Revealed: Support for 'House of Citizens' second chamber at Holyrood to keep MSPs in check

Scots would back plans for a "second chamber" at Holyrood to scrutinise legislation and keep the Government of the day in check, according to a new poll.
Holyrood has no second chamberHolyrood has no second chamber
Holyrood has no second chamber

The so called "House of Citizens" is being proposed by a coalition of pro-democracy groups and would be made up of ordinary citizens selected on a jury-style basis.

Support for the change, which would establish a revising chamber at Holyrood similar to the role currently fulfilled by the House of Lords at Westminster, outnumbers opposition by more than 2 to 1 among Scots adults, according to a YouGov poll. A total of 43% of respondents back the plans, compared to just 17% opposed. When "don't knows" are stripped out, support rises to over 53%.

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Organisations including the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, Common Weal, Royal Society of Arts and the Sortition Foundation have mapped out how a House of Citizens could work in practice and are encouraging members of the public to sign an petition to support the change.

Campaigners say it would represent a ‘shining example of trust in our communities’ when compared to the fully-appointed Lords.

“Now more than ever, Scotland's success depends upon the power of people working together to tackle the real challenges – whether that’s on the economy, Brexit, climate change or healthcare,” a spokesman for the campaign said.

“But right now, decisions about us are not made with us. Too often the we feel locked out outside of election time. Democracy isn’t just putting a cross in the ballot box every five years – it’s feeling like all of us have a permanent stake in how decisions are made. A House of Citizens would complement decision-making at Holyrood – by ensuring the voices of everyday people are heard throughout the legislative process.”

The House of Citizens would be derived from the Citizens Assembly of Scotland which was established at the start of this year, made up of a cross range of ordinary Scots. It held a series of brainstorming sessions over a series of weekends to consider major issues facing Scotland, including the country's constitutional future and climate change, before publishing reports.

Its membership was selected randomly, but demographically representative of the wider population in terms of age, ethnicity, gender and income.

It is preparing to publish its findings from its final meeting where it considered the prospect of second Holyrood chamber.

The YouGov poll was carried out on November 23-26 and asked two questions. Firstly it asked whether Scots support a Citizens Assembly being established to inform the decisions of the Scottish Parliament.

This found 45% in favour, while 14% were against.

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Secondly, it asked whether Scots would support a Citizens Assembly fulfilling a "House of Citizens" role at Holyrood in approving or blocking legislation passed by MSPs and the Government of the day. This found 43% in support, with 17% against. Support was particularly high among Labour (50%) and SNP (48%) supporters.

There was also a geographical variation with support high in the south of Scotland (50%) and Lothians (48%), but falling away in Glasgow (32%).

The spokesman added: added: “The old way of doing politics was that you pick a destination every five years – and there’s no getting off until the next election. A House of Citizens would bring together Scottish people from all walks of life, to lay down new tracks or update our destination along the way. That will get us where we need to be - a better future for everybody.”

The prospect of a revising chamber may be prescient with polls suggesting that the SNP is on course for a Holyrood majority in next May's election which critics may suggest leaves no effective checks on the party's control at Holyrood next year.

The Scottish Parliament is currently a "unicameral” legislature with 129 MSPs. At the moment there is no "House of Review" that scrutinises legislation which is passed in a three stage process. Committees comprised of MSPs do scrutinise and amend legislation, before it is passed in its final form.

The previous SNP majority administration between 2011 was branded the "bulldozer" by opponents who claimed that often botched legislation was pushed through without due regard to potential pitfalls. The Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was introduced to crack down on sectarian singing and trouble at matches, but it quickly met with criticism from legal experts, fans' groups and equalities organisations who branded it unworkable and said unfairly targets football fans. It was repealed after the SNP lost its majority.

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Too often in politics people do not see people like them in power. A House of Citizens – made up to reflect all of Scotland’s wealth of experience and backgrounds – is one idea which could help change that.

“We could ensure the public’s ability to properly scrutinise legislation and hold decisions to account – not just once every five years. This is an exciting idea that has real potential to revolutionise democracy here in Scotland.”

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Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA said Scotland could be a global pioneer.

“It is vital that we integrate deliberative democracy as a core and continuing feature of our democratic system," he said.

"Deliberation is growing around the world and this is bound to continue. If the Scottish Government and Parliament and were to commit to a permanent Citizens Assembly, it would show Scotland can be a world leader in democratic renewal.”

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