by William Rees
The National Assembly for Wales is a devolved parliament in charge of legislating and varying taxes in Wales. It was created in 1999, following the 1997 referendum on the creation of an assembly with powers separate from Westminster. This meant that Wales would have its own legislature to form its own laws and enact policies in devolved areas. Since then, the nature of the Welsh Assembly has changed drastically, having been given more powers following another successful referendum in 2011.
It is extremely important to make the distinction clear between the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government. The Assembly’s website states that it is “the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales, agrees Welsh taxes and holds the Welsh Government to account”. The highest authority within the Assembly is the Llywydd, who chairs all the meetings, similarly to the Speaker in Westminster. The current Llywydd is Elin Jones AM, who represents Ceredigion.
On the other hand, the Welsh Government is the devolved government for Wales. It is formed after an election and made up from a single party or a coalition. It proposes laws on subjects (such as education, health, and the environment) and delivers policies. The leader of the Welsh Government is referred to as the First Minister, a post currently held by the AM for Bridgend, Carwyn Jones.
Unlike elections to Westminster, members of the Welsh Assembly are elected via a semi-proportional electoral system known as an “Additional Members System”. This means that alongside the 40 Constituency AMs elected via First Past the Post (FPTP), there are 20 Additional Members elected via a regional list across Wales’ five different electoral regions.
This is to make up for any disproportionalities that occur as a result of FPTP. In the most recent Assembly elections in 2016, Welsh Labour won 29 seats, Plaid Cymru 12, Welsh Conservatives 11, Welsh UKIP seven and the Welsh Liberal Democrats one. Since then, due to numerous clashes within the different political groups, there are now 12 Conservatives, 10 Plaid Cymru and five UKIP. There are also three independents, one of which – Dafydd Elis-Thomas, AM for Dwyfor Meirionydd – has agreed to work with Welsh Labour alongside the sole Liberal Democrat, Kirsty Williams, to give the government a slim majority of two seats.
Despite the next election being three years away (2021), Welsh politics has been heating up over the summer as all the party groups began to undertake leadership elections.