The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, led by SURF Chair Kate Wimpress, is a group of 100 Scottish citizens, broadly representative of the diversity of Scotland across age, gender, class, ethnicity, education, different regions and political attitudes, who over the course of October 2019 – December 2020 came together to agree a vision and set of recommendations on the future of Scotland through the process of deliberative democracy.
The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland was announced in Parliament by the First Minister on 24 April 2019. It operates independently of the Scottish Government. The Assembly was asked to consider the following three questions:
- What kind of country are we seeking to build?
- How can we best overcome the challenges facing Scotland and the world, including those arising from Brexit?
- What further work should be carried out to give people the detail they need to make informed choices about the future of the country?
In responding to this remit, the Assembly’s report, published in January 2021, sets out the members’ agreed vision for the future of Scotland and 60 recommendations to help achieve this in practice. The final report Doing Politics Differently: The Report of the Citizen’s Assembly of Scotland was submitted to the Scottish Government and Parliament at the end of December 2020. The report will be debated in Parliament and the Scottish Government will prepare an action plan.
The Assembly considered a wide range of evidence from recognised experts, covering: Scotland’s social and economic realities; the constitutional position and how decisions are made; what makes for happiness and how values impact on decision making; the challenges to making a sustainable country; and our public finances and taxation. It heard from politicians and discussed with them how we can renew politics together.
The Assembly has been resilient and responsive to the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, as a result of which its work was paused and restarted online. Through this it retained its membership and brought a renewed drive to consider the impact of the pandemic in developing the Assembly’s final conclusions.
The full report sets out the Assembly vision and recommendations in members’ own words. A brief summary of the key themes is outlined below.
A vision for Scotland
The Assembly’s vision for the country we are seeking to build is a set of ten statements that both individually and collectively, achieved consensus amongst Assembly members. The vision describes a country that is confident and innovative, which supports our most vulnerable and is built around the needs of the people who live here. A country where government and citizens build a mutual respect together and where citizens are more actively involvement in decision making. It highlights the importance of attending to health and social care provision, jobs and wages, tackling poverty, improving education and training, providing support young people, and reforming the tax system.
The Assembly’s 60 recommendations, all supported by a significant majority of Assembly members, set out certain actions that could help make this vision a reality. Of these, 58 recommendations were ‘strongly supported’ (by over 75% of members) and the other 2 were ‘supported by a majority’ (by over 50% of members), with some recommendations securing near unanimous support.
The recommendations capture the range of ideas and issues that have been important to members throughout the Assembly. The breadth of the recommendations and the levels of support for them send a clear message to the Government and Parliament about the action the Assembly believes is needed to achieve its vision for Scotland. In summary, these fall into the following thematic groups:
How decisions are taken
The Assembly recommends that citizens are more involved from now on through more active democratic participation, nationally and in our communities, and at our Scottish Parliament. Recommendations include improving citizen participation such as through further use of citizens’ assemblies, the provision of accessible information and increased accountability of the Scottish Government and Parliament.
Income and poverty
The Assembly recommends a range of proposals to improve incomes and wages and to both prevent and tackle poverty, including a legal requirement of the living wage and the abolition of zero hours contracts.
Tax and economy
The Assembly recommends a range of ways to use the tax system to achieve an innovative and sustainable country through fairer taxation, use of tax incentives for business and for revenue and public spending to be communicated to citizens in a way the public can understand. To support employment opportunities in the wake of Covid-19, members also supported investment in small and medium businesses in Scotland and in scientific and technological innovation.
The Assembly’s recommendations have a strong focus on supporting young people to realise their potential, from greater mental health support, to access to housing such as through rent caps, to improved training and education initiatives.
The Assembly recommends building a sustainable country through public education on the environmental crisis and what all of us can do about it, maximising our renewable energy potential, and incentivising sustainable behaviour across the board.
Health and Wellbeing
The Assembly recommends a range of ideas to make sure we value and improve our public health care system, such as increasing wages for healthcare staff, prioritising mental health, improving health promotion, increasing the transparency of NHS governance and a focus on community health.
Further powers for Scotland
The Assembly recommends a range of actions that related to further powers, such as the devolution of further tax powers, to negotiate our own trade agreements and control immigration law, as well as other recommendations that do not explicitly reference constitutional change but which have constitutional implications, for example, around green tax breaks, reducing the pension age and around employment laws.
The Assembly also agreed a range of additional recommendations, including that internet access should be considered a basic need which is free to all, as well as education and vocational opportunities for all, and a review of the criminal justice system.
- Assembly full report
- Summary report – vision and recommendations
- Full detail of the Assembly, including evidence from weekend, supporting papers and recordings of the plenary sessions can be found here citizensassembly.scot
- Citizens’ Assembly – Final Reporting – Convener Letter and Summary Paper 1 – 14 Jan 2021