Holyrood must take forward the Citizens’ Assembly’s calls to revamp Scottish democracy

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director, Campaigns and Scotland

Posted on the 18th February 2021

A coalition of civil society organisations and community groups is calling on MSPs to implement the findings of the landmark Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, as Holyrood debates the Assembly’s findings on Thursday.

Electoral Reform Society Scotland has organised a joint letter from nearly 20 community groups and campaigners from across the country, calling for citizens to be involved in decision-making in their areas outside of election time.

The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland – 100 people picked to be broadly representative of the country – showed we can lead the way in building a stronger, more community-led democracy. And it showed citizens themselves can shape the path forward for Scotland after this pandemic.

But MSPs must do more than debate the findings – they must take forward proposals to boost scrutiny and transparency, and open up decision-making to local communities.

From new local assemblies (as set out by the ERS here), to a House of Citizens scrutinising legislation, politicians can start to share power and ensure that as we come out of this crisis, everyone has a stake in shaping what comes next.

It’s clear that people want a clearer say in shaping their areas, and we need to see a vision for local democracy taken forward by MSPs that captures this.

Amazingly despite the pandemic, the Citizens’ Assembly was able to continue and make really powerful, creative recommendations for moving politics outside of town halls and into communities.

The report must not be marked ‘job done’ – it’s a blueprint for a renewed Scotland, drawing on all this country’s experience.

See our full joint letter, published in the Scotsman today:

Joint letter: MSPs – It’s time for Holyrood to trust in communities across Scotland by backing the Citizens’ Assembly

This Thursday, MSPs meet to discuss the findings of Scotland’s ground-breaking Citizens’ Assembly, a democratic process reflecting the diversity of the country. The Assembly brought everyday citizens together to debate the big issues facing us, and its calls deserve all our attention.

The 60 proposals for Scotland’s future provide a template for more accountable ways of doing politics here: for democracy to be genuinely local, grassroots, and not just an event every five years. Assembly members of all backgrounds were clear that more needs to be done in Scotland to move power out of Holyrood and into local communities.

The Assembly overwhelmingly recommended – with 90% support – establishing community-based citizens’ assemblies as we come out of the current crisis, a recommendation we wholeheartedly endorse. These would hold councils to account between elections and let residents shape their place’s future. 

Communities themselves have the best knowledge of the skills and experience within their areas, and must be at the heart of paving a positive way out of this pandemic. People need more involvement in plotting a socially just recovery. The appetite is there: now they need resources and real support.

Over the past few years ERS Scotland and the Our Democracy coalition have worked with communities across Scotland – including some of the most left behind areas  – and the message we’ve heard time and again is that people want a clearer say, not just during elections. 

We urge all parties to listen to the Assembly, and people across Scotland, and do something brave: share power, and give everyone a stronger stake in deciding what comes next.

  1. Willie Sullivan, Director, ERS Scotland
  2. Dr Oliver Escobar, Co-Director, What Works Scotland
  3. Amanda Burgauer, Common Weal and Our Democracy Coalition 
  4. Stacey Felgate & Rhona Dougall, Organisers, The People’s Council (Argyll)
  5. Dr Craig Dalzell, Head of Policy & Research, Common Weal
  6. Fiona Garven, Director, Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC), incorporating the Community Health Exchange (CHEX) and PB Scotland
  7. Matt Baker. Orchestrator, The Stove Network (Dumfries)
  8. James Robertson, Campaigns Manager, Sortition Foundation
  9. Abigale Neate Wilson, Project Manager, Agile City CIC
  10. Planning Democracy
  11. Angus Hardie, Director, Scottish Community Alliance
  12. Glasgow Tool Library
  13. Democratic Society
  14. Dr Gemma Bone Dodds, WEAll Scotland Trustee
  15. Lewis McLachlan, Founder of Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts. CIC
  16. Martin Avila, Director, Kinning Park Complex
  17. Professor Richard Kerley
  18. Pauline Grandison, Programme Manager, Coalfields Regeneration Trust
  19. Enid Trevett, Kincardine Community Association Ltd

The relevant section of the CA report is called ‘How decisions are taken’. Members thought government scrutiny and citizen-led decision making were so key to Scotland’s future, with these calls making up almost a quarter of all the recommendations.

Of the 14 recommendations on scrutiny and citizens’ involvement, the majority got 90% agreement, with the full range being from low 80s to the high 90s. That means they all achieved a broad consensus in their backing from the representative assembly.

Members also found that Holyrood is opaque and unaccountable, which might chime with a growing sense that power in Holyrood is too centralised.

It’s time to transform Scottish democracy and put citizens at the centre.

Sign our petition calling for a House of Citizens

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