Why wait for Westminster to grant you a Constitutional Convention?, Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins asked at the IWA’s conference a week before the Scottish referendum. “Hold your own one; decide what you want, and ask for it – you never know, at this time, you might just get it” the former Editor of The Times implored his audience.
So that’s what we’re doing. On January 26th we’ll be launching the first ‘Crowd Sourced’ Constitutional Convention on the future of Wales, and the UK.
Thanks to dozens of small donations from across Wales, and the support of the UK’s Changing Union project, we are able to launch an eight-week experiment in deliberative democracy to run in parallel with discussions at Westminster to devolve further power to Scotland, England and Wales.
Both First Minister Carwyn Jones, and Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb, seem to agree that any powers being offered to Scotland as a result of the Smith Commission should be available to Wales if we want them. But do we want them? And what would it mean in practice? That’s what we’ll be asking over the course of the next few months.
Just as we are ‘crowd sourcing’ the funding to try and help us hold this innovative experiment in deliberative democracy, we are also ‘crowd sourcing’ the design of the debate. We have put up our plans online to enable people to comment and shape the way we plan to hold the debate.
Our intention over the two months of the project is to shadow the discussion across the rest of the UK to try and ensure that Wales is not lost in a debate chiefly focused on Scotland and England, and, crucially, to ensure the debate reaches beyond the political elites.
We’ll look at the main areas being suggested for further devolution in Scotland by the Smith Commission – powers over the economy and the Welfare State – and examine how they apply to Wales; and then look at how devolution to England and the recommendations of UK Government’s Cabinet committee under William Hague will impact on the workings of the UK, and what its future should be.
Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has set up a process of discussion amongst party leaders at Westminster to find a consensus for further powers which will culminate in a St David’s Day Declaration on March 1st. We’re hoping our crowd-sourced discussions can feed into that process and help influence the party manifestos for implementation after May’s General Election
We’re breaking down the eight weeks into five stages to cover the following themes:
- What is the UK for? If there’s to be a Union what should it do?
- How do we create a more prosperous Wales? (The economy)
- How do we make Wales a fairer country? (The Welfare State)
- What is the future of the UK?
- What is Wales for?
The first and final stage will last a week each, while the other stages will span a two week period. Each stage will offer information on the context of the debate and pose open questions, as well as questions which offer binary choices so that we can measure people’s reactions to the debate. We’ll also be adjusting our plans as the project progresses in the light of experience. We fully expect to make mistakes and for the project to be imperfect, but we hope it will open up discussion and engage people in a debate about the future direction of our country.
We are working with a specialist digital democracy company called Delib to design a website to host the Constitutional Convention. Learning from a pilot project we conducted we know that a debate on a website is not enough, there needs to be parallel debates and activities. The debate will not be confined to the site but will also be facilitated by our partners: the UK Changing Union project, NUS Wales, Wales TUC, Federation of Small Businesses Cymru, Electoral Reform Society Cymru, Community Housing Cymru and Media Wales.
We still need to fundraise to help us reach as wide an audience as possible. If you think our project is important we’d be grateful for a donation to help it reach its potential. And most of all we need your help to ensure we’re asking the right questions, and, of course, to take part.
This post is part of our Great Charter Convention series, hosted in collaboration with Open Democracy, IPPR and the University of Southampton.