Citizens’ Assembly Summary

Increasingly, UK politicians from all sides of politics have been calling for greater devolution and decentralisation of powers. In fact, the leaders of most political parties have all, at some point, shown support for a shift in powers or a Constitutional Convention on governance in the UK. In part, this is the product the shifting regional dynamics within the United Kingdom.

Advocates argue that the UK remains one of the most centralized countries of its size in the developed world, while UK local government is amongst the most limited in its powers. Many at the local level argue that devolved powers make sense for greater effectiveness and efficiency in providing services, as well as the flexibility needed for economic growth. Others are strong supporters of the notion that decisions should be made at the level closest to the impact of those decisions. However, the notion that devolution is the solution is not held by everyone.

Over the years, politicians of all persuasions have expressed real and reasonable concerns. How will decentralisation result in more say to citizens? How will decentralisation result in the right leaders being held accountable? Will additional financial control come with services having less funding? How do we involve the public more in decision-making when they may lack the time, interest and/or expertise to engage with complex policy issues?

The political currency in these debates has continued to grow in the last few years. The democratic enthusiasm that accompanied the Scottish referendum was followed by the Smith Commission, increasing calls for English Votes for English Laws, commitment to an EU referendum, and Prime Minister Cameron’s pledge ‘to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world’. No longer is the debate over if change will or will not occur, it has shifted to how best it should occur.

Meanwhile, there has been growing momentum behind the use of citizens’ assemblies to embrace such opportunities and deal with such difficult questions.

Examples from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands have all resulted in real policy change with some leading to referendums and constitutional conventions. In the case of Ireland, a broad range of public issues were considered with most notable outcome being the legalisation of same sex marriage.

Clearly, citizen’s assemblies can and do make important contributions to policy and politics. This assemblies project will involve politicians in and around the assembly pilots to demonstrate the potential of this public decision making tool to engage and involve the public in the detail of ‘legislation in the making’.

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