Jackson Carlaw MSP on increasing meaningful engagement at Holyrood
You’ll have experienced this recently. Before elections there is a flurry of information about prospective candidates and political parties and what their stance is on mainstream issues that matter to people from health to education. Then afterwards the analysis of who has done well in the polls and what issues have resonated with certain sections of the country follows.
For organisations and those seeking to influence policy, another opportunity to get to know local and national representatives to further and get support for their issue.
But how much involvement should organisations and individuals have in issues that affect them after the election furore is long past? Once their elected representative gets their feet under the table, what ongoing involvement should there be with people directly over national and local issues? What about the views of people who feel their needs are not met through mainstream politics?
This parliament, being relatively young and modern, has led the way from its inception on putting peoples’ voices at the core of its activity – it wanted a formal way to hear the issues that mattered to people through the use of public petitions.
Whilst a petition is one outlet to hear from people directly, more recently public participation in politics has been changing. From citizen’s panels, juries and assemblies, there has been a shift in how political institutions have an ongoing conversation with the people we serve. Its aim is to bring them closer to the policy and the laws that affect them. Making sure it’s not just voices that shout the loudest that can be heard.
To reflect this, after last year’s election the Public Petitions Committee had its remit changed to include citizen participation. Now this committee is launching a far-reaching inquiry into public participation in the parliament – a comprehensive look at who we are and are not speaking to. If certain communities or groups are not involved in our work – why not?
Let me be clear, this is about asking what the parliament can do differently, not what more groups or communities can do differently.
This is about changing the nature of the conversation – our long-term aim is to make sure that a diverse range of voices are able to articulate their perspective in a way that works for them. Recognising that every group is different and respecting and celebrating those differences. It will mean us letting go of traditional forms of consultation and finding new ways to work.
That is a big ambition. But without it we will only ever hear part of the story. We want meaningful engagement with everyone across Scotland.
Just like an election is important for determining the balance of power in our political institutions, I believe this work will be an important part in the process of determining the conversation between parliament and the people – as important now as it was back in 1999.
Jackson Carlaw is MSP for Eastwood.