Scotland’s opposition parties attacking the government’s citizen assembly proposal as untrustworthy

The National reports:

Citizens’ Assembly: Scotland in Union tells Scots to stay away
By Andrew Learmonth

SCOTLAND’s staunchest Unionists are trying to kibosh the Scottish Government’s plans for Citizens’ Assembly before they’ve even started.

Scotland in Union has warned Scots to stay away, saying they’ll be “misused” for independence.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the initiative back in May, saying the Government was keen to follow the example of Ireland where the assemblies were used to find consensus on reforming Ireland’s abortion laws. [Details.]

But the Tories and the LibDems have already said they don’t want to be involved, calling the assemblies a “stunt to kick-start the conversation about independence”.

In her missive to supporters, Pamela Nash, the chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Citizens’ Assemblies are growing in popularity throughout the world, and we have remained open minded about the value of this approach in Scotland; any space where the views of the public can be examined and taken into account is to be welcomed.

“However, given the statements from senior SNP politicians, and the SNP’s consistent record of going against previous public consultations, many have expressed concern that the Citizens’ Assembly could be misused.”

Scotland in Union said it was perturbed by SNP’s Joanna Cherry’s comment that a Citizens’ Assembly was “part of the process of preparing voters in Scotland for a second independence referendum”.

The Greens have welcomed the assemblies, while Labour has been more guarded, seeking assurances that it won’t be entirely focused on indyref2.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said Scotland in Union was becoming an “increasingly bitter and cynical outfit. There must be many voters who support the Union but who wish their political representatives would come up with something constructive. They should certainly have nothing to fear from doing so – the Citizens’ Assembly will expose all the options to scrutiny by people who’re not stuck in the party political bubble, and that’s the whole point. If the main pro-UK parties take the same position as Scotland in Union, perhaps it just means that Unionism has literally nothing left to offer.”

As SNP spokeswoman said: “Sadly, this is what we’ve come to expect from the self-styled Scotland in Union. They have no positive vision for Scotland, and are clearly rattled by the rising tide of support for independence.”

Yesterday, former Labour MEP David Martin, who will chair the assembly, urged Unionist politicians to drop their boycott and give the independent body a chance: “I understand the heat around the whole constitutional issue, but I have taken this on because I believe it is a genuine attempt to find out if there is consensus on some of the controversial issues facing Scotland.”

7 Responses

  1. >SNP’s Joanna Cherry’s comment that a Citizens’ Assembly was “part of the process of preparing voters in Scotland for a second independence referendum”.

    Do we know the terms of the sortition — is participation voluntary? If so then there might well be fears that it would be hijacked by activists, hence the concern of conservative bodies like Scotland in Union.

    >a genuine attempt to find out if there is consensus on some of the controversial issues facing Scotland.

    If the issues are controversial, then what chance is there of consensus? That sounds like a contradiction in terms. If the principal issue is Scottish independence, then either you’re out or in. And was there a consensus on the reform of the Irish abortion laws? — that sounds highly unlikely.

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  2. What this reaction shows is that as long as allotted bodies are convened by elites and as long as their agendas and terms of service are set by elites, they will likely be accused (and probably for good reason) as being a tool of the elites that convene them.

    In order for the process to be perceived as representative, it has to be managed by a representative body. This means that there has to be an independent permanent allotted body that manages the process.

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  3. But the accusation is coming from another elite. The problem is whether the allotment procedure and mandate produces a genuinely representative body. This is a purely technical issue and is the remit of statisticians and political theorists — for example the adjective “permanent” contravenes the ongoing descriptive representation that is generated by sortition.

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  4. For a while I have been advocating that sortitionists need to develop a list of unacceptable procedures that would indicate a citizens assembly was subject to manipulation or was being used as a fig leaf for some government policy advancement. Eventually we would want a set of “best practices,” but we are still in the experimentation stage, I believe, with different organizations using a variety of procedures. But a “bad practices” document could be established soon (things like information being spoon fed to assembly by the government, etc.) There are some good people working on the Scotland project, but I’m not sure what restrictions and rules the government will insist upon.

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  5. I very disturbing fact for me is that it is very difficult or even impossible to get a detailed information on how a panel is formed from start to end and how, and with whom, the organisation is working. Also ‘following the money’ is not possible in most cases. Organising companies are concerned to deliver what they are asked and paid for. Participants are happy, the instructing party is happy but is democracy served? It is often the case that those organising companies are also working for other private companies (team building) and political parties (congresses). They are the best (in what?).

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  6. Paul,

    Very true. The fact that we are supposed to just accept whatever concoction the hired help comes up with is obscene.

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  7. […] increasing use of allotted citizen bodies resulted in increasing scrutiny of the ways in which they are constituted and run, as well as their institutional […]

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