Today’s draft legislation opens door to UK-wide, citizen-led conversation to decide where power lies
Today’s publication of draft legislation to devolve powers to Scotland makes the case for a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention ever more pressing, according to the Electoral Reform Society.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“All the parties vowed to devolve more powers to Scotland, and no one is suggesting this should be delayed. But ultimately, today’s announcement raises more questions than it answers. These new powers will have huge implications for the rest of the UK, so this is only going to be the start of the debate about where power should lie.
“It is vital that this debate is not dominated by politicians striking up deals behind closed doors. We won’t get a settlement between the nations that commands legitimacy and respect unless it is reached with citizens in the driving seat. That’s why we need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to give ordinary people the power to decide our country’s future.
“We saw in the Scottish independence referendum that when you give people a real say in where power should lie, they will turn out in droves. Let’s bring that energy to the rest of the UK and open up this important debate so citizens can have their say. It’s time for a Convention, and all the parties should commit to one.”
Statement from the Electoral Reform Society Scotland
As the Command Paper devolving the powers agreed by the Smith Commission to Scotland is published, ERS Scotland remains convinced that how these powers are implemented, and where power should lie in Scotland needs to be cross-examined by citizens.
Willie Sullivan, Director ERS Scotland said:
“The vibrant citizen led debate and surge in democratic participation that we saw during the referendum campaign demonstrated what our democracy could be given the right conditions. We all have a responsibility to sustain the levels of engagement seen over the past months. If we return to business as usual, we will have failed to grasp a once in a lifetime opportunity, we will be letting down the people and we may be missing a chance to revive democracy.
We are pleased that the command paper clearly recognises the need to continue to engage citizens in the process of discussing what happens next.  We hope today’s announcement does not end the debate about who has power but is the start of a truly participative process rather than an old-fashioned top down consultation exercise. We claim the people are sovereign in Scotland; we need a process that shows this is true.
We also welcome the recognition that more powers should not just stop at Holyrood, but that Scotland’s communities should be involved in decision making. It is an essential first step that the planned outreach is new and means something.
The inspirational energy that rose up across Scotland during the referendum deserves and expects to be fully involved in what happens next.”
Contact: Willie Sullivan. M: 07940 523842
 From the Command Paper:
The UK Government will organise a series of events and activities across Scotland to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their say and to enhance their understanding of the enduring devolution settlement as we move forward to delivery of further devolution for Scotland. You can read more about this in the Next Steps section.
The Scottish Government will explore how they can transfer powers from the Scottish Parliament to empower local communities across Scotland, and the UK Government stands prepared to share their experiences to facilitate this process.
Government’s £9.8m for registration drive amounts to only £3 per unregistered voter
Commenting on Ed Miliband’s speech today on voter registration , Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“It’s good to hear Ed Miliband join the chorus of voices warning about the number of people in danger of falling off the electoral register. While it was sensible to move on from the Victorian-era system of household registration, there have been real concerns about making the switch so close to an election.
“It’s now the duty of everyone concerned, including central government, local authorities, the voluntary sector and all the political parties, to find those missing millions and make sure they don’t lose out on their most basic civic right.”
On the Government’s decision to allocate £9.8m to registration efforts, Mr Hughes added:
“While this money is welcome, a budget of £3 per unregistered voter  seems like a half-hearted effort. And there are serious concerns about whether the cash will be combined with an effective strategy for getting people on the register. At the very least, this money should be earmarked for proven grassroots organisations like Bite the Ballot who know exactly how to find these hard-to-reach voters.” 
“We need to make it as easy as possible to get people on the register, including allowing people to register at the polling station. Put simply, we need nothing short of a registration revolution.”
1. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30842676
2. Based on 2013 mid-year population estimates (ONS, excluding people below 18 years old), and Electoral Commission registration figures in May 2014
3. For more information on the ERS’s position, see http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/cash-for-registration
Commenting on the fallout from the publication of Ofcom’s draft ‘major parties’ list , Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“We are living in an era when multiple parties command significant amounts of support, and any TV debate format should reflect that fact. If we end up with no debates because politicians and broadcasters cannot agree on a format, then democracy will suffer.
“At their best, TV debates make political issues come alive for the electorate and encourage people to take part in politics. And when it comes to political engagement, we need all the help we can get. Everyone involved should get back round the table and agree on a format which includes as many of Britain’s multiple political voices as practically possible. ”
1. For context see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30727083
ERS research shows public support for end to two-party dominance; urges mainstream parties to respond by ‘opening up’ to members and supporters
People prefer a multi-party political system, and not one dominated by the traditional big two parties, new Electoral Reform Society (ERS) research suggests.
A ComRes poll of the 40 most marginal Conservative-Labour constituencies (ie. the areas where the traditional two-party battle ought to be fiercest) found that:
· 67% believe the rise of smaller parties such as UKIP and the Greens is good for democracy (against just 16% who think the opposite)
· 51% believe it is better to have several smaller parties than two big parties (against 27% who think the opposite)
· 50% believe the era of two parties dominating British politics is over (against 32% who think the opposite)
The same poll showed that people are comfortable with the implications of a multi-party system, and prefer parties to work together in the common interest rather than continually attack each other:
· 78% believe the Opposition should work with the government on issues they agree on
· 54% believe Parliament works best when no party is too dominant so that cross-party agreement is needed to pass laws
These findings come as part of a new report by the Electoral Reform Society on the future of political parties. Open Up sets out the challenges faced by the mainstream parties, the ways in which newer ‘challenger’ parties appear more adept at attracting support in the 21st century, and what the mainstream parties need to do to reconnect with voters.
The report makes four core recommendations for the mainstream parties to address their spiral of decline. These are:
· Increased role for non-members Parties’ experiments with involving non fee-paying supporters should be accelerated
· More member- and supporter-led policymaking People want to see an end to top-down, command-and-control politics
· Party funding reform Parties’ reliance on big donors is undermining people’s trust in them
· Electoral reform A fairer voting system would help meet people’s expectations of having a greater choice of parties and more consensual policymaking
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“The era of two big political parties slugging it out on the national stage is well and truly over. Our research shows clear public appetite for having a larger number of parties on the national stage, and for those parties to be willing to work together in pursuit of the common good.
“The older, more traditional parties need to wake up to this new reality or face the consequences of ever-dwindling support. They need to embrace new ways of opening up beyond their narrowing band of members, and they need to push through reforms which will give people the type of politics they want.
“Parties should be a force for good. At their best, they bridge the divide between politics and people and make our democracy work. They should be part of the solution to political disengagement, not part of the problem. But to achieve this, the British party system needs to catch up with the type of politics people want to see.”
Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University London, writes in a foreword to the report:
“Parties, believe it or not, are not so cut off from society that they fail to realise they have a serious problem. And they are trying as best they can to think hard about solutions, including some of those discussed [in this report]. Becoming more transparent, less hierarchical and more eclectic surely has to be the way to go.”
 ComRes interviewed online a representative sample of 1,002 GB adults living in the 40 most marginal constituencies where the Conservatives and Labour shared first and second place between them at the last General Election in 2010. Of these 40 constituencies, 25 currently have a Conservative MP and 15 currently have a Labour MP. Each constituency is represented in the sample equally, with results weighted to be representative of all adults in all 40 constituencies as a whole. Data were also weighted by past vote recall. Fieldwork took place from 15th to 24th November 2014.
On EVEL and other issues, let citizens have their say
Responding to the publication of today’s command paper on English devolution, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“The Government has presented a shopping list of solutions to the English Question, demonstrating that even within the coalition they cannot agree on which solution is best. But that’s not surprising – the chances of cross-party agreement on such a partisan issue are never going to be very high.
“In any case, trying to tackle a single constitutional issue in isolation is never going to answer all of the questions currently facing the UK, such as how power should be shared between the nations and regions, and to what extent power should be devolved to the local level.
“There is a better way to approach this problem, one which doesn’t involve politicians squabbling behind closed doors as they drift further and further away from the public. A Constitutional Convention, giving citizens the lead in determining where power should lie, is the only way to make sure the UK reaches a lasting and legitimate settlement. And it’s the only way to untangle some of the intractable problems surrounding the English Question without descending into partisan bickering.
“Four of the five largest UK-wide parties are signed up to a citizen-led Constitutional Convention to decide how the UK should be governed, including addressing the English Question. It’s time the Conservatives went beyond being ‘open’ to this idea and recognised the overwhelming support for giving citizens a say in where power should lie.”
2. The Government’s command paper, The Implications of Devolution for England, is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/387598/implications_of_devolution_for_england_accessible.pdf
A petition calling for a Constitutional Convention and signed by over 15,000 people, as well as a wide range of academics and civil society organisations, will be handed into No.10 Downing Street tomorrow.
The petition, which comes in advance of the Government’s expected announcement on ‘English Votes for English Laws’, demands that citizens - not politicians - are given the lead in deciding how the UK should be governed. Its call for a Constitutional Convention is supported by four of the five largest UK-wide parties (Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party).
Signatories to the petition include respected constitutional academics such as Professor Vernon Bogdanor, as well as a range of civil society groups including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), the British Youth Council and the Democratic Society.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“Since the Scottish independence referendum, all the pieces of Britain’s constitutional jigsaw have been thrown into the air. Our demand is simply that citizens should have a say in how those pieces are put back together.
“There is a growing consensus among citizens, academics, civil society groups and political parties that the future of our country should not be decided behind closed doors. We are calling on the Government to listen to that consensus and establish a Constitutional Convention to decide how the UK should be governed. That way, citizens will be given the lead in making crucial decisions about our country’s future.”
Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said:
“The independence referendum gave Scottish voters the power to decide Scotland’s political future. We believe that people across the country should have the same opportunity in a citizen-led Constitutional Convention.
“Constitutional reform has taken place in a piecemeal fashion in the UK. Particular grievances have been addressed but there has never been a citizen-led debate about how we should be governed. Unlock Democracy believes this conversation is long overdue and it is not something which can be conducted behind the closed doors of a cabinet committee meeting. There are already lively debates going on in communities across the country about where power should lie. We are calling on politicians to work collaboratively with the public in a Constitutional Convention to decide what’s next for the UK.”
1. The petition will be delivered by Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, and Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, at 12pm on Thursday 11th December. For photographs contact Will Brett on email@example.com / 07979 696 265.
2. The Government will publish a ‘command paper’ setting out the coalition parties’ positions on addressing the so-called English Question before Christmas
3. To view the full list of civil society organisations who have signed the petition, see http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/images/dynamicImages/file/2014%20Dec%20Con%20Con%20Petition%20Square%20share.pdf
4. The full text of the petition is as follows:
“We the undersigned call on party leaders to set up a UK-wide Constitutional Convention to decide how the UK should be governed.
The convention should be led by the people, not politicians, and should ensure fair and equal representation for the UK’s nations and regions. It should decide the sharing of power between the four UK countries, and how power should be decentralised.”
5. For more about the campaign for a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention, see www.electoral-reform.org.uk/constitutional-convention
6. For more information and interviews, contact Will Brett on firstname.lastname@example.org / 07979 696 265
Responding to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report Voter engagement in the UK, published today, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“Voter disengagement is the central political challenge of our time, and the Committee should be applauded for its excellent work in this area. We wholeheartedly support the report’s recommendations on reforming voter registration to make it easier for people to vote, as well as widening the franchise so 16 and 17 year olds can take part in our democracy.
“It’s also gratifying to see so many respondents to the inquiry point out how utterly broken our electoral system is. We’re now in a four, five or even six-party era, so we can expect some horribly unfair results in the general election next year. We believe it is high time we got rid of the outdated First Past the Post, and replaced it with a fairer system where every voice is heard and every vote counts.”
The Committee has called on the Government to explore the idea of making election day a public holiday. Responding to this idea, Katie Ghose said:
“Voting is a fundamental part of our role as a citizen, so it’s right to celebrate the day we go to the polls and choose who represents us. It’s important that we innovate around how we do elections so we can successfully close the gap between people and politics. We’ll support any measure which creates a sense of occasion on election day.”
The Committee has also recommended making voting compulsory for some elections. Responding to this idea, Katie Ghose said:
“Making it compulsory for people to vote hides the symptoms of voter disengagement, but does nothing to address the causes. Many people are deeply distrustful of representative politics, but they won’t come back into the process in any meaningful way if they are forced to take part.
“We believe there are many other more positive things we should be doing to close the gap between people and politics, some of which have been recommended in this report.”
For more information and interviews, contact Will Brett on email@example.com / 07979 696 265