By Maisie Marston
The ongoing devolution of power means that the Welsh Assembly today is very different to the one established in 1999. The Wales Act 2017 is a game changer for the Welsh Assembly, granting more autonomy to Wales. Most importantly it enables powers over income tax rates, something which hasn’t been exercised in Wales for 800 years, as well as electoral arrangements. This rewriting of the Assembly’s “reserved powers” relationship with Westminster has been met with new plans to set the minimum voting age to 16, change the name of the Welsh Assembly, and expand its membership. The issues of voting age and the name of the Assembly have been pushed forwards in the agenda, meaning that they will be put to Assembly Members (AMs) next week.
In Scotland, the voting age has previously been lowered for Scottish and local government elections and we have already seen that in practice in 2014. In the report of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, chaired by Cardiff University’s Professor Laura McAllister, it is suggested that “a reduction in the minimum voting age to 16 with effect from 2021 would be a powerful way to raise political awareness and participation among young people”. The panel plans to complement this change with “appropriate, effective and non-partisan political and citizenship education”. The consequence of this could be better engagement, giving Welsh school children an opportunity and reason to be interested in politics.
As a result of the transformation of the Assembly’s nature, many people think it needs a new name. In July 2016, AMs agreed that the name change should honour the constitutional status of the assembly as a national parliament. This would of course mean that AMs would now potentially be known as MWPs, just like Scottish members are MSPs. There has been worry that this name might be too easy for the press to bend, as the Welsh word for stupid is “dwp”, for daft is “twp”, and for poo is “pwp”! Many Welsh Conservatives have even expressed concern that it is too easy to make MWP into ‘Muppet’, due to the pronunciation of the Welsh letter ‘w’. Other options have included Welsh Parliament Members (WPMs), but unfortunately for those paranoid members it seems public support lies with MWPs.
Announced on Tuesday, The Welsh Parliament and Elections (Wales) Bill will be debated on the 10th of October. If passed, the legislature’s name will change to Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament, and the Assembly elections’ voting age will be 16. These changes are planned to be implemented by 2021.