Crowd(Cloud)sourcing the UK constitution?
The first time I heard about this notion, my immediate response was, ‘wait a minute, the UK doesn’t have a constitution? ‘. Due to my ignorance and obviously forgotten political knowledge from my undergraduate study, I googled, and found that, no, the UK doesn’t have one.
“The UK has no constitution, or as every first year law student learns, it has no constitution written down in one grand document. Rather it has laws, conventions, practices, activities scattered all over the place that constitutional lawyers then gather together and describe as the UK constitution…”
Professor Conor Gearty, Director of the IPA and Professor and Human Rights Law, explained the reasoning behind the project.
There are many questions one can ask about this project.
– Why does the UK need a written constitution?
– Is it necessarily good or it can have negative implications?
– Who should be involved in the process?
– Should it be about the UK, or take a wider scope with the EU, or even a global perspective?
– How do we determine what values or concepts should be included?
How does this work?
So I saw this interesting seminar in the LSE, the event involved a live voting from the floor audience with a series of question regarding a value or a concept to be adopted into the constitution (draft). After first round voting, the result is displayed on the screen.
To be honest, I was a bit astonished by the result, I am a firm believer in equality.
The host then invited the floor to speak why and what they voted for, followed by further deliberation from the panel on stage. It turned out many questioned the term “treated equally” here, in which they doubt whether it refers to economic, social or political rights. Or does it mean British citizen, immigrants, or others who reside in this country?
After that, the audience would vote again on the same motion. It was very interesting that after the deliberation process, some people changed their mind. The result is here.
Does Everyone Deserve to Be Treated Equally?
A. Yes – 46%
B. No – 43%
C. Undecided – 11%
It’s also questionable that, if the deliberation plays a significant role in shaping the public opinion, the quality of panels, their neutrality or stance would also be highly influential in the process.
In a society, it would then be the politicians, academics, and the media who act as the ‘panel’.
I like how free deliberation and discussion enable the mass to collectively contribute to the construction of a constitution. It reminds me of a similar advocacy in Hong Kong, the ‘Occupy Central’ campaign. They organise public events to involve both sides in discussing the proposal of universal suffrage in Hong Kong and how the ultimate action ‘Occupy Central’ should be carried out if Beijing refused to give HK a true democracy.
What next? Imagining the possibility of Cloudsourcing?
When I read about this event on the LSE website, actually the word “Clodusourcing” appeared in my head, and I thought this is some sort of political campaign leveraging with the power of cloud technology. It turned out it is “Crowd” but not “Cloud” . I was a little bit disappointed, because the participation of the project is still limited to those who can attend the “offline” events, which one can imagine would be from a fairly educated and middle socioeconomic background. What about those who are neglected outside this campaign? And what about those who are not on the stage panel? (Nevertheless the project never says it would launch a large-scale of open consultation, and some people (in the panel) inevitably have more influence on the agenda than the others.)
Limitation of the physical events is it hinders a wider scope of participation. What about participation by an open & online platform? How about bi-weekly voting on several conceptual questions held online and everyone is free to express their views in the period (say 2 weeks), and then a re-vote of the same questions in the next 2 weeks? The process can be made transparent and systematic as well and people can trace or read others contribution.
Another concern of mine is the language used in the project. It often includes political concepts or legal terms (when the commentary is contributed by academics or legal professionals), which are less easy to be understood by the general public. I do appreciate how they framed the question in simple wordings in the events and I think that’s the language of ordinary people.
Video of the event