Submission to the Smith Commission

smithThe deadline for submissions to Lord Smith of Kelvin’s Commission investigating further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament is about to pass. The Democratic Society has submitted a short letter to the Commission requesting that the Cross Party Committee follows a participative and involving process to ensure the views of the Scottish people are properly considered.

You can read the letter below:

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Dear Lord Smith,

I am writing to you on behalf of The Democratic Society, a non-profit membership organisation that aims to build a more participative and involving democracy. We work with a range of institutions such as the Scottish Government, The Cabinet Office, NHS England, Local Authorities, and the European Commission. Our work seeks to reconnect political organisations and institutions with citizens, involving people in democratic conversations, decisions, and policy making, in an open and collaborative manner.

I was immensely proud to experience a wide range of citizen engagement in the lead up the Scottish Independence Referendum. I was so pleased to see 16 and 17 year olds excited by their new found ability to fully take part in the democratic process. I was spirited by the many people that came back to the ballot box after years of disillusionment. I was delighted by the variety of grass roots organisations and movements that campaigned so passionately on both sides, and of course I was buoyed by the extremely high electoral turnout of 84.59%.

This engagement has continued post referendum with membership in various political parties increasing and, as you know, over 11,000 public and group submissions being sent to your Commission.

This should only be the beginning. Democracy is about much more than the ballot box. We have a huge opportunity in Scotland to re-energise our democracy, by giving people the chance to collaborate in decisions that affect their daily lives. There is no better place to start than by carrying out a truly participative process in shaping the future of Scottish devolution. I feel that the Smith Commission could set a fantastic example by encouraging a pioneering citizen-focused process that goes beyond an open call for written submissions, allowing the public to evaluate the proposals put forward by the cross party committee before the suggestions are entered into the legislation process.

If you wish to adhere to your terms of reference by facilitating “an inclusive engagement process across Scotland” you must encourage members of the cross party committee to:

  • Be open: reach out and involve as many people as possible in the decision making process, beyond this initial consultation.
  • Go to where people are: find and create safe spaces for citizens to engage with the future of devolution in Scotland. The Committee should consider “going on tour” and hosting public engagement events.
  • Establish genuine dialogue: while inviting written submissions from the public is a good start, and submissions should be heeded, involving the public in real conversations and co-creating the final recommendations for the draft clauses is much more powerful and conducive to quality decision making.
  • Use a strong mix of offline and online techniques in order to achieve as wide ranging and inclusive process as possible.
  • Close the loop: Any effort a citizen makes to engage should be acknowledged and accompanied with clear feedback that displays their opinion has been listened to, or reasons why their suggestion has not been taken forward. Feedback can help build trust between politicians, law makers and the public. A lack of feedback could result in even deeper disillusionment with the democratic process.

In this submission I have not made any personal recommendations as to what additional powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament; this is because my main desire is for the Scottish People to be able to decide the future of devolution in their country by being involved in a truly participative process.

You recently urged people to “bombard” their MPs and MSPs to make sure their voices are heard in this process. I think you can go further and provide the public with multiple opportunities to be involved in this incredibly important process, despite the tight timescale.

To expand a point made above: decisions about Scotland’s future can no longer be made behind closed committee room doors by the great and the good. The recommendations of your Commission will affect everyone, so it is vital that as many people as possible are involved in dynamic dialogue that will co-create the future of devolution in Scotland. Please make this clear in your report.

Yours sincerely,

Alistair Stoddart,

Scotland Lead, The Democratic Society.

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