Common Weal report reveals options for a more democratic second chamber
COULD SCOTLAND have a second parliamentary chamber made up of its own citizens?
It is common for parliamentary systems to be organised into separate houses, often with differing roles and relationships to governing and the creation of laws.
The UK Parliamentary system has attracted criticism for hundreds of years for retaining a House of Lords. Initially a House of the hereditary aristocracy, in recent decades it has been increasingly dominated by figures hand-picked by and from the elite to scrutinise legislation passed in the elected House of Commons.
At the Scottish Independence Convention in Glasgow in January, attendees indicated support by a vote for an investigation into a citizens second chamber, a second parliamentary body drawn not from the elite but from the general Scottish population.
1. Help to head-off the democratic deficit
One of the major driving forces behind the 2014 Scottish independence movement was concern over a ‘democratic deficit’, with Westminster allegedly being unresponsive to the demands of Scots, and the UK public in general.
Even the presence of members of the public making up a political institution could re-enforce the notion that democracy is truly about representing the views of the majority. It could invite greater public scrutiny and de-mystify institutions often seen as operating above or separately to the public.
2. Limit elite influence in parliamentary democracy
Wealthy and powerful institutions including corporations and banks have far more access to politicians and governing institutions than ordinary members of the public.
A citizens second chamber could act as a point of contact with the voting public as a whole, receive petitions and engage with protests. In addition to receiving the peoples lobby, a citizens second chamber could alert the public to the activities of elite lobbying.
3. Guard against media misrepresentation of public views
Despite the birth of the ‘information age’ the wealthy and well networked still have a disproportionate control over the means of communication. Powerful media interests have the ability to set the news agenda and influence policy makers by claiming to represent the views of the people.
A citizens chamber could offer another conduit for the views of the public to enter the law making process and weaken the claim of tabloid populism to represent the voice of the people.
4. A worldly-relevant check on the legislative process
Few politicians have expansive real world experience. Many have been in the bubble of official political life for most or all of their adult life. Many are privately educated, most are drawn from the middle class or the rich. Few have experience life at the sharp end – working on low pay or zero hours contracts, caring full time for a disabled relative, scrapping by on meagre benefits, languishing in a detention centre or prison.
A citizens’ second chamber could bring some much needed real world experience into official public life and the process of governance.
5. Establish reviews and inquiries with public faith
Recent years have seen a plethora of public scandals – from MPs claiming illegitimate expenses to widespread accusation of abuse in numerous public institutions from the BBC to police forces.
A powerful public perception that powerful public institutions represent a self-serving ‘establishment’ means many don’t trust official inquiries.
A citizens second chamber could be uniquely positioned to host its own inquiries and reviews at a distance from the establishment and with public confidence.
Picture courtesy of Chris Devers
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