This event was hosted by Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government as part of their Public Sessions series.

It was an opportunity to look at how a deep sense of political alienation is a fertile breeding ground for populists with a focus on the report ‘The Populist Signal’ produced by Claudia Chwalisz for the Policy Network.

In the report ‘The Populist Signal‘, Claudia Chwalisz argues that profound alienation, changing values, structural economic change and technology have together altered the British political landscape. Large swathes of voters feel that politics no longer represents or works for them.

A long-term response to these trends requires a fundamental change in the way politics is done; rather than government for the people, government with the people.

The report featured Ipsos Mori polling showing that most people would be willing to participate in randomly selected citizens’ assemblies, where ordinary people would have an influential role in policy-making at the local and national levels.

Inspiration from international case studies highlights the possibility for such change; governments and councils are being emboldened by the results of participatory deliberative democracy projects. The rise of populism can be seen as a corrective warning signal to parties and governments to revisit their approaches to governance and political representation.


  • Claudia Chwalisz, Senior Policy Researcher, Policy Network and Public Service Fellow, University of Sheffield
  • Juliet Swann, Campaigns and Research Officer, Electoral Reform Society Scotlanf
  • Dr Mathias Thaler, Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Facilitator: Oliver Escobar from What Works Scotland

The research for the Policy Network report The Populist Signal was generously supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

Date: 18 September 2015

Location: Paterson’s Land, University of Edinburgh