People power

This is the title of a letter from our chair published in the Salisbury Journal on Thursday 15 April 2021 on the subject of Citizens’ Assemblies.

It is time to restore the faith of the citizens of Salisbury in the political process.  To that end, it is heartening to see so many candidates for the City and County elections to be held on May 6th embracing the idea of giving a voice to a wide cross section of the citizens of Salisbury.  Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Independent candidates have all pledged their support for the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies or Citizens’ Juries to consider deeply issues like how to meet the climate emergency or how to revitalise our city centre.  The Conservatives are the notable exception.  Have they not learned that they need to restore the faith of the citizens of Salisbury after their shabby treatment of us in recent years?

Members of Citizens’ Assemblies/Juries  are chosen by a process called ‘sortition‘, where letters are sent out inviting citizens to participate and those who respond positively are then chosen at random to be representative of the make up or our community in terms of income level, ethnicity, gender and age.  The citizens who are chosen to attend are paid to attend much like a jury in a trial.  This process ensures that people who would not normally be engaged in such issues are give n the means to participate.  

The participants study the evidence from all sides and make recommendations for our community which are not based on political dogma, sectional interests or personal favour.  Councillors – for all their commitment and hard work – rarely have the opportunity to focus so closely on one issue, hear from the experts scrutinise the evidence and work collaboratively with others to make fully informed recommendations.  This deliberative process is being used in communities throughout the world.   A recent OECD report covered 300 examples world wide.

Why will the Conservatives at both city and county level not back a process which gives power to members of our community in Salisbury?  We have seen the consequences of poor decision making by the councils for our city.  It is time to restore power to our community. 

Dr Mark Potts

Chair of Salisbury Democracy Alliance