Pledge Citizens’ Assembly will be independent of Government

Michael Russell.
Michael Russell.
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Controversial plans for a Citizens’ Assembly in Scotland have been backed by MSPs at Holyrood with Constitution Secretary Mike Russell insisting it will be independent of Government.

But the move came under fire from opposition parties who branded the proposal a “ruse” to press the case for independence.

MSPs voted in favour of the Assembly which will be headed up by former Labour MEP David Martin and co-convenor Kate Wimpress, the third sector leader.

The Assembly has been tasked with looking at the kind of country are we seeking the build in Scotland, how the country can best overcome the challenges it faces and the information required to allow Scots make “informed choices about the future of Scotland.”

Opposition MSPs hit out after the measure was announced alongside Scottish Government legislation to pave the way for a second independence referendum.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie pointed to comments from Nationalist MP Joanna Cherry earlier in the year which suggested that the Assembly would “lay the foundation” for independence.

Mr Rennie said: “It is a ruse, it’s a scheme, it’s a mechanism to help their campaign for independence.”

The Assembly will be made up of 120 Scots who will be “scientifically” chosen to ensure they represent a cross-section of the country. Meetings will be held over six weekends from 25/26 October 2019 to 24/26 April 2020 in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Scottish Government is to hold a debate on the Assembly’s recommendations.

This would be followed, within a timescale of three months, by a response from the Scottish Government setting out how each recommendation will be taken forward.

Mr Russell made clear it was independent, free to decide how to follow its remit and did not replace the role of Parliament.

He said: “If we are to row back from the Brexit impasse we must listen to new voices in new ways. We must pay attention, focus and understand. Then we must act.

“I want to be challenged by the Citizens’ Assembly. I want it to say things that make each one of us think anew and reflect anew on where we stand. It is a radical act of listening. This will be Scotland’s first national citizens’ assembly but not its last.

“I believe that adding citizens’ assemblies to our civic and democratic structures is a natural step for this open and more inclusive parliament.”