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Conservatives label citizens’ assembly ‘a nationalist stunt’

Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell - Image credit: Scottish Parliament

Conservatives label citizens’ assembly ‘a nationalist stunt’

The Scottish Tories are calling for pro-union Scots to boycott the SNP government’s proposed citizens’ assembly, saying it is “nothing but a talking shop for independence”.

Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell told Scottish Parliament today members of the public will be recruited to serve on the citizens’ assembly over the summer. He announced former Labour MEP David Martin had been asked to be co-convener.

The assembly is supported by Labour and the Greens, with Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie welcoming “the idea of an inclusive, deliberative assembly”.

However, Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins told parliament the assembly was “a nationalist stunt to kickstart the conversation about independence” and urged “anyone in Scotland who believes in the union to see this for what it is, and to give it a wide berth”.

“It’s another excuse to try and get people talking about the break-up of Britain – it’s a vanity project in the extreme from the SNP,” Tomkins said.

“That’s why the Scottish Conservatives will be having nothing to do with it.”

The Lib Dems have also chosen not to participate in the assembly, with leader Willie Rennie today arguing taxpayer’s money "should not be used for this party political process".

Rennie put to Russell that if the assembly calls on the government to "abandon independence, will it do so?"

“If the assembly were to say that… there would be that conversation,” Russell responded, before saying he was surprised the Lib Dems would not participate: “I don’t think that is liberal or democratic.”

Rennie later issued a statement, saying: “Scottish Liberal Democrats will not take part in this process so long as it is clear that regardless of what the citizens recommend, SNP ministers will still think they know better.”

Russell said the assembly would be: “broadly representative of Scotland’s adult population, according to age, ethnic group, socio-economic background, geography and political attitude.”

“On the 14th of June we launched the invitation to tender for member recruitment, 120 members of the public will be randomly selected to serve,” he said.

“Citizens’ assemblies are becoming an established way for mature democracies to engage with complex and contested issues an on inclusive, informed and respectful basis. That is what we want for Scotland.”

The assembly will meet for six weekends between Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020, to discuss a range of issues affecting Scotland, including the future of the country, independence and the challenges to come from Brexit.

The government has created a citizens’ assembly website, which went live this afternoon.

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