Imagining a constitutional convention for the UK

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On 12 November, Dr Alan Renwick and Katie Ghose spoke at a Unit seminar addressing the question ‘A Constitutional Convention for the UK: What form should it take?’ Sonali Campion reports.

In the wake of the Scottish referendum, the idea of a constitutional convention is gaining popularity. It appeals to the public and the Conservatives are now the only major party resisting a convention in principle. However, as has been discussed on this blog, the process of realising a convention that can deliver subsequent reform is likely to be fraught with difficulties. If Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens or the SNP were pushed to define the nature and purpose of a UK constitutional convention, it is almost certain that any consensus would fall apart very quickly.

At a recent Constitution Unit seminar Dr Alan Renwick, Reader in Politics at Reading University and author of After the Referendum: Options for a Constitutional Convention, and Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, explored in detail the scope and potential of a UK convention.

Renwick opened with the theoretical perspective, urging the audience to consider what would be desirable in a UK convention, and how options should be judged. More specifically, he offered five criteria to assess effectiveness:

  1. It should promote reasoning over the interests or passions of particular groups
  2. The quality of the reasoning is also important. The design of the convention should offer participants the time and support to fully understand the questions under discussion, as well as the implications of suggested solutions.
  3. The process should aim to include all sections of the population
  4. It should have public legitimacy, producing outcomes which can be taken seriously
  5. It should also have political legitimacy so politicians feel an obligation to respect and follow up on outcomes.

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