FOR a lesson on just how rotten politics is, look to America. Politics has broken America. It’s now perfectly normal to discuss the death of American democracy, or Republican states seceding from the union, or even some contemporary version of a civil war.

That’s what modern politicians do: destroy. They take people, nations and societies, and sunder them. Modern politics has broken Britain; it’s breaking Scotland. It’s broken Hungary, it’s nearly broken Poland, and it’s breaking France. The identity politics which politicians foist upon us is poison.

Do you really believe all those folk who were once friends and are now at each other’s throats over Brexit or independence or US gun control – or whatever the subject is which politicians use like a crowbar to separate us from each other – would hate one another so fiercely if the inhabitants of Holyrood or Westminster or Congress hadn’t fed their anger and forced them into tribes?

Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated by a tiny sliver of society who use the old tactic of divide and rule to reduce us to a perpetual state of dependency which enriches and empowers them?

We’re fools. We’ve permitted our employees – we pay politicians’ exorbitant salaries. after all – to claim absolute dominion over us. If ever there was a system of self-imposed slavery, it’s the condition between the modern voter and politician.

So how do we change that? How do we break the power of politicians and reduce them to the position which they should be in: the managers, not masters, of our will?

Read more: Why it's time to cut politicians out of Scotland's indy debate

The answer is simple but daring: we must assume power ourselves. I don’t mean some anarchist free-for-all. Quite the opposite. I mean the creation of a system whereby informed citizens control the biggest decisions affecting our lives.

Last week I spoke to Professor Matt Qvortrup, one of the most gifted minds in the realm of political science. He is, without hyperbole, the world authority on referendums, and democratic decline. He sees the rise in referendums as inextricably linked to our polarised politics: an expression of the divisions politicians have thrust upon us by creating brutal, binary arguments that reduce everything down to a tribal "us and them", and a zero sum game in which the only conclusion is the destruction of one side.

READ MORE: Matt Qvortrup: Scotland should be 'relaxed' about independence

For a long time, I’ve been mulling over the benefits of "sortition democracy" – where ordinary people are selected like a jury to tackle the most intractable problems facing society. The best example was the Citizens’ Assembly set up in Ireland to deal with the country’s divisions over abortion. Some 100 ordinary people spent months hearing evidence from all sides of the debate. They then reached a position, based on the common sense of ordinary people, and the government put that proposition to the Irish electorate. The resulting referendum saw abortion legalised, and the Irish experiment is now hailed as the perfect model for resolving seemingly permanent divisions.

 

The Citizens Assembly which was set up in Ireland to discuss the vexed issue of abortion

The Citizens Assembly which was set up in Ireland to discuss the vexed issue of abortion

 

Imagine if the UK’s relationship with Europe had been put to a Citizens’ Assembly instead of weaponised in the hands of politicians? We could have reached compromise, acknowledging concerns around the EU, whilst keeping our relationship with the world’s biggest club of nations.

When ordinary people talk to each other we find ways to live together. We know that unless we want hatred then we must find accommodation with our friends, families, neighbours, work colleagues, and strangers.

Politicians don’t operate as "normal" people operate. They seek division and confrontation, not compromise. They’re a crank class. What "normal" person wishes to hold power over others? The author of Utopia, Thomas More, once wrote that nobody who longs for power should be given power; the only people allowed near power should be those who don’t want it, but have the attributes to administer it wisely. Would you not rather have the wise old lady down the street who’s always done good in her life in Bute House, or No 10 or the Élysée Palace?

Professor Qvortrup took up my hankering for sortition democracy and gave it shape. He suggested that when it comes to Scotland’s most intractable problem – independence – the matter should be taken out of the hands of politicians and given to the people; that a Citizens’ Assembly be empanelled to find a way forward.

In other sortition experiments, Citizens’ Assembly members are selected at random and weighted to ensure they represent society, so there’s a proper mix of rich/poor, black/white, and male/female. There’s no political interference.

An outside body like the Electoral Commission could oversee any assembly, not politicians. The people then hear evidence from all the experts – economic, political, military. Once evidence is taken, the assembly members can propose what sort of relationship Scotland should have with the UK: the status quo, some reformed relationship or devo max, or full independence. Let the Citizens’ Assembly also decide the terms of any referendum. Then let us – the rest of the people – vote on that proposition.

Read more: Is it time for the Scottish Parliament to give power to the people by creating a 'House of Citizens'?

Such a notion would have the incontestable authority of the will of the people behind it. It would, in truth, be the very definition of good democracy.

Look at what the Westminster Government is doing. Boris Johnson and his band of ultra English nationalists are dismantling Britain – partly through idiocy and neglect, partly through a determined assault on decency: attacking the electoral system, the judiciary and media freedom, and pursuing the dreadful step of shipping refugees to Rwanda.

Look at what the Holyrood Government is doing. It isn’t wicked in the way that the Johnson Government is wicked, but it’s useless. It couldn’t manage a fantasy football league. Nor can the SNP Government be trusted on any referendum. It dangles promises to keep its base revved up, thereby constantly dividing the nation.

For pity’s sake, let’s grow up and take matters into our hands as adults. Sortition – real people power – will be the big story for the reshaping of democracy throughout the rest of the 21st century. Scotland should embrace it now and lead the way; show that we can limit the power of dangerous politicians, and give people the dignity of taking the tough decisions which sculpt our own lives.

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