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August 28, 2013

A vision for a better democracy

Just over a year, the Electoral Reform Society held a People’s Assembly, inviting a cross section of the population to explore why we have become so disillusioned with politics and how our system of democracy could be improved. Over the year, the findings have been debated and refined by a series of roundtable events. On Monday, ERS launched its Vision for A Good Scottish Democracy – an important contribution to a vital debate.  If you’d like a hard copy, we have a few to give away.


On Monday evening at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, ERS Scotland launched its final report, ‘A vision of a good Scottish democracy’.  

The Electoral Reform Society Scotland has outlined a series of recommendations stemming from members of the public who participated in their 13-month Democracy Max inquiry. 

These ideas are aimed at improving Scottish democracy in the context of the independence referendum. 

The key recommendations of Democracy Max are:

 • ‘Mini-Publics’ – deliberative local groups working alongside representative democracy and empowering people to run their own towns and villages

A Citizens’ Assembly – a chamber of citizens, possibly selected like a jury, to check and challenge elected politicians

Party funding reform – parties funded in transparent ways other than through big donations from organisations or rich individuals

Better media – as traditional business models struggle and press barons are exposed, our participants suggested ways for a greater number of voices to be heard and for media to operate more explicitly in the public interest

Openness and transparency – an assumption that information should be publicly available and a requirement to make the case as to why any information is not

Lobbying reform – a statutory register of lobbying which sets out who is lobbying whom and why

Constitutional clarity – a written set of principles for Scots to unite around, setting out who we are and by which rules we wish to be governed

An inbuilt system to review and advise on how the Scottish Parliament and Government are faring in abiding by these principles

Scotland is mulling its political and constitutional future against a backdrop of growing distrust and disengagement in politics. In this context, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has been asking the question: ‘What would make a good Scottish Democracy?’

The process began in July last year when the ERS Scotland brought together a cross-section of over 80 Scots from a range of places and backgrounds to a day-long ‘People’s Gathering’ and asked them what was wrong with politics and democracy and what could be made better. Over the last year they have taken the findings of that People’s Gathering and discussed them with experts, academics, campaigners, activists and others in roundtable sessions, each followed by a public meeting.

Willie Sullivan, ERS Scotland Director, said:

 “We believe that the Scottish independence referendum debate is an opportunity to challenge our political system to change, to confound the low expectations voters have of politics, and to deliver on the high hopes they still hold for democracy.

 “We started from the position that politics is too important to be left to politicians. So we asked our People’s Gathering to tell us what they thought was wrong with democracy and what could be made better. But we didn’t just take them at their word. Instead we continued to discuss, question and delve in order to understand more fully what was not working and to make sure the solutions we suggested were credible and workable.


“It was clear from the investigation that formal politics is in trouble and, rightly or wrongly, people blame political parties for much of that. If trust is to be returned to politics some fundamental changes are required.

 “I am delighted to say the participants in our investigation have suggested a number of thought-provoking ideas. Many of them are not new, but they do have a renewed relevance at this time. We have weighed up the pros and cons of each in our discussions and feel they deserve consideration as interventions to improve our democracy. We suspect some of them are more vital than others and so should be acted on quickly.

 “There are some big ideas for political reform here, such as a Citizens’ Assembly as a second chamber of parliament, selected like a jury, and Mini-Publics where people can run their own communities. It may seem strange that an organisation that has campaigned for fairer elections for over 130 years is saying that we require more involvement of ordinary citizens rather than elected representatives in decision-making and scrutiny. However our belief in the importance of representative democracy has led us to realise that in a time of untrusted elites, social media and ‘big data’ we need to evolve our political system to keep pace with the 21st century. The involvement of people who are not primarily concerned with power or with winning elections means that representative democracy can be given a new legitimacy by having the right checks against the powerful. This is not an alternative to elections but a way to return legitimacy to elected representatives.”