Democracy is about empowering citizens to be involved in their political system and as such embedding the voices of everyday citizens into those systems is vital to democracy that works. Without it we risk not only political decisions that aren’t in keeping with what the electorate want, but also disengagement as people feel that their views aren’t heard.
Governance in Wales faces a big challenge where too many people feel disconnected from decision making. If we are to revitalise democracy in Wales, we need to start a conversation about how to put power into the hands of citizens at a local level.
Deliberative democracy has a fundamental role to play in this, and so far in Wales we have been slow on the uptake.
Other nations have been leading on models of engagement such as citizens’ assemblies and participatory budgeting.
For example, Ireland has demonstrated how a citizens’ assembly can be used to break a blockage in policy making among decision makers, with the successful referendum on abortion rights, a direct recommendation of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, a long-term model which has examined a number of issues.
The Scottish Government have also set up their own Citizens’ Assembly to look at wide-ranging issues for the future of Scotland. Scotland also passed legislation to empower local communities in 2015 and has recently consulted on a Local Democracy Bill. In addition they have also established a Community Choices Fund which provides funding to support and promote participatory budgeting, where people or organisations can pitch to their local community for funding for a specific project. This empowers and engages local communities and is a practice used across the world.
There is an absence of this kind of wide-scale engagement in Wales, and yet there is a direct need for these kinds of practices to build communities and provide more effective links between people and decision makers.
There is a battle brewing to abolish our representative institutions. This is a battle for hearts and minds, and we must be on the front foot – responding with more democracy, bringing power and decision-making closer to the public.
The next Welsh Government must consider how it can institutionalise progressive engagement tools into its standard policy making process and should commit to much more effective engagement with the public.
Manifesto ask 3: Adoption of deliberative democracy tools into standard policy making processes, with tools such as participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies regularly used to address lack of engagement in communities and to resolve particular political debates
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