Skip to main content

Politics and International Relations (PIR): Research


Scotland's National Conversation and Deliberative Democracy


Navraj Singh Ghaleigh (Law), Ailsa Henderson (Politics & IR), Stephen Tierney (Law)

Funding scheme

University of Edinburgh Development Trust Research Fund (DTRF)

Project summary

This project will address the Scottish Executive's proposal for a 'National Conversation' on Scotland's constitutional future which is intended to be the prelude to a referendum on independence in 2010. The project has two key aims, one theoretical, the other empirical: to set out the conditions under which a truly deliberative constitutional process can in fact take place across a policy, engaging the citizenry at large; and secondly, to monitor how the National Conversation in Scotland is taking place, evaluating this against the benchmarks of deliberative democracy. There is a strong assumption in political theory and empirical political science that referendum processes are not, and indeed cannot be, properly deliberative because they fail to meet the key requirements of publicity or openness, reason-giving and responsiveness (Gutmann and Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement). The project promises a significant contribution to this theoretical literature by empirically testing this assumption. Therefore, we propose to connect three disciplinary streams of work: empirical political science, doctrinal public law, and legal and political theory. These will complement each other to present a complete picture of how and under what conditions a deliberative conversation on matters of the highest constitutional consequence is in fact possible in the lead-up to a referendum. We have structured the empirical work so that it provides research training opportunities for Edinburgh PhD and post-doctoral students in Law and Politics/IR.

Edinburgh Students