Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK

Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK
Second Report of the Democracy in the UK after Brexit Project

Alan Renwick, Ben Lauderdale, Meg Russell, and James Cleaver

Many questions have been raised in recent years about how well democracy is functioning in the UK. Public satisfaction with politicians is low, and a sense of alienation from politics is widespread. Those in public life are often seen as dishonest and self-serving, and the systems that are intended to check such behaviour are perceived as inadequate. Events such as the referendums on Scottish independence and Brexit have fed polarisation. The proper roles of parliament, government, the courts, and the general public in shaping outcomes are contested. Governments and opposition parties throughout the UK have proposed changes.In this context, it is important to know what the public think. How do people in the UK want our democracy to work? In particular, where do they want power to lie? We can approach these questions partly through opinion surveys – and have done so through a major survey of attitudes to democracy conducted in the summer of 2021.1 But a citizens’ assembly allows us to gain a deeper understanding. Most people care about the state of our democracy, but do not spend much of their time pondering its details. To find out what people really think, it is important to give them a chance to learn and reflect before asking them to express a view.The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK was set up to do that. Its 67 members – carefully recruited to be representative of the UK adult population – met online over six weekends in the final months of 2021 to learn from each other and from a diverse array of experts, to reflect and deliberate, and to come to conclusions. Specifically, it was established to examine the question, ‘How should democracy in the UK work?’.This is the report of the Citizens’ Assembly. It is in two parts.  

  • Part 1 describes the Assembly itself. It explains why and how it was created, what its focus was, who ran it, how its members were recruited, who its members were, how it operated, and how it reached conclusions. 
  • Part 2 sets out the members’ conclusions. These include 16 core democratic principles, which the Assembly members used to frame their thinking; 8 broad resolutions about aspects of the democratic system; 51 recommendations on specific features of that system; and 20 statements of what the members felt about how democracy is working in the UK today.  

The report was written by the Assembly’s organisers: the research team at the UCL Constitution Unit and the delivery team at Involve (see page 11 for further details). But its conclusions are those of the Assembly members themselves, written in their own words. Members had a chance to review a draft of the report before the text was finalised, and some small changes were made in response.This is the second of four reports that will be published by the UCL Constitution Unit in 2022 as part of its Democracy in the UK after Brexit project. The project is examining public attitudes to democracy in the UK today. The first report, published in January, set out the findings of a survey of public opinion conducted in July 2021. The third report, in late summer, will give the results of a further survey. The final report will present an overarching analysis of public attitudes to democracy across the UK today.The conclusions of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK deserve to be heard. The Assembly members reached them through intense discussion and hard work. They are relevant to every part of the UK. They demonstrate with sharp clarity that all of us – but particularly those in positions of power – need to do better at running our democracy well.We hope that policymakers and others will now take up the ideas expressed in this report. The conversation about our democratic future needs to continue. 

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