As a member of the Stewarding Group of the Citizens Assembly, I felt honoured to attend the first sessions of the Assembly on 26 and 27 October in Edinburgh. Walking into the venue, it had the feel of an historic occasion. And so it turned out. About 120 Scottish citizens, randomly recruited to reflect the make-up of the Scottish population, being broadly representative of Scotland’s adult population in terms of age, gender, socio-economic class, ethnic group, geography and political attitude, met together with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and anxiety, for the first of six weekend gatherings.
The co-convenors, David Martin and Kate Wimpress, handled the opening sessions with dignity and restraint. The facilitators and researchers were introduced and played their part in creating an inclusive and safe environment. Care was taken to focus on exercises which built confidence in the process, with more substantive material being left for future occasions, although we had interesting reflections on the general constitutional position in Scotland and the UK and on statistics about Scotland and the Scots.
Michael Russell, the sponsoring Cabinet Secretary, gave a rousing welcome at an opening reception, reassuring the members that their work would be meaningful and listened to. The Scots Makar, Jackie Kay, offered two lovely poems, concluding that “our strength is our difference”. We heard again the words of the First Minister when she first proposed the Assembly in April this year: “..we should try to find ways of debating our choices respectfully, and in a way that seeks maximum areas of agreement. We should lay a foundation that allows us to move forward together, whatever decisions we ultimately arrive at.”
The remit of the Assembly is to deliberate three broad issues of Scottish society:
What kind of country are we seeking to build?
How can we best overcome the challenges we face, 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?
During the weekend, I reflected back to the work and events of Collaborative Scotland in 2013-2015, before, during and after the independence referendum. Some readers will remember those occasions. I sense that we have come a long way since then.
Read more at https://www.citizensassembly.scot/