Mapping deliberative systems with big data: The case of the Scottish independence referendum

John Parkinson*, Sebastian De Laile, Núria Franco-Guillén

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Deliberative systems theorists have for some time emphasised the distributed nature of deliberative values; they therefore do not focus exclusively on 'deliberation' but on all sorts of communication that advance deliberative democratic values, including everyday political talk in informal settings. However, such talk has been impossible to capture inductively at scale. This article discusses an electronic approach, Structural Topic Modelling, and applies it to a recent case: the Scottish independence debate of 2012-2014. The case provides the first empirical test of the claim that a deliberative system can capture the full 'pool of perspectives' on an issue, and shows that citizens can hold each other to deliberative standards even in mass, online discussion. It also shows that, in deliberative terms, the major cleavage in the 'indyref' debate was not so much between Yes and No, but between formal and informal venues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0032321720976266
Pages (from-to)543-565
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Studies
Issue number3
Early online date3 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • Scotland
  • big data
  • deliberative systems
  • independence
  • topic modelling


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