Edinburgh: Public to debate plans for Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly

Posted on the 1st July 2019

Voters will have the chance to discuss and debate the Scottish government’s new plans for a citizens’ assembly [1], in a public debate organised by Electoral Reform Society Scotland.

Over 200 people have signed up in a matter of days to attend the debate. The Scottish Government has proposed a citizens’ assembly on Scotland’s democratic future, providing an opportunity for greater public engagement on the big issues facing the country. Recent polling by the ERS found that just 4% of the public feel properly represented in Westminster [2].

ERS Scotland – who have run ‘deliberative’ community events involving thousands of people over the past few years – have welcomed the government’s plans but say that getting the process right is essential [3].

It comes amid growing support for new models of democratic engagement, particularly in a time of polarisation. Six select committees in Westminster have just announced plans to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on combatting climate change and achieving the pathway to net zero carbon emissions.

On Monday 8th July, the first opportunity for voters to discuss the government’s proposals will be hosted by the Society at Edinburgh University, with a public panel discussion.

Earlier in the day, civil servants, academics, MPs/MSPs and representatives from the third sector will also learn about and discuss key questions related to the citizens’ assembly remit, and where is the Scottish Government in the process, as well as if/how the assembly will help assembly explore constitutional issues. This is open to editors and producers to discuss the role of the media during a citizens’ assembly process.

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

“The huge appetite for this event shows that Scots are keen to find out more about a new model for democracy here.

“Old fashioned party politics and binary divides have failed to provide solutions that Scots can unite around. Citizens’ assemblies offer a way to ensure deep, informed public involvement on big and often contentious political issues – finding a positive way forward based on cooperation.

“How a citizens’ assembly is organised must reflect the principles of public participation and openness that characterise ‘deliberative’ democracy. We’ve long campaigned for more people power at a local level through our ‘Act As If You Own the Place’ initiative, exploring how communities want their services and areas to be run across Scotland.

“It’s positive to see that approach being taken up at a national level. Now the devil will be in the detail. There’s a phrase among reformers and community activists: ‘Nothing about us, without us’. That has to hold true for these citizens’ assembly plans – another reason we’re organising this.

“There is a lot of work to do in making sure the Scottish people see the assembly as the trusted, independent institution that it should be. We are glad the government are keen to hear from across society. This event must be the first of many such discussions, as society begins to set out a vision for Scotland’s constitutional future.”

Joanna Cherry QC MP:

“I’m proud to have championed a Citizen’s Assembly as SNP policy. I believe that a Citizens Assembly is the way forward, providing a tried and tested method for building consensus on some of the big policy issues we face and a way to create a vision plan for Scotland’s future.”

Dr Oliver Escobar:

“There are important questions about what citizens’ assemblies are good for and how to best develop this kind of participatory process. This event gives us the opportunity to openly discuss hopes and concerns for this form of democratic innovation.”

Speakers at the public panel event (6pm-8pm): Dr Oliver Escobar, Joanna Cherry QC MP, Professor David Farrell, Dr Jess Garland (Chair), David Martin and Lesley Riddoch. 

RSVP by hitting reply, or here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/scotlands-democratic-future-shaping-scotlands-citizens-assembly-tickets-63672707783

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Read the ERS’ latest briefing on Citizens Assemblies: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/a-quick-guide-to-citizens-assemblies
[1] https://www.gov.scot/news/citizens-assembly-of-scotland/
[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/beyond-brexit-report-calls-for-end-to-westminster-model-of-governance-to-renew-faith-in-politics/
[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/ers-respond-as-scottish-governments-release-citizens-assembly-plans/

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