Citizens’ assemblies are suddenly in vogue. National, devolved and local bodies (including several Commons committees) have held or are intending to make use of citizens’ assemblies to seek guidance on topics such as climate change and social care. At the same time, senior politicians are now advocating for an assembly on Brexit. However, citizens’ assemblies are not a miracle cure: like any method of determining the public will, they have limitations. In order to explore the benefits of citizens’ assemblies, the Unit organised a seminar to discuss how they work, best practice and when they should be used. Lucie Davidson summarises the main contributions.
On 1 July, the Constitution Unit held an event entitled ‘Citizens’ Assemblies: What are they good for?’. Speaking were Joanna Cherry QC MP, SNP Justice and Home Affairs Spokesperson at Westminster; Sarah Allan, Head of Engagement at Involve; Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee; and Professor Graham Smith, Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster. Chaired by the Unit’s Deputy Director, Alan Renwick, the event discussed past use of assemblies, what they can be best used for in the future, and what constitutes a ‘good’ citizens’ assembly.
Joanna Cherry offered an overview of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, which was announced by Nicola Sturgeon in April. Just as Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly and Constitutional Convention were born out of a time of crisis following the financial crash in 2008, the constitutional crisis caused by Brexit stimulated the political interest necessary for the creation of Scotland’s own assembly. The Brexit process has reignited debate about the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK; Scotland voted to remain in the EU but has had ‘no say’ in the Brexit negotiations. In addition, if Brexit happens, Scots will lose their EU citizenship, despite the argument that independence was a threat to Scotland’s place in the EU being a prominent part of the 2014 ‘No’ campaign. A recent poll by the Sunday Times has indicated a majority of Scots would vote for independence if faced with a ‘no deal’ Brexit or a Boris Johnson premiership. Continue reading