NGOs and academics launch pilot ‘citizen assemblies’ to discuss UK’s constitutional future

Academics and civil society organisations will bring together citizens and politicians in October and November in a ground-breaking project to debate Britain’s constitutional future.

Issues such as local devolution, decentralisation and new ‘City Regions’ will be discussed, with a view to making proposals as to where Britain goes from here – and where power should lie in the UK.

With the government’s flagship Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill currently making its way through Parliament, the pilots are expected to be a crucial and rare opportunity for citizens to engage with the detail of ‘legislation in the making’.

The two pilots, led by a project team of leading academics and the Electoral Reform Society, will take place in Southampton and Sheffield are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The conventions will involve leading academics and practitioners from around the world to ask where power lies in the UK – and what needs to change. The Advisory Board includes leading researchers and practitioners involved in the Canadian, Irish and Scottish of constitutional conventions.

Each pilot ‘constitutional convention’ will comprise of 45 representative participants selected to reflect local demographics, and will take place over the course of three weekends.

In Hampshire the assembly will be comprised of one third politicians; two-thirds citizens, while the Yorkshire assembly will be composed entirely of citizens. The different set-ups of the pilot citizen assemblies will allow a unique comparison between the different models of citizen assemblies in a UK context, following similar national conventions in Ireland and Canada – the former of which led to the recent equal marriage vote.

Over the course of two weekends, participants will consult with experts and lobbyists on different constitutional models, before deliberating and deciding amongst themselves on the various options for Britain’s democratic structure. The assemblies’ findings will be presented to ministers, shadow ministers and leading parliamentarians who will be urged to respond to their recommendations.

Employing cutting edge research methods, the assemblies will be the first of their kind in the UK, and hope to serve as a gateway for a potential UK-wide constitutional convention on Britain’s democratic direction in the future.

Professor Matt Flinders, Principal Investigator for the Project, said:

“With the government currently putting through its key devolution Bill, these Citizen’s Assemblies will be a vital chance for local people to have their say. At the same time, these pilots will play a key role in fostering the knowledge and expertise needed to conduct a potential UK-wide constitutional convention in the future”

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“With Britain’s constitutional future in a state of complete flux, now is the time to bring all the big debates about our democracy together to ask where power lies in the UK and to pave a path for reform.”

“These ground-breaking pilot citizens’ assemblies offer a real chance to explore the pressing issues that are affecting Britain’s democratic future – from the state of the union to our broken voting system.”

“The constitutional conventions could pave the way for a proper national debate next year on the UK’s democratic direction – where we are heading as a country. Devolution, English votes for English laws, and the Scottish independence campaign all point to the need to set out a path for Britain’s constitutional future, instead of us drifting from one kind of state to another. “

“We can’t reform our country in a piecemeal fashion – citizens need a say in where we go from here. These pilots will be an essential starting point in that journey.” 

Notes

  1. An ERS briefing paper on ‘How to do a Constitutional Convention’ is available here: http://electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/How%20to%20do%20a%20Convention%20Mar%202015.pdf
  2. Dr Alan Renwick’s report After the Referendum: Options for a Constitutional Convention can be accessed here: http://www.consoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/J1847_Constitution_Society_Report_Cover_WEB.pdf
  3. This research is funded by the ESRC.
  4. The dates for the pilot weekends will be: Sheffield: 17th-18th October and 7th-8th November, Southampton: 24th-25th October and 14th-15th November
  5. Core project team: Professor Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield); Professor William Jennings (University of Southampton); Dr Alan Renwick (University College London); Katie Ghose (Electoral Reform Society); Professor Gerry Stoker (University of Southampton); Dr Rosie Campbell (Birkbeck College, University of London); Professor Graham Smith (University of Westminster)
  6. Advisory Board: Titus Alexander (Democracy Matters); Simon Burrall (Involve); Ken Carty (University of British Columbia); John Denham (Southern Policy Centre); David Farrell (University College Dublin); Wendy Faulkner (Beltane Network); Ailsa Henderson (University of Edinburgh); John Keane (University of Sydney); Nicola McEwen (Centre on Constitutional Change); Peter Riddell (Institute for Government); Jonathan Rose (Queens University, Ontario); Alexandra Runswick (Unlock Democracy); Willie Sullivan (ERS, Scotland); Joe Twyman (YouGov); Henk van der Kolk (University of Twente, Netherlands).

For more information, contact the project’s Nexus Officer at Edward.molloy@electoral-reform.org.uk.

Phone 020 3714 4071

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