Last month people across Scotland received invitations to join Scotland’s Climate Assembly
Similar to jury service, this citizens assembly will bring 100 randomly-selected representative individuals together over several weekends to discuss one of the biggest challenges of our time; how Scotland should change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way. It could be you, your neighbour, your Granny, taking their seat in a few weeks time. The assembly will hear from experts and collectively come up with recommendations, which will then be brought to MSPs.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) who have been instrumental in calling for a participatory politics through citizen assemblies say about the upcoming one in Scotland, “This assembly has the potential to bring about the real, deep and fundamental change we so desperately need – but could also be led to make superficial recommendations, empty words and gestures. Those setting up this process (government, civil service and the facilitators of the assembly), and the folk taking part, need all the encouragement they can get from us to Make It Real.”
The invitations sent out to residents in Scotland come as the report, The Path to Net Zero was published last month with the findings of the recently held UK Climate Assembly (UKCA).
Set up in June 2019 by six parliamentary select committees, the UKCA is a citizens’ assembly that brought together 108 people to learn about the climate crisis, deliberate and make recommendations for how the UK can reach its net zero target by 2050.
Participants were recruited to reflect the broader population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, geography and attitude to climate change. Far from being stuffed with activists, the assembly included people who were not at all concerned about climate change.
In a recent blog first published in the Guardian, ‘Extinction Rebellion is showing Britain what real democracy could look like’, George Monbiot, looks at what citizen assemblies could actually mean for a more meaningful and participatory political system. He writes,
“The democratic and environmental crises have the same roots: our exclusion, for several years at a time, from meaningful politics. In some places, particularly Ireland, Iceland, France, Taiwan, British Columbia, Ontario and several Spanish and Brazilian cities, a host of fascinating experiments with new democratic forms has been taking place: constitutional conventions, citizens’ assemblies, community development, digital deliberation and participatory budgeting. They are designed to give people a voice between elections, tempering representative democracy, allowing them to refine their choices.
The UK pays lip service to these innovations. Last week the citizens’ assembly on climate, convened by parliament, published its findings, which included suggestions such as taxing frequent fliers, getting rid of SUVs and eating less red meat. But there are no obvious means by which they can be adopted by the government. In Scotland, all local authorities allow residents to set part of their budgets, though so far, it’s very small: just 1% of the money allocated by central government.
Unless the results of participatory democracy can be translated into policy, and unless it operates at a meaningful scale, it generates cynicism and disillusion. But as the processes in Ireland, Madrid and in some Brazilian cities have shown, when people are allowed to make big and frequent decisions, the results can be transformative. Alienated, polarised populations come together to identify and solve their common problems. Democracy becomes a lived reality.
Nowhere has participatory politics yet been allowed to fulfil its promise. There is no principled or technical reason why the majority of a municipal or national budget should not be set through public deliberation, following techniques pioneered in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. There is no principled or technical reason why the monthly voting process for improving life in Reykjavik could not be applied at the national level, everywhere. The call for full-scale participatory democracy is as revolutionary as the call for the universal franchise was in the 19th century. What is needed is a vehicle similar in scale to the Chartist and suffragette movements.
There are precedents for environmental protests mutating into democratic revolutions: this is what helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our climate and extinction crises expose the failures of all quasi-democratic systems, and the blatant capture of ours by the power of money turns the UK into a global crucible.
In XR’s outrageous, reviled protests we see the beginnings of what could become a 21st-century democratic revolution. Through his incompetence, callousness and greed for power, Johnson has done us two favours: exposing the shallowness of our theatrical democracy, and creating a potential coalition ranging from hospital porters to supreme court judges. Now we must decide how to mobilise it.”
For the full article see here
We will be keeping an eye out for reports on the developments of the Climate Assembly here at the Voice and if any Voice readers have been lucky enough to receive an invitation to join it, we would love to hear from you and about your experience over the next few months.