Let People not Politicians Decide our Constitutional Future

The Independence Referendum is over and Scotland voted ‘No’. So that’s sorted then, isn’t it. Isn’t it? No, of course it’s not because referendums rarely if ever solve anything. Especially when the result is so close. And whilst it was very clear what voting ‘Yes’ would mean, voting ‘No’ was a rather more vague proposition. In fact, it is turning out, far more vague than you realised!

Too many of the political classes are failing to really appreciate what is happening outside their own world. This was demonstrated in the referendum campaign by all the Westminster parties. I almost expected Milliband to tell us that ‘one of my best friends is Scottish’ after letting slip that, apparently, a relative had once visited. The Tories were marginally better off here, at least there are grouse moors north of the border.

And so to the fallout. How quickly this has descended into an opportunistic land grab for the supposed moral high ground. The Tories sense a Labour weakness (Labour need Scottish votes – though in fact not as often as we’re led to believe, it turns out) and have shamelessly pounced on it. All in the name of fairness and better democracy. Labour in return want a constitutional review. A review to be stocked, of course, by political appointees. The fox is once again to be put in charge of improvements to hen house security.

Neither of these options is good for democracy. You don’t solve the West Lothian question by restricting voting in the House of Commons unless you also reform the House of Lords (and that’s not being mooted). Even if you did, that’s still a parliament for 53 Million people. Hardly devolved. And what about more powers for Wales and Northern Ireland? What about Cornwall? What about Shetland and Orkney for that matter?

I’m not entirely convinced there’s an overwhelming reason to do anything radical, certainly nothing should be done in haste. Indeed such constitutional tinkering risks being no more than a backdoor attempt to further erode the power of the state and, therefore, our democratic franchise. All of this dressed up in populist language for popular, uncritical consumption. But if, as it seems, this agenda is going to gain momentum then perhaps a constitutional review is a good idea. Just not one that is set up by, controlled by and populated by the usual suspects from SW1.

We have a unique opportunity and it’s about to be hijacked by politicians, side-tracked by single issues and the chance wasted. But there’s another way. Democracy can start at the grass roots. In fact it should and when it does it can lead to intelligent debate, fantastic ideas and serious decisions. One that starts without pre-supposing what the outcome is going to be.

People care about their lives and the places they live in and love. They will get involved when they see value in the process. People aren’t engaged in politics or with politicians but they will engage if they feel it matters and can make a difference (just look at Scotland!). Led from Westminster this will be a closed, narrow conversation amongst a shrinking elite. Let’s hold real conversations in local places with local people, connected up and ideas aggregated through social technology. Eight hundred years after Magna Carta, our first constitutional document, was signed, let’s start a real national conversation that can lead to a new citizen-centred and crowd-sourced constitutional settlement. It’s not about politics, it’s about our lives and it can be driven us.

If any of what you’ve just read resonates, it’s probably worth reading Simon Burall’s blog on the same subject over at Involve. Simon, myself and Anthony Zacharzewski from DemSoc have been talking about this and Anthony outlines what we think might be a good way forward here…

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