Second chamber discussions for Scotland

By Niall Christie

The political popularity of Westminster is arguably at its lowest point for some time, with an attitude of complete unimportance shown towards Scottish interests by some in the Commons throughout the Brexit process to date and a perpetual churning out of controversies in the Lords finally tipping Scottish opinion of southron politics from indifference to resentment.

But in Scotland, who are we to judge when we maintain a unicameral political system with little thought given to a check or balance system within Holyrood. Given the lack of support for the British model of a second parliamentary chamber, what other options do Scots have on what can be done to steady the parliamentary ship if it looks like sinking?

Far from the tradition of privilege and extravagance, the latest suggestion brought forward would have the public take to the debating chamber to discuss the ins and outs of decisions made by the Scottish Parliament.

A Citizen’s Assembly, as it has been dubbed by the writers of a new paper out last week, would bring together 73 members of the public who would be representative of the different cultures and groups that Scotland houses.

Not only would this jumped-up jury service be a first for Scotland and the UK, it would represent a world first, in line with a view of Scotland as a country at the forefront of social democracy and equality.

Published by The Common Weal think tank alongside the Sortition Foundation and newDemocracy Foundation, the report says: “The instigation of the world’s first Citizen’s Assembly in a parliamentary setting would be a momentous decision and put Scotland at the forefront of democratic innovation and citizen empowerment and engagement. It will, by necessity, be an immense learning experience and governments around the world would all turn to Scotland to observe the outcome.”

Among other things, proposals put forward include one or two year terms which would part-rotate every six months, a £55,000 salary that would pay delegates for their attendance three days per week, private meetings of the chamber and a review of the whole assembly process that could take place as often as every five years.

Despite these suggestions being both concrete and easily implemented, questions remain over how much power would actually be given to these unelected officials. Would they have legislative power? Would they only be a review house? If so, what is the point in having a house with very little power?

Regardless of whether the powers at be see these plans as feasible or not, the worth of the idea cannot be overlooked. Bold maybe, but the claim that “such a Citizens’ Assembly is not only feasible but an urgent necessity” will likely ring true with many across Scotland.

According to the report, a second chamber of this nature in Holyrood would “increase public trust in legislative decisions”, “counter the perceived capture of the political process by elites and other vested interests by putting ordinary people’s voices directly into the legislative process”, and “deliver more than mere public opinion and increase the legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament by producing informed public judgements.”

What then is the Scottish Parliament waiting for?

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