Scottish Home Rule: More Power to whom? The need for citizen participation.


logo1CFHRAs of 5 o’clock on Halloween it transpired that Lord Smith of Kelvin and the members of his cross partycommittee were going to have a lot of reading to do over the coming weeks. This was due the phenomenal response to their call for submissions from the public on what additional powers should be devolved to Scotland via the Scottish Parliament. There was over 14,000 submissions sent to the Commission which underlines that the public sees the issue of further devolution as a very important one, and people want to be part of that process. The Democratic Society wrote to the Commission and asked them to ensure “as many people as possible are involved in dynamic dialogue that will co-create the future of devolution in Scotland.”

Another submission which has the potential to involve citizens in shaping Scotland’s future is the Campaign for Scottish Home Rule. The Home Rule cause is led by cross party steering group and wishes to see the devolution of responsibility to Holyrood and, “at the very least, the Scottish Parliament having control over those reserved powers which are linked to current devolved responsibilities.” The Home Rule Committee has also called for Holyrood to have responsibility over the tax and borrowing powers required to make Scotland responsible for raising the money that it will spend. It also wishes for a culture of “mutual respect” between parliaments to prevail and consider “other ways to strengthen the security of the constitutional position of Holyrood.”

Demsoc in its nonpartisan capacity would not wish to comment on the positives and negatives of the proposals the Home Rule Campaign has put forward. However, what is interesting is that the full shape of a “Home Rule Scotland” is not yet clear, and there is an opportunity for politicians to let the citizen in to co-create the kind of Scotland they would like to live and work in. In particular, it seems that the campaign is willing to consult the public on what powers should be devolved and what powers should remain in Westminster.

Their recent briefing on responsibilities devolved noted that “as part of our consultation process, we want to hear what other powers people think should be devolved, or the justification for them remaining at Westminster.” The document also featured over 70 policy areas that could be devolved, from access to information to weights and measures. That is a lot of decisions to make and areas to explore. That is why I feel it is important for the Campaign for Home Rule to also ensure “as many people as possible are involved in dynamic dialogue that will co-create the future of devolution in Scotland.”

How can this be done? At the very least there should be a series regional events held across the country that explore the policy areas referenced above and that attempt to find the right balance of powers for Scotland. These events should be participative, conversational and deliberative. Digital Democracy Platforms (of which there are many) could be used to prioritise policy areas the people of Scotland find to be the most important and need to be devolved.

Perhaps the Campaign for Home Rule could also learn lessons from elsewhere, including the Scottish Government’s own exploration of Collaborative Government in Scotland, which sees the need of creating safe spaces for discussion and going to where people are, as key to deeper citizen participation. Furthermore, the democratic energy generated from the referendum has increased discussion around a constitutional convention across the UK. The Our UK movement is currently exploring how to bring citizens into a national conversation democratic reform. Dr. Andy Williamson has noted that the lessons learned from this process so far has included the need for: “small scale conversations”; “commitment and intent that will motivate people to engage with the conversation”; “a genuinely national conversation not one centred in the corridors of power”; and power to be dispersed “across the network, rather than perpetuating current power and privilege.”

While the rest of the UK bemoans falling electoral turnouts and low public engagement in politics, Scotland has a more promising problem: how can we make sure that the enthusiasm, passion and commitment of the Scottish people is recognised? How can the current campaigns guarantee genuine participation? What are the best avenues for the Scottish people to be heard, and how can we ensure that there are genuine opportunities for the public to steer the evolution of a new Scotland? These are not simply questions for one article, or ideas for me, or the Democratic Society to discuss: hopefully campaigns like Home Rule and the outcomes of the Smith Commission will help encourage authentic discussion on these issues and help push towards a Scotland where power is held, not just in Westminster, not just in Holyrood, but shared with the people of Scotland in the communities in which they live and work.

This is a cross post of a blog originally published on the Campaign for Scottish Home Rule website. Read the original article here