The Constitution Unit is currently running a Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK as part of its Democracy in the UK after Brexit project. As the Assembly nears the halfway point in its deliberations, the project’s Research Assistant, James Cleaver, describes the principles that have shaped its design.
The first two weekends of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK – which met online on 18–19 September and 9–10 October – have concluded successfully. These initial weekends focused on introducing assembly members to the Assembly process, to the principles of democracy and to the operation of democracy in the UK today. This weekend it will start to focus in on more concrete institutional questions. So now is an appropriate time to review how the Assembly has been designed and how it is going so far.
As the project lead, Unit Deputy Director Alan Renwick, outlined in a previous post, we have recruited the Assembly’s 74 or so members to be representative of the UK population. That matters for two main reasons.
First, diversity of membership means that individuals from all walks of life across all parts of the UK are involved in the discussions. Such a broad range of personal perspectives should lead to more considered and holistic conclusions. Second, representativeness is essential to the legitimacy of the Assembly’s conclusions. The Assembly offers insight into what the country as a whole might think if all citizens could participate in this process.
Bringing together a representative sample of the UK population has not been without its challenges – we saw an unusually high number of individuals withdraw from the process between initial recruitment and the opening weekends. This likely reflects in part the circumstances of this moment in time: as society reopens following months of restrictions, many may find the prospect of spending six weekends on Zoom unappealing. It may also be an inherent feature of running an assembly online: members do not have to plan for a weekend away from home, so the exigencies of their personal lives may be more likely to intervene. In addition, this Assembly is not connected to an official implementing authority, such as government.Continue reading