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April 24, 2013

Who really gets a say?

The Scottish Parliament is often praised for its openness and the ease of access it affords us all through the system of petitions. But a report from the Jimmy Reid Foundation – Not By The People  - has concluded that only a narrow cross section of the population are ever invited to influence the shape of government policy – almost all of whom are in the top 10% of the country’s earners.  A Commission on Fair Access to Political Influence has been established. Worth keeping an eye on.


The Jimmy Reid Foundation has launched a Commission on Fair Access to Political Influence. It was launched with a report, Not By The People (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust), which showed that the people who are invited to influence government policy in Scotland are drawn from a very narrow section of the population, almost all in the top 10 per cent by income. Meanwhile, the 70 per cent of the population which earns average wage or below makes up only about three per cent of these ‘influencers’.

Political decisions made on the basis of the views of such a limited spectrum of the Scottish people risks being unrepresentative. Giving the impression of not listening to the experiences of the majority of the population risks increasing disillusionment. And revelations about the lobbying industry has caused concerns about political accountability.

We want to produce a set of proposals for how a much more diverse set of people can gain access to decision-making processes. We’re calling for people to tell us about their experience of trying to influence politics without large PR budgets and to propose concrete solutions. The sorts of things we think might start to address the problem are:

Alternative forms of decision-making which include more diverse groups of people making decision – for example Citizens’ Juries.

Initiatives that bring decision-makers closer to those affected by their decisions – for example secondments to community groups

Actions which can make existing decision-making processes more representative – for example an expectation that evidence will be taken in proportion to those affected by a decision

Means of drawing people into debate about public policy – for example web-based participative democracy initiatives

Ways to get a better picture of how decisions will affect different groups – for example by producing more detailed social impact studies

Opportunities for ordinary people to influence political agendas – for example, through additional powers for the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee

We will produce a final report which will collect the best proposals together and will present these to the Scottish Government and all the political parties in Scotland. The aim is not to produce a ‘discussion document’ but a call for action; we will follow up its publication with a coordinated push to get its recommendations implemented.