SNP Conference backs Citizens’ Assemblies to give power back to citizens

Posted on the 28th April 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society, immediate release 28th April
  • For more information contact Jon Narcross, Communication Officer, Electoral Reform Society – / 07794728820.
  • ERS Scotland spokespeople are available for comment/information on citizens’ assemblies. The ERS have helped lead citizens’ assemblies over issues such as Brexit and devolution.

Campaigners and activists call for Scottish Government to ‘trust people to make decisions’ in two events, hosted by ERS Scotland, looking at enhancing Scottish democracy at the SNP Spring Conference.

The first, ‘Citizens Assemblies – Tackling Constitutional Change’ discussed the role of innovative democratic processes in tackling the questions of Scottish constitutional change.

The fringe event followed the announcement this week by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that Scotland would hold a Citizen’s Assembly in advance of a fresh independence referendum [1]. A decision endorsed unanimously by the conference earlier today [2].

Speaking on the panel was Joanna Cherry QC MP, SNP Spokesperson for Justice and Home Affairs, who has led the call for a Citizens’ Assembly as part of a national debate into Scotland’s future ahead of any referendum [3].

Cherry was joined by journalist and campaigner Lesley Riddoch; Dr Oliver Escobar, of What Works Scotland and Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland.

Speaking at the conference Joanne Cherry QC MP said:

“It’s really about empowering people to make decisions and giving them the tools and the space in which to do that… I think a Citizens’ Assembly can look at some of the big policy issues that need to be tackled to get us there [to independence].

“A Citizens’ Assembly… is a concrete way to achieve our goal which is to create a consensus around Scotland and a bigger majority for Yes than exists at the moment.”

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director, ERS Scotland said:

“Innovations such as Citizens’ Assemblies are vital, they’re not an alternative to representative democracy, but a way to upgrade it and return legitimacy to our broken politics.

“The Scottish Government’s commitment to making Citizens’ Assemblies a key part of their plans to set forward a path for Scotland’s future represent a fantastic chance for people of this country to learn, engage and deliberate the key issues facing them and their lives in an open and engaged way.”

The event was followed by a second fringe partnering with the Our Democracy and Common Weal – Local Democracy: How can we get Real Power to Communities – a conversation on radical ways to organise Scotland’s Local Government.

Panelists included; Cllr Laura Brennan-Whitefield, South Ayrshire Council; Aileen Campbell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government; Robin McAlpine, Director, Common Weal and Lesley Riddoch, Journalist and Campaigner.

Speaking at the event Aileen Campbell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, said:

“The clear message from the Democracy Matters consultation on local governance was that no one was in favour of the status quo.

“The 20th Anniversary of the Scottish Parliament is an opportunity to visit some of the optimism and confidence of that time and to re-examine where power should lie in Scotland today.

“We want to do now make the most of this chance and to take our time and deliver a change in culture alongside legislation.”

Robin McAlpine, Director, Common Weal said:

“Democracy in Scotland is incredibly centralised. We’ve got the biggest local democracy areas by size and population making Scotland the least locally democratic country in Europe.

“If we do not let people believe they have control of the places they live they will become disillusioned. And if people don’t feel engaged in the politics of where they live how can we get them engaged in the politics of the country and the world. We have to trust people to make decisions.”

Lesley Riddoch said:

“The radical decision, which nearly all of our neighbouring countries have done with great success, which is to give power, money, resources and control to people in real places.

“We have to go beyond community buy outs. We cannot democratise Scotland project by project. Communities need to run their councils. That’s how modern democracies build their success.”




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