The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK – part of the Unit’s current research project examining attitudes to democracy in the UK – will meet for the first time this weekend. The project’s lead, Alan Renwick, here answers five key questions about what the Assembly will do, how it will operate, and why it deserves attention.
This weekend, 75 members of the public, from all walks of life and across the UK, will gather online to begin examining the question ‘How should the UK’s democracy work?’. This Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK is part of the Constitution Unit’s wider research project Democracy in the UK after Brexit, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through its Governance after Brexit programme.
1. What will the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK look at?
The assembly will focus on how people think democracy in the UK should work. What principles do assembly members think the democratic system should uphold in its design and operation? How do they think power within the system should be distributed – in particular, what roles do they think should be played by core parts of the system, including parliament, government, courts, and members of the public? And what behaviours do they expect from politicians and their fellow citizens?
A citizens’ assembly is designed to enable informed discussion, so we cannot cover everything – we have had to make hard choices. We can’t get into the detail of institutions such as the voting system or House of Lords. Nor will we address the territorial dimension of democracy – how power should be distributed between UK-wide and devolved levels, or what powers local councils should have. These matters would require multiple assemblies meeting across the country.
Nevertheless, the discussions and recommendations will be as relevant in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as at UK level. The question of how democracy is best configured and practised applies equally in all these settings.
2. Why do these questions need attention?
Democracy works best when public confidence in its functioning is high. Yet confidence in the operation of the democratic system in the UK (as in many other long-established democracies) is low. Various surveys – including the British Social Attitudes survey and the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement – have mapped this problem over many years. But there has been little attempt to dig deeper into people’s thinking. The project will help fill that gap.Continue reading