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June 4, 2014

Sign up for a citizens’ assembly

Whichever way the referendum goes, there is pretty much a consensus that Scotland will never be the same again.  The genie of citizen participation has well and truly escaped the bottle – never to return. An unintended consequence (and perhaps an unwelcome one from the politicians’ perspective) of engaging the public in a debate of this nature, is that it just whets our appetite for more.  People are no longer content to let the politicians shape the future. A new politics beckons. Plans for a Citizens Assembly are afoot. There’s a petition to show your support. 



Tom Gordon, Political Correspondent, The Herald, 25th May 2014

A BID to stop an independent Scotland being carved up by politicians, cronies, lobbyists and big business has been launched by a group of activists, academics and writers.

The National Council for Scotland project aims to ensure that the widest range of public opinion is reflected in negotiations with the rest of the UK (rUK) in the event of a Yes vote.

Instead of “a new Scotland based on the cynicism of the old Britain”, with the great and good of politics and commerce pursuing their own agendas, organisers want the whole of Scotland to have a say in redesigning the country.

Areas for debate after a Yes vote would include currency options, sharing the UK national debt, sharing UK assets, and whether Scotland should be part of UK energy and banking regimes.

Among those supporting today’s launch of the website are authors Alan Bissett and James Robertson, below, broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, actor David Hayman, Electoral Reform Society director Willie Sullivan, and academic Dr Oliver Escobar.

The plan is partly a response to renewed unhappiness among Yes campaigners about “SNP control-freakery” ahead of the referendum.

Alex Salmond recently announced he had already started assembling a cross-party “Team Scotland” of politicians and experts to negotiate the terms of independence with rUK.

However, the National Council for Scotland group says there has not yet been enough public debate on the choices an independent Scotland would face to give any party a negotiating mandate.

In its launch document it says: “An appointment system in which unmandated politicians select unmandated individuals to carry out these negotiations as they see fit is clearly not acceptable.

“The assumption that ‘the nation’ has no role but to await news of what is ‘carved up’ on its behalf would be a deepening of precisely the kind of failed politics which has done so much damage to public trust.

“A process in which business figures and senior politicians negotiate a settlement which the public see as clearly in the interests of corporations and against the interests of the public would result in a new Scotland being born in mistrust and division.”

The very term “Team Scotland” smacks of “in-built elitism” based on wealth and personal connections, it adds.

Instead of “the usual suspects” in charge, the proposal is for a participative National Council, funded by the Government or parliament, which would debate key issues on independence through real and virtual town hall debates, citizens’ juries and public hearings.

This would allow individuals and organisations, big and small, to participate and frustrate the lobbyists who would inevitably try to influence a small Team Scotland-style group.

The National Council would produce an agenda for the second phase of the process – a Citizens’ Assembly representing a cross-section of Scotland, who would produce firm mandated proposals for the Government’s negotiators. Organisers estimate the National Council could last four months and the Citizens’ Assembly a further two months.

Although this would cover one third of the 18-month negotiating timetable set out by the SNP, the National Council group believes there would be few meaningful decisions taken before the General Election in May 2015, allowing ample time for citizens to become involved.

The group concedes that the Assembly’s mandate could not bind the SNP Government in negotiations, but says ministers would face a voter backlash if they ignored its recommendations. The group argues that such a “leap forward in democratic decision-making” could also be applied to the work of Holyrood in the event of a No vote.

Robin McAlpine, director of the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, which is promoting the concept, said: “Everyone is sick and tired of bunker politics. Nobody believes that professional politicians and the wealthy people they appoint to committees are the only people capable of running our country.

“This is the moment for Scotland’s political class to realise that everything has changed.

“It would send an enormously important message about how Scotland can be if all parties made a clear commitment to open up politics and let citizens shape their own future.”

Escobar, of Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government, said: “Politics must mean more than party politics, and democracy must go beyond electoral democracy.

“I support this proposal because I believe we should reclaim politics and democracy as everybody’s business.”

Riddoch said: “Business as usual after the indyref is now unthinkable – whichever way the vote goes.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said the Government welcomed all contributions to the debate,

He added: “A Yes vote offers a break from the tired, discredited, undemocratic Westminster system and the machine politics that go with it.

“We want to be as inclusive as possible following a Yes vote, involving civic Scotland and those beyond the party political world [on] things like a written constitution.”

There’s a petition to show your support.