Citizens’ Assemblies are the key to finding out what an independent Wales should look like

Wales flag with hands

Siân Stephen

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.

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Transformation

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.

The People’s Assembly in the Senedd

Action

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.

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SibrydionmawrAlanRichard PenderynSimon Gruffyddvicky moller Recent comment authors
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Richard Carr
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Richard Carr

Who would organize such a CA? How would the participants be selected? And would they be a representative cross section of all the people of Wales, including those who are for and against independence as well as those on the fence?

vicky moller
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vicky moller

The methods and process for a CA are well developed and in practice have worked well, for both closed and open questions. There are must dos and best to dos around it. A brilliant book I read, simple, detailed and complete is https://citizensassemblies.org/ It answers the questions always asked and uses examples in a range of countries to illustrate. I believe the proposed scottish one is to cost around £25,000? That is the cost of employing a fairly good public official for a year. You get much more bang with a CA. incomparably more democracy and transformation than by employing… Read more »

Ken Davies
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We are not setting out on an easy path. We in Wales must must challenge the power of Westminster for our own sakes. However, the Brexit debacle has revealed the complexities of a 40 year old Union. Wales has been annexed to England for over 500 years and it will take good will from English people to make independence a reality. Similar initiatives to break Westminster need to be encouraged across the Dyke. This is not going to be achieved by fiat.

Roger
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Roger

The break up of the UK is now inevitable. Two countries voted to remain and they are not going to stand by and let their Democratic decision for their countries be taken away from them. In fact with the possibility of a hard Border between the Irelands and the potential disaster there, an amalgamation of the two countries is inevitable. Once Wales’s use to England has diminished. It won’t be the ‘good will’ of the English that will determine anything. They will drop us like a stone. I am surprised the people of England haven’t cottoned on to the Con… Read more »

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

Power is always taken, never given.

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

Citizens’ Assemblies? Absolutely – spot on. They need ‘disrupters’ to set them up, maybe people like you, Sian. Here’s how they work. I will use the example of North Carolina in the 1770s, when it was a British Colony as Wales is. 1. Assemblies popped up all over the State. Often they were called Committees for Public Safety, that being the trendy term at the time, as in the French Revolution (when they turned nasty). But they were a mixture of private and public assemblies. 2. Then it get to the point that the issues (Indy, Brexit) get on the… Read more »

Charles L. Gallagher
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Charles L. Gallagher

No one has mentioned that such a Citizen’s Assembly’ well along the road to the introduction here in Scotland. Go for it Wales and always remember that there is an ‘Establishment Elite’ in Wastemonster that firmly believes that only the ‘Tory’ English know how to run a country.

C James
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C James

Just last month the think tank Policy Exchange published a paper on the group by Counter Terrorism experts which outlined that Extinction Rebellion: 1. rejects both our representative democracy and the liberal free market economy and explicitly seeks to overturn both. 2. originates in the anti-globalisation Occupy Movement, and promotes ‘post-capitalism’ ‘de-growth’. 3. espouses a ‘civil resistance’ strategy of mass protests involving large numbers of the public who are encouraged to break the law, cause serious social and economic disruption and place a burden on police resources. 4. emphasises the importance of achieving economic damage to a city. 5. believes… Read more »

vicky moller
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vicky moller

Policy Exchange is a lobbying organisation under the label of think tank. That is not conspiracy theory, its well established. It would discredit XR in the time honoured way, some crystals of truth spun into a sticky floss that rots all it touches with 90% empty air. This movement has people with views others would not agree with in it, as all movements and political parties do. It is not led by anyone, so not much point in talking of its leader. It has founders, people who had the idea. Roger is a founder and his views are his own.… Read more »

Benjiman Angwin
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Benjiman Angwin

I do worry that many in the independence movement are seeking political change over cultural liberation.

I personally think the parliamentary system of Britain and Canada to be a great system which we should embrace. It’s the Welsh Language we need to revolve revolutionary ideas around, not political agendas and beliefs.

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

The parliament bench system is pretty much dead. I hope people go for “Round Table” in Cymru.
So, Round Table by vote.
Citizens Assemblies, remind us of the carting of aristocrats to execution, so won’t catch on in Cymru.
Anyway, we don’t have enough Aristos’ to last one knitted sock.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

“Citizens Assemblies, remind us of the carting of aristocrats to execution”

Surely this is the essence of the very appeal of Citizens Assemblies? We may not have much of an aristocracy here in Wales, but we do have the crachach who could do with being brought down a peg or two.

Personally I’d much prefer workers and peasants soviets…

Richard Penderyn
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Richard Penderyn

O come now Benjamin ….. the 17th and 18th century parliaments have some merit…but please dont get all rose tinted glassy eyed lad…must adapt with new technology and society
….next we will be hearing nonsense how they are the oldest parliaments haha

Richard Penderyn
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Richard Penderyn

A principled liberal like you needs to question centralised parliamentary systems as thats what old school liberals started to do even in early 1900s

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

“an independent Wales within Europe” … I believe this is a forked-tongued way of saying Wales under direct rule of Brussels without London interfering. “Extinction Rebellion” is a movement made up of useful idiots that are unwittingly furthering the a globalist agenda of authoritarianism also known as Agenda 2030. (Thankfully, more and more people are seeing through the dodgy science and propaganda that man’s minuscule contribution to planetary CO2 is causing catastrophic global warming.) “Citizens Assemblies” is a far left project designed to push unpopular programmes on people under the mirage of “democracy”. These same people hate democratic referendums when… Read more »

Richard Penderyn
Guest
Richard Penderyn

Brussels does not directly rule people unless you make the mistake of being in the Euro without a central bank …… it does have much influence but not 100% direct rule

Alan
Guest
Alan

Please, genuine question, how are referenda democratic? Every way I look at them, they are supremely Undemocratic.

Richard Penderyn
Guest
Richard Penderyn

Wales historically per square mile has some of the richest resource wealth on the Earths surface..yet its people believe the opposite..hilarious