Discovering the People’s Will

sortition-front-cover-ndf.pngThe Sortition Foundation, in collaboration with newDemocracy, has submitted a report, Discovering the People’s Will: Citizens’ Assemblies as Trusted Proxies in Irish Referenda, to the Irish Citizens' Assembly proposing that every referendum in Ireland be preceded by a Citizens' Assembly. Yes, it is kind of self-referential (very postmodern, perhaps!) to try to convince a Citizens' Assembly to propose that Citizens' Assemblies are the way to go. They are meeting to deliberate on the topic in mid-January - let's see what they recommend.

Legislature by Lot

[Note: this has been adapted from an orginial blog post here:]


From Friday to Sunday this weekend (September 15-17) the co-founder and director of the Sortition Foundation, Brett Hennig, will be joining a group of academics, researchers and activists gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss the pros and cons of a "Legislature by Lot" - a parliament, senate or congress selected by sortition. 

The workshop is being organised by Professor John Gastil (Penn State) and Professor Erik Olin Wright (University of Wisconsin-Madison) who have drafted the principal proposal that attendees are responding to. Their proposal is for a bicameral legislature where one chamber is elected and one is selected using sortition.

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Sortition - doing democracy differently | Brett Hennig | TEDxDanubia

A TEDx talk on sortition from May 2017 has just been released:

A Citizens’ Assembly for the Scottish Parliament

CA Scotland coverHow would sortition be implemented in practice?

A new paper proposing a second chamber for the Scottish Parliament, selected using sortition, has been published by the Sortition Foundation in collaboration with Common Weal Scotland and the newDemocracy Foundation. It gives a detailed answer to the question of implementation.

Initial (somewhat inaccurate) press coverage by The National was okay, except for the unhelpful headline which focused on the proposed salary and called assembly members Scottish 'Lords'.

A (sold out) talk at Edinburgh University will discuss the merits of the proposal.

The full paper can be accessed here.

AGM, book launch, G1000 tour and more!

Spring is coming and the Sortition Foundation has an action-packed March chock-full of events, not least of which is our second Annual General Meeting happening on Wednesday March 15 at 8:30pm at Mildreds Restaurant in Kings Cross. If you plan on coming along please send us an email to let us know.

book launch general

CSDOtherwise if you are in (or near) Brighton, London, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Cambridge then here is an event or two for your calendar:

Brighton: 7pm Monday March 13 @ The Blue Man Cafe: The End of Politicians book launch and G1000 information evening (Facebook event)

London: 6pm Tuesday March 14 @ Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster: Reinvigorating democracy through random selection (Facebook event)

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Of the People... all the People

Outrage_Generator.jpgBritain's historical issues around racism, sexism and homophobia have left an awkward and potentially irreconcilable difficulty at the heart of our democracy – one which sortition would remove at a stroke, argues Daz Pearce.


A few months ago in the capacity of my 'regular' job, I was chatting to the human resources manager after (much to my own surprise) winning one of those 'employee recognition' awards. Among other things, we discussed a period several years ago when things were, shall we say, less positive than they currently are. One aspect that I recalled vividly in our discussion was a sense that there were a handful of individuals deliberately making my life more difficult than it needed to be – those familiar with toxic office politics will understand the idea of being 'set up for failure' and then 'chastised' in public rather than in private etc. That the departure of one of these people coincided neatly with a positive shift in my own career fortunes served as confirmation that this problem had been real, rather than perceived or imagined.

Apologies if that came over as self-indulgent, the relevance is this: when I look back, I now have no doubt whatsoever that this sense of having been 'got at' affected me in many ways, all of them negative. It caused me to spend time looking over my own shoulder for slings and arrows, rather than 'playing the next ball' with a positive approach. It exacerbated a suspicion of authority that if I'm honest had always existed to some degree anyway, and fed a cynicism about the fragility of whatever you have worked hard for, this idea that someone who doesn't like the look of you could come and take it away at any time. Painful as it was, in a very narrow sense I'm glad it happened – being white, male, agnostic and heterosexual pretty much disqualifies me from suffering as a result of most forms of bigotry, but I got an idea of how its victims, or at least some of them, must feel.

On the subject of bigotry, there are two key points that probably need to be communicated before we go further: (1) a clear majority (at an educated guess, circa 90 per cent) of the population are not prejudiced on the common race/gender/sexuality grounds themselves, while regarding acts fueled by such bigotry and attempts at discrimination as dumb and dangerous in equal measure; (2) unfortunately, a significant minority still have 'issues with difference' in one form or another and that minority will continue to exist ad infinitum in all likelihood. By significant, I am referring to their nature as opposed to their number – a minority sufficiently motivated to 'get off their arse and do something' even (or maybe especially) a 'lone wolf' minority of one like Anders Breivik, could never be written off as 'insignificant' by any objective measure.

Power resides in what you're capable of, not simply how many of you there are.

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Showbiz for Ugly People

MelloeRepresentative democracy turns politicians into celebrities, which results in us asking all the wrong questions both of and about them. Switching to sortition would break the link between decision-making and 'showbiz' culture, argues Daz Pearce.

This coming Friday's episode of Have I Got News for You is somewhat conspicuous in being the first of the current series not to feature an active politician either as host or on the panel. So far Series 52 has seen Ruth Davidson, Tim Farron, Chris Bryant and Tim Loughton making an appearance as panelists after Nick Clegg bravely (or perhaps simply knowing he's leaving parliament) dared to take the host's seat in its first episode. Previous inhabitants of that chair have included Boris Johnson and William Hague, both of whom went on to subsequently become Foreign Secretary. Farron (who has now been on HIGNFY twice) merely followed the late Charles Kennedy and Nigel Farage in being the latest 'current' party leader to put his head on the block.

Far from being solely a bit of fun for a household name no longer in the front line, it's become a way in which politicians of all persuasions and colours have been able to either cultivate, or at least maintain, a public image for the purposes of career advancement – sure, their own performances (the quite brilliant Kennedy excepted) tend to be about as funny as a tropical disease, just as a Select Committee comprising wholly of comedians would not inspire you with total confidence. The 'role' of the active politician on the show seems to have been refined to answering (or refusing to answer) difficult or compromising questions about crises or clashes within their own party, watching potentially 'regrettable' footage of themselves, and letting Merton, Hislop and another mercilessly rip the piss out of them with good humour.

Of course Have I Got News for You is just the most obvious example of a vehicle through which politicians are invited or choose to invade popular culture. Top Gear, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and even This Morning are other high-profile shows on which active parliamentarians have appeared in order to raise their profile, usually with the understanding that a few cheap laughs will be derived by the studio and viewing audience at their expense (less so with This Morning than the other two, at least in the case of intended laughter). It's worth asking how this became possible and why somebody doing what's supposed to be quite a serious job would subject themselves to anything like the embarrassing cross-examination that David Cameron got from Ross a decade ago.

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Games that People Play

Bill ClintonReplacing representative democracy with sortition would break the link between victory and power, end partisan tribalism and transform the governance of a nation into a mature decision-making process instead of the team sport it currently is, argues Daz Pearce.


About a month ago I was having a conversation with a mate who it's fair to say has politics that are well to the left of mine. Predictably enough, the topic was that of the Labour Party and equally unsurprisingly, our analyses of the situation as it stood headed off in rather different directions at quite an early stage. However, he raised two points which deserved nothing less than careful thought – one was 'the Clinton Paradox', the conundrum which faced Bill ahead of the 1992 presidential election. In short, there were two choices presented to the Democrats and their frontman ahead of that campaign were. First choice: pursue more obvious, recognisable and ideological left-of-centre positions on key policy areas to have a mandate for real change if successful (which, conversely, is also the strategy with the greatest risk of electoral failure).

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Referenda - Delusions of Democracy

The menu at Cafe Referenda is distinctly limited – only sortition gives people real choices over the real choices, argues Daz Pearce.

To paraphrase Suzanne Vega, you walk into the diner and pick up a menu. It contains two options, namely Carnivore Speciale or Vegetariana. Logical powers of deduction suggest that one almost certainly contains meat and the other doesn't, but unless you're a self-identified vegetarian, or some wild inhabitant of the Serengeti taking a well-earned vacation, that probably isn't an enormous help. Even then, you'd like to know a few more of the particulars before deciding which, if any, of these appetising options most appeal to you. A minute later, a woman wanders over to your table, imploring you to vote Vegetariana - “Just think of the millions of animals impacted by your choice,” she quite ridiculously pleads before badgering you for several minutes about how 'Meat is Murder' until some Jehovah's Witnesses helpfully come along to make the save.

A short while later a man in a suit who looks, sounds and smells like he's been drinking heavily sidles up to you, explaining that he saw and heard the exchange you had with the vegetarian woman earlier. “She's talking out of her arse,” he tells you, “I reckon it's time you took back control, stuck it to the man and went Carnivore Speciale.” Confused, you approach the owner of the diner and ask him exactly what these two options consist of. Pulling a face, and with an apologetic look in his eyes, he informs you that 'the rules' dictate that he's not allowed to tell you that and, seeing as you're here, those same 'rules' mean that they're locking you in and you have to choose one of those options NOW. And by the way, would you like the alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink with that? Please note that the same 'rules' apply...


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Blair, Cameron, Messiah-Seeking and Victimhood

Blair the Messiah

In a representative democracy we can always simply blame the messiah – not so with sortition, writes Daz Pearce.

Tony Blair is an important person in my life whether I like it or not. I was fifteen years old on THAT day in May 1997, a day we can safely say only representative democracy can give you. Sure, there was the 'fake spontaneous demonstration' at Downing Street as D:Ream became to that General Election what Baddiel and Skinner had been to England's oh-so-near-miss at Euro 96. But there was also hope, a vibe, a positive energy felt by millions – the Tories had been not just kicked out, but pulverised into near-irrelevance. Were they a fighter, it was the sort of beating that you'd point out many never come back from - half the cabinet had lost their seats, Scotland had launched them face first back over Hadrian's Wall and their remaining MPs resembled those Japanese ex-soldiers who appear periodically having been in hiding since about 1944, wondering where they were, how they got here and what the hell they'd missed.

The sleazy, tired, rudderless Tories thoroughly deserved it, of course they did.

That was one half of the story, Tony Blair was the other. Telegenic, charismatic and with an avalanche of good news for just about everybody, Blair presented New Labour as the political equivalent of some miracle cure for baldness, only the 'potential side effects' on the back of the bottle were, well, precisely none. No losers, only winners. No tough decisions required, not when everything's so simple to figure out. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, education, education, education, The Environment will be at the centre of everything we do -  after all, it's the economy, stupid. The popularity of the New Labour brand in 1997 was indicated not by the fact that they won (just about anybody in a red rosette could have managed that) but the colossal margin of victory, a whacking majority of 179, an elective dictatorship in all but name.

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G1000 Kick Off in the UK - Cambridge, September 24th

against-elections.jpgIf Brexit proved anything, it proved that what Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels say in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government is true. People do not vote after careful consideration of facts and options, they vote to affirm their membership of various social groups and express agreement with the opinions of those groups, which may have little or nothing to do with the issue at hand being voted upon.

As David Van Reybrouck expressed so eloquently in his article, Why elections are bad for democracy (an extract from his book Against Elections) there is something very wrong with voting and elections and there is a much better way to do democracy: select a representative random sample of ordinary people, provide them with balanced information, and let them deliberate together to find out not what people do think, but what they would think, if given the time and information together with a good deliberative process.

From 11am to 4pm on September 24th, in Cambridge at the Six Bells Pub, a group of volunteers will meet to kick-off the process of bringing Van Reybrouck's brainchild - a G1000 - to the UK for the first time. The dream is to bring a randomly selected group of 1000 residents together for one day in early 2017, to deliberate and decide together what is best for Cambridge.

But we need your help to make it a reality. We need people to donate their time and their energy to help organise such an event. We will need fundraisers, social media ambassadors, technicians, volunteers, cooks and a whole host of other help. Can you be one of these people? If so please join us, get in touch or come along to the G1000 Kick-off in Cambridge on September 24th.

Brexit - A Generation’s Darkest Hour


EU Referendum Commentary by Samuel Jefferson

Samuel Jefferson was a full time Junior Doctor until only a few years ago. He’s now an award winning screenwriter, spending a lot of his time writing scripts for television shows or films. He’s also gay man in his late twenties, living in London, and someone who’s still constantly in his student overdraft.


When someone writes a film, there’s a tried and tested structure that they can follow; a sort of guideline for making it resonate with the audience.  A large part of the foundation for these guidelines actually comes from the work and ideas of Aristotle, one of the great thinkers of Ancient Greece.  One of these key structural points comes towards the end of the film, at about three quarters finished.  This moment is known as ‘the low point’, or more emotively, the ‘darkest hour’.  Basically the lead character of the film gets to a point where it seems like they’ve lost everything.  A point so crushing to their hopes and dreams that it seems there’s no hope for the future.  Billy in Billy Elliot is told he can’t go to the ballet school audition by his father.  Luke in Star Wars sees Obi Wan Kenobi die in a lightsabre battle.  Maximus in Gladiator is betrayed and captured, ready to be thrown into the colosseum to be killed.  I could give you a thousand more examples, but you get the idea.

For the majority of the young, University educated, middle class voters in the UK, it feels like our ‘darkest hour’ has come.  The EU Referendum has taken place, and by a small percentage, the people voted as a country to leave the European Union.  The statistics show it’s people like me who voted to remain.  This certainly seemed to be the case before the vote, as my Facebook feed filled with pro-Europe rhetoric over the last few weeks.  But now the same feed is filled with words of disbelief, anger, and genuine heartbreak.  Like a character from a film, my peers and I were caught-up in ourselves, unware of the defeat that was looming. 


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