Vernon Bogdanor calls for sortition

The Sunday Times has published a pull-out on the Scottish Referendum and asked Vernon Bogdanor (David Cameron’s politics tutor at Oxford, now professor of government at King’s College London and the UK’s leading constitutional expert) to examine the consequences of the Referendum for the rest of the UK. Here’s an excerpt from his article:

The Next Question: Should England have a new Magna Carta?

Here is one suggestion. The Scottish referendum has released a hitherto submerged civic spirit, especially among younger voters. That spirit could also be tapped in England.

Suppose a small proportion of councillors — say 5% or 10% — were to be selected randomly by lot from the electoral register. Those chosen could refuse to serve, but most would probably do so and would include the young and members of ethnic minorities, groups markedly underrepresented in local government.

Those selected would be genuine independents, deciding what was best for their communities without being beholden to party. They would undergo a valuable form of civic education with beneficial consequences for local democracy. Local government could begin once again to become representative government.

Bogdanor reviewed both of my books on sortition — the first time (The Party’s Over) quietly ridiculing it and the second time (A People’s Parliament) agreeing that sortition is something that should be investigated at the local level.

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13 Responses

  1. Yes, surely those 5% or 10% of independents are enough to make government representative “once again”. (But let’s make sure they make no more than 5% or 10% of the councillors. We wouldn’t want them interfering with the work of responsible adults. And please, none of them in national government – it is simply too important for nonsense like representative government.)

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  2. The point is that mainstream political theorists are starting to take sortition seriously. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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  3. On a slightly related note, it looks like the Scottish government may be planning to hold a sortition-based constitutional convention should they win the vote. From page 352 of the independence blueprint:

    “A constitutional convention will ensure a participative and inclusive process where the people of Scotland, as well as politicians, civic society organisations, business interests, trade unions, local authorities and others, will have a direct role in shaping the constitution.

    In taking this path, Scotland will be following in the footsteps of many other countries, not least the United States of America, whose constitutional convention in 1787 drafted the Constitution of the United States.

    International best practice and the practical experience of other countries and territories should be considered and taken into account in advance of the determination of the process for the constitutional convention. In the last decade, citizen-led assemblies and constitutional conventions have been convened in British Columbia (2004), the Netherlands (2006), Ontario (2007) and Iceland (2010). Since 2012, Ireland has been holding a citizen-led constitutional convention to review various constitutional issues.”

    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0043/00439021.pdf

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  4. Yet again desperate theoreticians reach for the easy-fix. At least he suggests that the randomly selected be given voting power. I’ve not seen of any actual Citizens’Juries given power to decide, only ever to advise.

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  5. Yes, and we need to start from where we are now, so the best we can hope for is a small stake in decision power or advisory power. For an example of the thin end of the wedge, just look at where the ScotNats are now compared to a few decades ago. If we insist on deriding every effort by the mainstream to adopt sortition then we won’t make any progress. (I appreciate this softly, softly policy is unattractive for those who wish to ferment a popular uprising against “electoralism”.)

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  6. Sorry, I should have sent “foment” (not “ferment”).

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  7. Keith and Naomi, thanks for posting these bits of news. Popularizing an idea takes a lot of work and a long time, and these two items represent small but significant bits of progress.

    Conall, you wrote that you haven’t seen Citizens’ Juries given the power to decide. The randomly selected group of citizens in Canada Bay, Australia, was recently given final decision making power over the entire municipal budget. I think there’s an item about that experiment on this blog.

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  8. David, the Canada Bay panels are advisory. http://www.canadabay.nsw.gov.au/policy-panel.html

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  9. I was referring to the Canada Bay experiment in 2012, not the more recent panels. I believe that in that case, the local legislature agreed in advance to honor the decisions of the citizen panel – and they did.

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  10. In 2012 the City of Canada Bay undertook an extensive review of its range and levels of community services using an innovative and groundbreaking Citizens’ Panel.

    […]

    The Panel was given authority to recommend the range and level of service to be provided in Council’s 2013-17 Delivery Plan, subject to the final approval of Council.

    http://www.canadabay.nsw.gov.au/citizens-panel-pg.html

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  11. And:

    The report noted that many of the Panel’s recommendations had already been implemented; some will involve no further action following investigation of the proposals; some have been addressed as part of an organisational structure review recently completed; while others are unable to be implemented or achieved due to legislative provisions.

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  12. Also, you may remember this:

    Canada Bay councillor, Michael Megna told Burwood Scene the panel gave members of the community a chance to share their opinions.

    “It gave public credibility to our position,” he said, adding: “Councils are elected to make decisions and we can ask community reps, but the hard decisions should still be made by councillors.”

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  13. […] eager to find ways to legitimize itself, established power made exploratory maneuvers to exploit the idea of […]

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