A Citizen’s Assembly

The Scottish Government have recently announced (https://www.citizensassembly.scot/) they will arrange to conduct a “citizen’s assembly” to discuss the future of Scotland.

Scottish Liberal Democrats party leader has indicated he will not participate in this exercise as they believe it is just a “whitewash” with the results being ignored if it says in it’s not in favour of independence. Of course this is not party policy as it hasn’t been discussed at conference, it’s just a statement from the party leader. For myself I treat this as a very negative, knee-jerk response to suit party circumstances. It’s not a response I’m in favour of. Personally I feel this type of assembly has a place in modern politics and political parties should be seeking more co-operation on issues they have in common and using these assemblies to help iron out our differences.

A citizen’s assembly is formed to deliberate on issues of national importance and propose answers to these issues through rational and reasoned discussion. The membership of that assembly is randomly selected. The conclusion may require a referendum to be conducted before the results are implemented.  But, this may depend on what level of government these assemblies take place at. They don’t need to be at government level but taken down to local authority council.

The people who take part are chosen so they reflect the wider population – in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes relevant attitudes (e.g. preferences for a small or large state).

Governments or administrations should only be involved in setting these up and providing funds and accepting the results. The actual process of the assembly should be organised independently of the administration. Groups that could be involved in arranging this are Involve (https://www.involve.org.uk/), Unlock Democracy (https://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/), Electoral Reform Society Scotland (https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/), What Works Scotland (http://whatworksscotland.ac.uk/).  That would help ensure independence of the entire process. Meetings could be held on-line and, importantly in person at times and venues accessible to many people.

Iceland’s recent review of its constitution is an example of what an assembly could do (https://theconversation.com/icelands-crowd-sourced-constitution-hope-for-disillusioned-voters-everywhere-67803).