Does the UK need a codified constitution? We discuss the pros and cons of a constitutional convention and having a new constitution written by citizens
Several initiatives, such as the Green Party, Electoral Reform Society, and Institute of Public Affairs at the London School of Economics, are suggesting the organization of a citizens’ convention to design a new constitution for the UK. This would be one of the first bottom-up experiences of constitutional design, in contrast to the usual elite-dominated top-down approaches.
Codified constitution written by the people
Britain is one of the few remaining nations which do not have a written constitution. A constitution is basically a set of rules that determine how the different parts of the government relate to each other, what they can and can't do, and also their relationship with the people governed. In most countries the constitution is written and has a special status among other country laws. A constitution defines and regulates how society works and the role of its institutions such as government, monarchy, armed and security forces, etc. The proponents of a constitutional convention argue that British citizens from all across the UK would gather together to create its first written constitution. This would be an empowering exercise of direct democratic participation.
The convention would be a mass movement of the people, through which they would decide how they want British democracy to work. There are many areas on which citizens' input could be valuable to improve the UK institutional setting at different levels. For instance people could provide ideas on:
- How to re-define the ways governments are elected and operate;
- The role, powers and obligations of the British Monarchy, police forces, and local authorities;
- The territorial organization of the state and the benefits of decentralisation;
- Controversial institutions, such as the House of Lords;
- The model of welfare state and the basic rules and procedures on how public sector organisations such as the NHS are managed and funded;
- Political accountability and political parties.
A citizen-led convention would require a great logistics and organisation effort. Panels of experts and keynote speakers should be selected to help citizens better understand the legal and political dimensions of an eventual codified constitution. It would be necessary to discuss the pros and cons of a written constitution. Attendees to the constitutional convention could break up into facilitated workshops, each one working on a different section of the new constitution. Different groups could work in parallel in different parts of the UK. New technologies could be employed to facilitate the coordination, gathering and dissemination of information. Proposals within working groups could be subject to popular vote and the final draft to a yes/no referendum.
Using a constitutional convention as a mechanism to draft a new constitution would have some pros and cons:
- More democratic due to greater participation of the people in defining problems and solutions
- Decentralised decision making process with input at several levels (from local to national)
- Citizens would be more likely to accept and endorse the new Constitution having been more actively involved in its design
- Opportunity to break some inertias and path dependency and introduce changes that may adapt the organisation of the state to the new times
- Corporations and lobbyists would find it more difficult to impose their interests
- Organising such a large scale convention could be difficult from a logistical perspective, very expensive and time consuming
- Some of the recommendations from technical (legal, economic, and political) experts may be difficult to understand by many of the citizens participating in the convention
- Some appealing proposals for the new constitution could be difficult to implement in the short-term or mid-term
- Traditional political parties and the UK Government may not accept the new people’s constitution proposal
- The inclusion of too many people with different opinions/ideas may lead to deadlocks in some areas
This would be the first ever written Constitution of Britain, written by the people, for the people. Do you think it is worth the effort? Is the current UK "constitution" still fit for purpose? Is a citizens' convention on the constitution a feasible option to build a better, more democratic and fairer society for the people of Britain?
If you change your mind, you can change your vote simply by clicking on another option.
Constitutional Convention: Should the UK have a codified constitution written by citizens?
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