Democracy on the streets of Glasgow

Whatever is agreed in the last few days of COP26, there will still be a gaping chasm between the promises made on the international stage and concrete policies at national level.

In fact, with a flurry of new pledges in the run up to and at the summit, the gap will have grown wider. Ambition is welcome, but it doesn’t mean anything until it’s translated into policies that protect people’s livelihoods and the natural world. What really matters is what happens after COP.

The Zero Hour team were in Glasgow in the first week of the conference and were keen to hear people’s ideas on how to keep the momentum going in the wake of COP. On 5 November, as proceedings at the Scottish Event Campus wrapped up for the day, residents of Glasgow joined visitors in town for the summit for a People’s Assembly on what comes next. Sitting on chairs in small groups outside the Lush store on Buchanan Street – Glasgow’s main pedestrian thoroughfare – the assembly piqued the interest of shoppers and passers-by. After 45 minutes of engaged conversations, the groups presented their ideas to the whole assembly.

Ideas ranged from practical policy suggestions such as providing training for young people in green jobs like heat pump engineers to pleas for more accountability – from COP, the UK Government and the private sector. One group called on MPs to focus wholly on their role as political representatives and not on private sector positions or financial benefits. They also wished to see corporations taking full responsibility for their impacts on climate and nature. Another group focused on how to create the foundations of political and social change. They highlighted the importance of self-care and meeting our individual psychological needs, and they said we should not underestimate “small revolutions”: collaborative actions at the local level that could trigger wider changes. One assembly member expressed deep frustration that leaders had not delivered at the previous 25 conferences of the parties. Given their diminished trust in politicians, they saw individual actions by the general public as holding the key to the climate and nature crisis.

The latest supporter of the CEE Bill, MP for Glasgow Central Alison Thewliss, was also in attendance. “This Bill isreally interesting in terms of what happens after COP26,” she said. “I encourage everyone to support the Bill in order to ensure we stay within 1.5 degrees of global heating and protect biodiversity.”

People’s assemblies are one form of what is known as “deliberative democracy”. These events are based on three principles: inclusivity, active listening and trust in the process. Clint Ramos, one of the Zero Hour team who took part in the People’s Assembly, explains: “While conventional politics is based around adversarial debate, deliberative discussions aim to achieve solutions through compassionate conversations and working through differences constructively. The CEE Bill contains a different, more structured form of deliberative democracy known as a citizens’ assembly. In this temporary process, a cross-section of the UK public will learn from scientists, experts and people on the frontline of the crisis before making recommendations on the way forward. The assembly is a complement to essential debate at Westminster and gives politicians a stronger mandate for bold policies.”

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