Nick Clegg calls for sortition-based constitutional convention

Writing in the Sunday Times in the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg proposes a citizen-jury based constitutional convention:

I welcome Labour’s decision to embrace the long-standing Liberal Democrat call for a constitutional convention — but it needs a precise mandate, beginning next year and concluding in 2017. It should have a citizen’s jury at its heart, representing every corner of the UK. One area it will need to address is the future of the House of Lords, which, in my view, would better serve people as an elected second chamber, in keeping with federal systems across the world. Ultimately, however, it will not be up to politicians — this process will be led by the people.

It’s often puzzled me that politicians are eager to use sortition as a way to determine complex constitutional issues, but we can’t be trusted to make everyday political decisions (the price of bread, tax rates, invading foreign countries, gay marriage etc). Clegg’s proposal also appears to confuse the notion of a jury (which determines the outcome of a debate) and political leadership — “this process will be led by the people” — reminding one of Ledru-Rollin’s epithet: “there go the people, I must follow them for I am their leader”. We won’t make any progress until the conceptual and practical distinction between these two aspects of politics (leadership and decision-making) is respected. In a democracy, political leaders can propose and advise but they should not determine the outcome — the decision should be in the hands of a statistically-representative microcosm of the citizen body. The problem in this particular instance, of course, is that English citizens would outnumber those of the other nations of the UK by an order of magnitude and the English would be unlikely to accept numerical parity between the nations (i.e. 1/4 of the composition of the citizen jury). So sortition, in this case, would only make the problem worse.