Citizens’ Assemblies are the key to finding out what an independent Wales should look like
July’s AUOB – Yes Cymru’s Independence March in Caernarfon exceeded all expectations; bringing together thousands in a colourful, upbeat and peaceful march.
The sands are shifting like never before. The politically impossible of a decade ago is no longer so. The chaos of Brexit has greatly undermined trust in the authority of the British state, and the election of a man widely perceived as hopelessly incompetent – who also happens to be the 20th Etonian to become PM – by a mere 160,000 Tory party members has once again drawn attention to the democratic deficit at the centre of our politics.
Wales keeps on getting leaders at Westminster it did not vote for and who do not represent the nation.
It’s hardly surprising then that people are taking to the streets. I too am increasingly convinced of the benefits of self-rule; an independent Wales within Europe.
Though I admit to a nagging doubt – I’ve heard much about how life in an Independent Wales couldn’t possibly “be worse” than the status quo. But I want to aim higher, and plan for much better.
Now is also a time to think long and hard about how to build safeguards into our political system to avoid replicating the failings of the British state in an independent Wales.
To nail my colours to the mast; I’m a member of Cardiff Extinction Rebellion (XR). My conviction that our political system is broken comes from my horror at watching us sleepwalk into a hellish future caused by the multiple converging crises of climate change.
Our governments are failing to take decisive action, or fully convey the seriousness of the situation we face.
I believe that, at heart, most politicians are good people trying to do the right thing. But politics is a competitive game. Oppositional party politics and 5-year election cycles undermine efforts to cooperate on long term challenges.
Our system is built on a need for permanent economic growth, disconnected from planetary boundaries. Add industry lobbyists to the mix and a rebalancing societal transformation is not on the agenda for anytime soon.
Given the urgency of our situation, how do we overcome this?
XR is focused on educating and empowering ordinary people to support these transitions. We are calling for the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly (CA) on climate and ecological justice. But a CA can be used to support any political challenge; the road to independence included.
A Citizens’ Assembly brings together citizens to engage in detailed, reflective and informed discussions on an issue. Crucially, the Assembly is selected via sortition, to ensure it is a representative cross section of the population. From class, gender, race, age to political bias – the Assembly must be a mini society.
Participants are then paid to attend a series of independently facilitated sessions run by an independent organization.
An expert and stakeholder-led learning and consultation period is followed by deliberation and discussion. At the end a series of recommendations are produced.
Crucially, the process removes people from their social media echo chambers, to engage with people with different views, and search for common ground.
A CA was successfully used in Ireland to break the deadlock around the abortion debate but have been a part of political life in Poland to Canada, Belgium, India and Australia. Wales also experimented with its first CA in July 2019, to guide the Assembly’s work and public engagement.
Three years since the Brexit vote we are still embroiled in the bitter fallout. While a CA might seem a slower process than a vote, the process encourages people to inform themselves and make decisions that benefit society, rather than individuals or groups. Put simply, you couldn’t just print a lie on a bus and send people out to a ballot box.
We will need to define what an independent Wales should look like, and how we will live together, as “Leavers” and “Remainers”. I would like to explore the role Citizens’ Assemblies could play in this.
One final point: with sadness I remind everyone independence on a dying planet will be meaningless. Moreover, history shows that hard-won civil rights and equalities are among the first casualties when times get tough, and things are going to get worse.
To survive the Climate Emergency, we are going to need significantly change the way we live. I believe Citizen’s Assemblies could help guide the government on the urgent action needed, enabling policy actions that party politics and short election cycles aren’t built to address.
So, if we want to see a thriving, fairer, Independent Wales; this is a good place to start.