Magna Carta and the case for a Constitutional Convention

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 15th June 2015

The fractious reality of Britain’s contemporary political scene demands that a new approach be taken to constitutional issues. The myriad debates over the nature and extent of devolution, Britain’s relationship with the European Union, the possibility of English Votes for English Laws, and the rolling devolution of power to city regions in England all point to the need for a thorough re-evaluation of the UK constitution.

The anniversary of Magna Carta presents an opportunity to think again about the legal basis of the constitution. The restriction of the power of the sovereign through recourse to a written agreement signed by citizens can act as a model of what we need to do today. There needs to be a process so that ordinary citizens can take important decisions regarding the future of their country and how it is governed.

The case for a citizen-led constitutional convention has never been stronger. We are a long way from the Britain of the thirteenth century, with its vassalages, feudal nobility and tyrants. But the model provided by the Magna Carta shows power being held to account and citizens deciding where power should lie. This the crucial question for Britain in the twenty-first century and now (as then) it should be up to the citizens to decide. The ERS has long advocated constitutional renewal through democratic engagement with the citizenry, both in the nations and across the UK.

In 2012 ERS Scotland launched an inquiry to explore with a wide range of Scotland’s citizens questions about how to produce a ‘good Scottish democracy’. The anniversary of Magna Carta reminds us that we need citizens to be involved in the process that decides where power lies; today this means support for a citizen-led Constitutional Convention. The questions that could be considered by such a Convention range from the relationship between the regions and nations of the UK, to the role of the upper house in legislation as well as local and national electoral reform

As part of our policy to gain support for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention, the ERS, in conjunction with democracy practitioners and academic experts, is launching two pilot Citizens’ Assemblies this autumn. These Assemblies will involve a representative section of the population engaged in a far-ranging discussion over where power should lie. This participatory and deliberative form of democratic engagement is what we need to reinvigorate our democracy.

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