Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

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 elections—Evidence 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 national contexts.

  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 possible—neutral, 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 guidance.

  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 problem unresolved.

  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.

November 2005


  Bradbury, J & Russell, M (2005), The Local Work of Scottish MPs and MSPs, Evidence to the Arbuthnott Commission

  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, Basingstoke: Palgrave

  Richard Report (2004) Report of the Commission on the Powers and Electoral Arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales

  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)

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