Assemblies for Democracy Outline Proposal: a Roadmap Towards a Citizen-led Constitutional Convention
The aim of this document is to provide some concrete ideas for discussion, rather than a definitive plan. This is envisaged as an iterative process.
During winter 2016-17 we invite democracy campaigners, trade unions, political parties and others to form a steering group to drive the process and work for a citizens-led convention. Between 2017 and 2020 we use a mixture of models to generate proposals for democratic and constitutional change.
Constitutional convention models
Since March 2016 Assemblies for Democracy have been examining how to conduct a citizen led constitutional assembly. Four main methods have emerged:
- The Scottish model, whereby leading members of civil society and politicians come together to develop and agitate for constitutional reform. In Scotland this was for a Scottish Assembly. The advantages are that this kind of grouping is able to bring together and develop the “political muscle” needed to drive through change, using its constituents existing status and ability to broadly reach society and by already having some stake and credibility in the political establishment. Disadvantages are that it is self selecting and will be relatively privileged so cannot assume to speak for “the people”, and has been proven to work primarily for a political project with a pre-conceived and relatively narrow objective.
- Community meetings and assemblies. This is focused on bringing people together in local communities to deliberate on democratic change. Unlock Democracy pursued this model. This methodology is able to generate proposals for political change which are close to people’s experience, empower people and develop community capacity. Disadvantages are that it requires time and capacity to facilitate conversations and develop political understanding in order to generate constitutional and democratic proposals for change, particularly in more apolitical or disadvantaged communities. The proposals generated may also be right for a particular community, but not necessarily representative of the wider community. The individuals involved may stay involved, but there is a danger energy will dissipate, and this model will not have the political muscle of either civil society or politicians, and little hope of contending with power in imbalances. It is largely reliant on the organising body to make the proposals happen. If the groups engaged are broad enough then to this could generate political power (e.g. environmental groups and political groups) however those groups may not be representative of wider society and could be perceived as partisan.
- Constitutional conventions of a stratified, but random, selection of citizens. The Electoral Reform Society and recent conventions held by governments in Iceland, Canada & Ireland have used this model, sometimes including politicians. The advantages are that it is able to claim to be the representative of the “will of the people ” and if well supported produce credible proposals. Disadvantages are the cost, and developing the political muscle to drive proposals forward. Pilots produced by civil society have been successful in opening up demands for bigger government conventions. Governments have a mixed record of following up and/or a tendency to focus on narrow questions that do not challenge existing political power structures.
- Elected/selected members of civil society create a forum to deliberate and develop proposals for democratic reform or even a new constitution, drawing on expertise and conducting community engagement. Iceland used this model, electing people (non politicians) from society drawing on the work of a 900 person citizens convention, designed as above, that looked at values. The elected group then engaged with broader civil society through social media (though with limited capacity to do this thoroughly) over 4 months, producing a full written constitution. The Power Inquiry used this model (selected members) supplemented by community meeting and expert evidence. The advantages are the ability to make fairly radical proposals within a relatively small time frame and fairly cheaply. Disadvantages are that these are more open to privilege bias and members need to be carefully elected/selected and supported by good community engagement to counter this. The proposals need to be championed, lest they rest on the shelf (Power report), or be talked out of parliament (Iceland – though now it could be adopted if the Pirate Party continue their ascendancy in the polls).
Between 2017 and 2020 we use a mix of these models to generate proposals for democratic and constitutional change. This time frame is chosen as it gives enough time to organise and it enables us to influence political parties and citizens in the run up to the election. It will be a tangible exercise that will enable the broader public to understand what a citizen convention is and will likely produce some proposals that people will support. These can then be campaigned for in the run up to the election to include in the 2020 manifestos, and used as an example to advocate for a commitment to hold a broad and ambitious convention, when and if a progressive alliance is elected into government. This will build our profile and momentum.
Winter 2016 seek to create an alliance/steering group of civil society and politicians to drive the process. This is initiated by Assemblies for Democracy, in conjunction with other stakeholders, inviting democracy campaigners, trade unions, political parties and others to come together in a planning group to work for a citizens-led convention/s on the constitution with the aim of creating democratic power based on the sovereignty of the people.
Early 2017 we apply for funding for a trial utilising the random citizen model (with ERS/RSA if possible).
Early 2017 to early Summer 2019 the alliance hold community meetings in places where we have reach, looking at local, regional and European questions of values, democracy and the constitution. We do this in conjunction with other democracy groups, e.g. ERS, Unlock Democracy, Take Back The City, Re-Set, Momentum, the Green Party, Unions, environmental groups and other activist groups and partners.
In the early Autumn of 2019 we hold a citizen and civil society conference on the results (A4D understand there are plans for this kind of event already). People deliberate and vote on the proposals. At this event we elect about 20 participants to developed a report with proposals for constitutional & democratic change.
From Autumn to January/February 2020 these elected people deliberate and produce a report with concrete proposals for change in early spring.
The alliance launch the report and campaign for the results to be adopted by manifestos, implemented in government, and for a full scale citizen led convention to be launched. There is also the possibility that this process gains momentum and builds enough grass roots support amongst society to become, of its own making, a full scale citizen led convention.