Scotland is to set up a Citizens’ Assembly but what is it and how will it work? Will it be just a talking shop or will it actually help the democratic process?
Citizens’ Assemblies have been used in England, to discuss social care and to greater effect in Ireland to reach a consensus on issues where there are great divisions of opinion in society. You can read more about that here: Brexit: Unheard Voices & A Citizens’ Assembly
In Orkney and in many parts of Scotland citizens have been coming together in their communities to discuss and reshape services. For instance in Orkney there is currently work being done to redesign our social care services through discussion and consensus. Developing Orkney’s Social Care: ‘Start Small, Think Big’
In Edinburgh this week a panel came together to answer questions from the public about what a Citizens’ Assembly would be like. The event was hosted by the Electoral Reform Society Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, and livestreamed. WATCH: Scotland’s Democratic Future: Shaping Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly
The panel included: Joanna Cherry SNP MP QC, convenor designate David Martin (former Labour MEP), Louise Caldwell – a member of Ireland’s citizens’ assembly, Prof David Farrell (research director of Ireland’s assembly), Dr Oliver Escobar (University of Edinburgh) and journalist Lesley Riddoch.
The Citizens’ Assembly aims to tackle some of the major issues facing Scotland in the years ahead. It will not focus on Independence for Scotland as that question is already being legislated on by the Scottish Government.
David Martin said he had received unequivocal assurances from the Scottish Government that the assembly will be “completely independent” of government and parties. Instead the assembly members will decide the remit in discussion with the co-chairs, but it could include issues such as climate change or immigration in Scotland.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have said that they will not take part in the Citizens’ Assembly but David Martin is hopeful that as more is known about what it will be like that they will change their minds and engage with the process. People will be randomly selected for the Citizens’ Assembly to reflect Scottish society. No one will be asked their party political allegiances for selection. The Citizens’ Assembly is a way to move away from party political red lines on issues and allow members of the public to reach a consensus on an issue. David Martin would like recommendations from the Assembly to report to the Scottish Parliament. Reports will be posted online to enable maxim transparency.
Willie Sullivan, Director of ERS Scotland, said:
“Clearly there is a huge appetite for a new way of doing democracy. Amid huge challenges and polarisation, people are looking beyond the old binaries. It is a significant and welcome development that key figures confirmed the independence of the assembly at our event, and we hope all sides across Scotland engage as this process develops.”
Reporter: Fiona Grahame