Comment: The Citizens' Assembly can help build a future based on political consensus
The report of Scotland’s first Citizens’ Assembly has just been published, a milestone achievement in our democratic tradition that puts us at the forefront of citizen participation in politics globally.
Scotland joins the ranks of countries such as Ireland, France and Canada that have grasped this new way of doing politics.
We are living through some of the hardest days any of us have ever faced. Good news is in short supply, but I am confident the Assembly’s vision and recommendations will prove a cornerstone as we rebuild from the pandemic.
Our members, 100 people from all walks of life across Scotland, have set out a shared vision for the country and 60 recommendations agreed by overwhelming consensus.
They built their common ground together through hard, painstaking work, scrutinising complex evidence from experts and sharing the experience of their own everyday lives with one another. This was a rigorous process to find areas of genuine agreement about Scotland’s future, and a life-changing experience for many.
The Assembly’s recommendations speak to a wide range of areas that members identified, including changes to how citizens are involved in decision-making and further powers for the Scottish Parliament as well as priorities for action around incomes and tackling poverty, tax and the economy, health and wellbeing, support for young people, and sustainability.
The lines that typically divide us in Scotland are familiar to anyone with a passing interest in our political life. But until now it wasn’t clear what a shared vision of the future might look like, one that our society as a whole can get behind.
It could be very easy to be cynical about consensus. But those who would dismiss the serious efforts of ordinary citizens to build meaningful common ground about the way forward are often the same people who lament the breakdown of trust in politics and the harmful effects of polarization in our society. You can’t have it both ways. Progress doesn’t happen by magic.
So our report shouldn’t be thought of as a box ticked, or a full stop.
Instead, it marks the beginning of a new chapter in our democracy, with citizens at its heart.
The report will be laid in the Scottish Parliament, with an action plan from Government to follow. Our members expect their recommendations to be taken seriously and acted upon.
A positive, constructive response from policy-makers would bring change in those areas members identified as crucial to the country’s future.
It would also help establish this new way of doing politics in Scotland as a key part of our democratic toolkit.
The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland first gathered together as strangers in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. That night we heard our Makar, Jackie Kay, read from her poem Threshold, the very same lines she had read at Holyrood in 2016 at the formal opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament.
Find here what you are looking for:
Democracy in its infancy: guard her
Like you would a small daughter
And keep the door wide open, not just ajar
Our members heard the Makar’s words that night. They took them to heart and set to work together. They have opened a new door for our democracy.
Kate Wimpress is convener of Citizens' Assembly Scotland