (2005, 4.2 and
4.3) assert that a key problem in abolishing dual candidacy is
that while "there is no reason why electoral arrangements
should seek to make life easy for opposition parties"
it may cause difficult choices for parties as to whether to stand
their best candidates in constituencies or on lists. In that some
may then lose, there may then be not only an adverse partisan
effect but also problems for the "quality of representation".
3.9 There are two objections to this argument.
First, if it is accepted that on an individual basis "major
figures" in opposition parties currently have more opportunities
for election than "major figures" in the Labour party
then the abolition of dual candidacy should be seen as correcting
a previous advantage to opposition parties. Even so, while making
such selection decisions harder than they were it would still
leave opposition parties a reasonable level of choice as to where
such candidates are best stood. Labour generally does not have
such a choice, basically only having prospects in constituency
seats, and would not do so until it lost a lot of constituency
seats. Indeed the principal "major figure" to have been
defeated so far is Labour's Wayne David in the apparently "safe"
seat of the Rhondda in 1999.
3.10 Secondly, the protection of the "best"
candidates as perceived by the parties is a dubious criterion
on which to base an electoral system, and one ought to view critically
the claim that the defeat of such people will be "problematic
for the quality of representation". To turn the argument
on its head, abolishing dual candidacy may help to widen the pool
of recruitment by giving more effective chances of winnable candidacy.
In contrast to the heady days of interest in candidacy before
1999 the reality in 2003 was that 17 of the 20 list members elected
had also been constituency candidates. Labour and Plaid Cymru
have both used positive discrimination procedures in list selection,
involving a de facto subversion of dual candidacy, to improve
the quality of representation. The greater availability of winnable
candidacy positions and the maximisation of incentives to compete
in constituencies, knowing that there is no safety net of a regional
list seat, may create further improvements.
Reforming the NAW electoral system on a revised
MMP basis is inherently difficult, given the distinctive nature
of the system, the variety of reform options available, and likely
perceptions of partisanship. The Richard Report (2004) advocated
STV, and while it has not been discussed here, this alternative
approach faces very similar difficulties. Despite this both sets
of proposals have merit in trying to think through the problems
of electoral representation, without necessarily impacting upon
party interests. While STV may yet be a basis for renewed further
consideration, reformed MMP on the basis outlined in the White
Paper is at least a plausible basis for incrementally developing
the current system to solve perceived problems without necessarily
causing new ones.
Bradbury, J & Russell, M (2005), The
Local Work of Scottish MPs and MSPs, Evidence to the Arbuthnott
Bradbury, J & Mitchell, J (2006) "The
constituency roles of members of the Scottish Parliament and National
Assembly for Wales' Journal of Legislative Studies, forth
Farrell, D (2001) Electoral Systems,
Richard Report (2004) Report of the Commission
on the Powers and Electoral Arrangements of the National Assembly
Shugart, M & Wattenberg, M. (2001) Mixed
Member Electoral Systems, Oxford: OUP
Wyn Jones, R. and Scully, R (2005) Electoral
Arrangements and Electoral Politics after the White Paper,
Evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee
i All of these findings are drawn from the
project, "Multi Tier Politics and Its Impact on Local Representation
in Scotland and Wales (ESRC L219252103), 2002-2005. This research
was conducted by Dr J.Bradbury (UWS), Dr Meg Russell (UCL) and
Professor James Mitchell (Strathclyde)