Calls for citizen assemblies to encourage democratic participation in devolution

Citizens’ assemblies can be used to encourage direct democratic participation in the devolution process, according to a new report published today.

The research, conducted by the Electoral Reform Society on behalf of Democracy Matters reports the findings of two randomly chosen assemblies, one in the north and one in the south, who were asked to design a new devolved electoral body.

The report concludes that the majority of assembly members support greater devolution, but that they want to be directly involved in the process rather than have it imposed on them, and that they are able to engage with complex constitutional matters when provided with enough information.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “English devolution is the biggest shakeup to local democracy for decades – yet voters have been left out of the conversation, unable to shape how their areas are changing.

“A top-down model for devolution simply won’t last, so this report and event will be central to changing the debate and finally letting the public in.”

Assembly North, made up only of citizens, voted on the design of a devolved Yorkshire assembly, which they voted should cover the whole of Yorkshire, be modelled on the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, and have tax-raising and law-making powers.

Assembly South, made up of citizens and elected politicians, voted for a directly elected body covering Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Professor Matthew Flinders, principal investigator for the Democracy Matters project and founding director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “Forget the pessimism that usually surrounds public attitudes to politics.

“What the Democracy Matters project really revealed was a public appetite for opportunities to learn about public policy and to engage with politics. It also revealed the capacity of the internet to deepen and broader democratic engagement and also how 'doing politics differently' can actually be quite fun!”

The report will be launched at 3.30pm on 13 April at the House of Commons, with speakers from all parties, including Dominic Grieve, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield, and Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North.

Allen said: “The people of Britain are crying out for a constitutional convention with people of every party and none participating. Democracy Matters shows that we need millions of founding mothers and fathers to write a democratic settlement ahead of the 2020 Parliament. Let’s get on with it.”

The current English devolution process has run into difficulties, with Lord Kerslake recently calling it ‘piecemeal and incoherent’ and devolution measures proposed in the Budget being rejected by Cambridgeshire county council.



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