As the Edinburgh festivals celebration of artistic endeavour and creativity drew to a close ERS Scotland shared the results of 13 months of political endeavour and creativity with the launch of the Democracy Max vision for a good Scottish democracy.
I hesitate to call it ‘our’ vision, because this document isn’t ours to own. It belongs to the hundreds of individuals who gave up their time to share, discuss and deliberate on ideas for improving Scotland’s democracy.
From the very beginning Democracy Max has been a participative process. It began when 80 people gathered for a day long facilitated conversation stimulated by the proposition “It’s 2030, and Scotland is admired as a shining example of democracy and democratic participation. What three aspects of this future society please you most?”
This long-term vision has been a vital aspect of the inquiry. Democracy Max is not just about the next 12 months, it’s not just about September 18th 2014, it’s about re-thinking Scotland’s democracy regardless of the result of the referendum.
Excitingly, our participants really embraced this freedom to imagine the future of Scotland, and some of their suggestions present a real challenge to decision makers and those with power. Because inevitably power will have to be relocated if many of the suggestions are to be implemented, and giving up power once you hold it is not easy.
That said, many of the suggestions are not radical, or particularly innovative. Indeed, much of the discussion throughout the inquiry was around why some of the seemingly obviously useful ideas had not yet come to fruition. Perhaps the power dynamic mentioned above is to blame? Perhaps our leaders lack the long-term vision necessary to make changes the impact of which may not be felt immediately?
Regardless, the optimists amongst us will observe that this period of debate in Scotland opens up opportunities to think differently about how we do politics.
At the nub of Democracy Max is an urgent desire to return power to the people, to give effect to the Claim of Right and ensure participation in politics is accessible, rewarding and universal.
Ideas to make that happen include citizens’ assemblies, both in the form of mini-publics at a local level where citizens debate and discuss decisions affecting their own towns and villages, and also perhaps a nationwide assembly to hold the Scottish Parliament to account.
Understanding the power and influence of the media and corporate interests was also seen as vital, with transparency across the board coming through as a strong recommendation.
And in thinking about what kind of structures we might need to make this happen and avoid corruption, it was acknowledged that clarifying the constitution would be helpful, as would some kind of standing review of Parliament and Government in order to provide adequate checks and balances in the system.
So what now? We are attracted to the idea, suggested by our participants, of a charter of democratic rights for Scotland. But we can’t draw it up alone. So we’re looking to hold a convention on modern Scottish democracy which will consider what might be included in such a charter – a charter that all our political representatives could be encouraged to sign up to.
The Democracy Max vision for a good Scottish democracy is therefore not a conclusion, but rather an opportunity to join the conversation. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to accept that opportunity.