Scotland's Citizens' Assembly: Politicians questioned on how to rebuild public's trust

The Scottish Labour leader said that all parties should have a "central belief system".
The Scottish Labour leader said that all parties should have a "central belief system".
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Scottish politicians have been questioned on how to rebuild the trust of the people at a meeting of Scotland's Citizens' Assembly.

During a panel discussion featuring Green co-leader Lorna Slater, Labour leader Richard Leonard, SNP MSP Angela Constance and Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, a member of the audience likened modern politics to "a sales pitch".

Shirley Islam, one of the 115 members of the Assembly, questioned the panel on how politicians can reclaim public favour.

The Citizens' Assembly is an independent body set up by the Scottish Government to gauge public opinion on Scotland's future direction.

The Assembly was asked to consider three questions about Scotland's future and produce a report complete with recommendations to be considered by the Scottish Parliament.

• READ MORE: Richard Leonard calls for ‘more equal and tolerant’ Scotland
Ms Islam said at the meeting in the Golden Jubilee Hotel in Clydebank: "As a member of the public, I always see it as either arguing, or it's like a sales pitch.

"I think that people are frustrated and annoyed and they don't believe and have lost trust.

"I want to ask you, how do you regain our trust?"

Ms Islam suggested making politics "more simple and straightforward" for the general public to better understand.

The Scottish Labour leader said that all parties should have a "central belief system".

Mr Leonard added: "This retail approach to politics, I don't think serves anyone.

"You are often called and we are often told as elected representatives that you are consumers. You are not consumers - you are citizens, first and foremost.

"You've got a wider civic responsibility and duty, which you all clearly take seriously, and I think there needs to be a wider understanding in the political realm, about the importance of having values and a belief set and making sure that people can trust in you, because what you're saying and what you believe in is enduring."

Mr Johnston said government at all levels has to be "more honest" about what they can deliver, adding that officials should "apologise when they can't (deliver)".

He added: "When we're going into elections or going into local constituencies and saying 'I will try and get this done for you', I can't say 'I'll get this done for you', I can say 'I'll do my best'.

"But if I can't, I'll have to go back and say 'I've done all I can', and if I've not done enough then I should be held to account for that."

Ms Islam acknowledged that a more open approach to politics, where politicians admit when they have not been able to do something - as Mr Johnston described - would restore people's faith in the process.

The Greens co-leader said there were four points which should be undertaken to restore trust in politics, the first of which was improving diversity in Holyrood.

Ms Slater added that reducing the size of council wards to ensure accountability from constituents as well as more projects such as the Citizens'

Assembly would also improve the relationship between politicians and the public.

She said: "The Electoral Commission needs to have teeth to actually punish people who lie during an election campaign."

Ms Slater's final point was met with applause from the audience.

Angela Constance said that politicians should think in the long term, as well as ensure that politicians can be easily accessed and it is clear who should be accountable for each issue.