IWA to lead crowd-sourced constitutional convention

Lee Waters explains why the IWA plans to run its own constitutional convention for Wales.

This is my daughter.  What kind of Wales is she going to inherit?

That’s the question that motivates me in the debate about our constitution and the future shape of the UK.  All too often the debates are arid, jargon- dominated conversations amongst the political elites that focus on the mechanics and not the bigger picture.  But one of the many lessons of the Scottish referendum campaign is the need to put people at the centre.

And that’s what the Institute of Welsh Affairs wants to do. Rather than wait for a UK Government to set-up a Constitutional Convention to debate the future shape of the UK, Wales needs to take the initiative. The IWA plans to set up a ‘crowd-sourced’ Constitutional Convention to discuss what Wales should ask for in this debate.

Drawing on the example of the Icelandic experience in citizen involvement, as well as the Scottish Constitutional Convention that mobilised support for a Parliament in the 80s & 90s, and the more recent experience in Ireland, the Institute of Welsh Affairs intends to bring a group of civil society figures and organisations together in the coming weeks to plan a digitally-led Constitutional Convention.

The IWA has already trialled this approach on a smaller scale to form some of our evidence to the Silk Commission.  We’ve piloted an approach using the web to ‘crowd-source’ policy development by bringing people together to debate policy changes. We gathered experts from around the country online over a 6 week period at the end of last year to discuss the practicalities involved in devolving powers over policing and justice.  We plan to build on that to generate a wide ranging conversation with people across Wales, and beyond, about creating a stable constitutional settlement.

We don’t have a fully worked out model, we want to develop this approach as we go along with your input. We want to follow the example of Scotland in the 1980s following the wake of the 1979 referendum where the trade unions, churches and voluntary organisations came together to fashion a way forward.  Our first step is to gather some of the key stakeholders together to design a citizen focused on-line Constitutional Convention.

David Cameron has set-out a timetable for plotting initial proposals for Scotland and England by January, with Parliament taking action after next May’s General Election. We want to make sure Wales’ voice isn’t lost in this process. And crucially that it’s a conversation that goes beyond the political classes.

We need help to make this work. We need you to take part in the debate, but to get there we need your help to get it up and running. We have launched a crowd-funding initiative to enable us to get this exciting project off the ground. Please help us make sure Wales’ voice is heard.


Lee Waters is Director of the IWA.

20 thoughts on “IWA to lead crowd-sourced constitutional convention

  1. Good luck with this. I hope it will engage with all levels and layers of Welsh society rather than the usual suspects who seem to turn up on every think tank and panel (witness The Wales Report audience last night). Politics in the UK has become incredibly fluid as a result of the Scottish referendum and the demand for a real democracy there. I hope we can match that.

  2. There are 1.3 million households in Wales how do you propose to extend the franchise to each, and are you considering the minority groups who might/probably use other languages ?

    Have you calculated how many will be excluded because the experiment is on-line only ?

  3. I’m delighted to see IWA taking the initiative on this. Good luck and I would also urge gathering opinions as widely as possible. People ARE interested in politics if they think their opinion will be listened to.

  4. Forgive me but I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here. You say we need to put people at the centre but then say you intend to bring a group of civil society figures and organisations together to plan a digitally-led Constitutional Convention which will somehow feed into Cameron’s skullduggery. If you want to hear the people of Wales, surely you don’t go first to experts from the usual suspects? I’m not carping, just asking. Cofion cynnes, Confused of Cardiff

  5. @ Ian Layzell

    As Lee rightly states, there are several models that could be adopted and the fact that the IWA office is doing its research before launching such a project demonstrates it’s taking a professional approach. Providing ordinary members of the public with the opportunity to voice their opinions is, as I read it, the central aim of the project. However it doesn’t stop there. Civil society is, in essence, all those bodies and organisations who contribute to the life of Wales that are not political parties. A good example of how this works is the Scottish Constitutional Convention which took place prior to the referendum in 1997.

    In other words, it’s not a case of either/or. If the purpose of the project is to have a public debate, it is also important that it is an informed debate, and for that we need informed opinion.

  6. I personally am very grateful that the ‘great and the good’ are to meet and discuss the future of Wales in its entirety. I wonder how the referendum in the late 1990’s would have gone if voters had understood that within 20 years our MP’s would lose their power to vote in Parliament on English only matters. I suggest that the welsh Labour Party/Llaffur would have been diametrically opposed as left on their own the English people will take a very different path in future years. Lets hope the IWA seeks to engage with very ordinary people like myself and friends and they might get a very large surprise.

  7. I take it there wil be an option for common respresentation and a roll-back to county-level ‘devolution’ administered from Westminster? Some readers may be old enough to remember that this worked pretty well…

    One government, one legal system, one tax system, one needs-based funding system, one civil service, one NHS system, one education system, one official language… Need I go on?

  8. Truly a good idea Lee but in my view IWA has for a long time favoured Welsh Nationalism and has been incredibly intolerant of those who do not share the view that Devolution is good for Wales or that the current approach to Welsh devolution by the Welsh Labour Government is perceived by many as being strictly for the benefit of the Welsh speaking minority?

    In my view for IWA to regain credibility a good start would be to remove censorship and allow an open and frank debate on any subject including the imposition of Welsh language upon the majority and make the debate open to all and not just the individuals and bodies who want to protect the current status quo or to push for more concessions for the minority.

    Doing nothing is not an option as Wales is stagnating and will continue to do so, but sadly the invisible Elephant remains invisible within the Welsh media and perhaps IWA could be persuaded to act in best interests of all people living in Wales!?

  9. I’d fully endorse my former colleague Louise’s enthusiasm for this idea. To at least partly answer Ian Layzell’s entirely valid question perhaps the starting point of who to contact shouldn’t be politicos and constitutional experts (who you are well connected with anyway) but those who can help you speak to and with groups whose voices are not normally heard in these kind of debates. There are a long long list of those & am happy to provide suggestions off line

  10. This is a vitally important step to take and as an organisation who works to ensure the voices of citizens are heard we too want to ensure that all voices are heard: the passionate and the quiet ones. I am conscious that the people of Scotland came out in their thousands to vote with their feet as well as with their minds and that an on-line only approach will not reach many of those who are digitally excluded in Wales so we need to do more. Happy to be part of the conversation of how we do this to enable an increase of empowered citizens who have an interest and a really say in the democratic future of this land.

  11. Sorry, but there is no ‘crowd’ to ‘source’. However, it’s a ‘brave’ (cf.Sir Humphrey) attempt at something different. My concern would be the ‘digital exclusion’ issue already mentioned and the fact that you want us to pay for it too! The online ‘political/civic’ conversation and the new buzz word ‘engagement’ in Wales is small (measured in hundreds) and on a par with S4C viewing figures. I wouldn’t anticipate much change in spite of the Scottish galvanising. The terms ‘constitutional’ and ‘convention’ are a big long grass sleep inducing turn off in any case.
    I have a semantic worry about the term ‘representative’ in politics. I can’t don’t see anybody in politics at the moment that truly reflects or ‘represents’ me or my views (those that I may or may not have). They all seem to be well paid public sector professional ‘managers’ of this and that and maybe they’re very good at it. They adopt (champion is too strong a word) causes, groups, issues, minorities, wars that have little or no resonance for many. In times past, Labour, in particular, might elect miners, postmen, dockers, soldiers to ‘represent’ them in Parliament. We don’t often see that now. I don’t see a Milliband or a Cameron or even a Jones as ‘representative’ of anything remotely to do with the (in)famous ordinary working person. It is a gross misuse of the word ‘represent’. We shouldn’t be calling them ‘representative’ because they’re not. We don’t have representative politics, we have politics.

  12. The headline gives hope but the small print is depressing.

    Yes, a national conversation, to which everyone can contribute, is long overdue in Wales. One good thing about the Scottish referendum was that it showed that people want to talk – and vote – about the future of their country when given a real choice.

    However, the reference to the Scottish convention is not a happy precedent. That was set up with a definite agenda, to push for devolution. As John R Walker points out, a real conversation demands the inclusion of all options. That must mean an honest review of devolution to date and consideration of the thesis that real decentralisation, to the lowest possible level, might be best served by the removal of the entirely superfluous level of government in Cardiff Bay.

    References to ‘a group of civil society figures,’ ‘experts,’ and ‘key stakeholders’ are also discouraging because they rather negate the desirable objective of ‘a conversation that goes beyond the political classes.’

    Finally, while respecting the Institute and – obviously – enjoying its website, one has to ask whether it is the best organisation to lead such a conversation. Although it has usually been fair about giving a platform to contrary opinions, there is no denying that its leadership in recent years has been aligned with on side of the key debate.

  13. the current approach to Welsh devolution by the Welsh Labour Government is perceived by many as being strictly for the benefit of the Welsh speaking minority….

    No doubt it is. But what can you do when perceptions are so radically different from reality? Will those perceptions change when people are confronted by the facts or are we dealing with an impregnable prejudice which facts can’t change? I’m afraid it is the latter. Resentment of Welsh has deep psychological roots and serves a need in some people. You’ll never change their minds.

  14. R Tredwyn Having read over time few of your contributions to IWA blogs I do realise that you have an immense passion for your language and your culture and from my point of view absolutely nothing wrong with it as if nothing else I do value Freedom of Thought and Freedom of Expression.

    In my view I see no point of using innuendo’s, implied ‘psychological obsessions’ and so on to perhaps discredit those who may have a different view point or a different set of values to those that you hold as the issues I have raised have immense implications on Wales and its future and perhaps deserve an open debate?

    Then you go on to say that ‘perceptions of some are different from reality’… When talking about reality especially from the North Wales perspective it’s a fact that public employment and education is in the hands of Welsh speakers: Anglesey 100% / Gwynedd 100% / Conwy 95% and similar situation elsewhere including Ceredigion etc.

    Each of those Counties contains significant number of non-Welsh speakers (Anglesey just over 50%, Gwynedd circa 40%, Conwy close to 80%) and under current employment criteria defined through Welsh Language Schemes (Soon Standards) substantial number of local residents are marginalised into the second class citizens unworthy of public jobs or worthy of having a choice to choose educational language for their children – Can this be right, fair or reasonable?

  15. Chris Jones, I’m bound to ask what it is you want exactly. Democracy is rule by politicians. That is what it is. Contempt for a particular group of politicians may well be justified but contempt for all politicians per se is asking for another form of government. OK, any suggestions? Military dictatorship, anyone? What do we need to do to get different or better politicians? I have an uneasy feeling that the only answer is to have a more interested, more active and less fatalistic electorate. And how the hell do we get that? I take the view that devolution is essential for Wales because our interests and those of our big neighbour don’t always exactly co-incide and we should take responsibility not just whinge when they don’t.. I’m the first to admit the performance of our devolved government has been disappointing. But is that so surprising when the complexion of that government never changes? And who is to blame for that? We are.

  16. John Walker, no please don’t go on. You are already saying ein reich and ein volk. We don’t want the third bit.

  17. R Tredwyn is correct. I argued for hours recently with two UKIP people who told me that most of the UK’s welfare bill goes directly to immigrants. When I pointed out the inaccuracies in their argument they just dismissed it. Similarly, people say the Welsh Government gives every last penny to organisations like Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, and that the IWA is jam packed with Welsh nationalist staff. It’s all false, obviously, but tell a lie so many times and it becomes a truth. As for the Constitutional Convention, if it creates a transparent discussion in our nation then let’s go for it.

  18. Glasnost. I accept that in Gwynedd bilingualism is required for jobs in local government and in schools. As a matter of fact I do consider that fair and reasonable. You wouldn’t go to any other country which had a different language and insist that you be accommodated exclusively in English.
    My point was different. There are no Welsh language requirements for the national government and the vast majority of central government posts and indeed top posts in health authorities, police and universities in Wales are held by monoglot English speakers. People who complain about a Taffia are seldom talking about local authorities in the Welsh-speaking areas; they are usually talking about Wales as a whole, where the perception is divorced from reality.

  19. R.Tredwyn is asking me ‘what I want exactly’ (from politics I assume). I wish I could answer precisely and with honesty. Apart from an irredeemable desire to take the piss or to exercise the cynicism dog, I would like to see progress beyond the politics of ‘Clochmerle’. The answer would also be, as in any religion, you don’t know it until you’ve experienced it – and I haven’t yet felt (or observed in others) the Call yet or had my road to Damascus (Carmarthen?) moment (a cheaply printed tatty illiterate leaflet once or twice a year thumped through the letterbox doesn’t do it for me). When I do I shall strive to be amongst the foremost devotees of the sect that manages somehow to flint sparks from this stony heart of Welsh slate. I shall keep voting Plaid because I happen to like some of their ‘politicians’ and am a sucker for a lost cause – abit like those who vote for the Valleys’ donkey and it’s rosy red rosette.Hee Haw.

  20. It is the oldest trick in the book for bullies to present themselves as victims. It justifies their aggressive and manipulative behaviour, allowing them to enforce the righting of a fictional wrong, which of course is just a ruse for extracting more benefit for themselves at the expense of others.

    We all remember it from school, and sadly, perhaps experience it from time to time in our adult lives. The sad thing is that we actually know all along who the bully and who the bullied is (empirically and rationally, and on the basis of evidence and perspective, it is really quite obvious who has wealth, strength, influence and power and who does not). But a bully is a bully and they are often convinced of their right to ‘absolute’ control of the truth, and of their right to impose their distorted version of reality on others: they can be both utterly intransigent and at the same time quite persuasive. After years of spinning a yarn, you become very good at it.

    In all that we do, if we are not to succumb to the deceit and manipulation of the bully, we must always rely on our ability to reason, the evidence available and the perspective that age and learning brings to us. It is especially important in respect of the Welsh language.

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