By Ted Wachtel
Beginning in October 2019, a Scottish citizens’ assembly consisting of 100 delegates planned for six-weekend meetings. The pandemic disrupted the schedule, but the delegates finished their report on their vision for Scotland’s future in October 2020.
The participants were ordinary people randomly selected from among the Scottish population: an I.T. manager, Maxine, an admin secretary, David, originally from Poland, Evelyn from North Lanarkshire, Melissa, a primary school teacher, a manager in a textile company, a nurse, a teacher in Livingston, a young woman studying reproductive biology, a man who worked in care-giving for forty years.
“We were given a huge job to set out a roadmap for our future, a vision for the country we want to build and how to tackle our biggest challenges.”
One of the oldest delegates said, “It’s a huge honor to be part of something that is going to shape the future of the country you live in… I have children and grandchildren who I hope are going to grow up in this country.”
The group of 100, devised to be as broadly representative as possible, was tasked by the Scottish Government with exploring how Scotland could be improved.
Now there is talk of a permanent citizens’ assembly at Holyrood, the section of Edinburgh where the Scottish House of Parliament building is located. The idea for a House of Citizens, populated by members of the public selected by lottery, was supported by 83% of the delegates in Scotland’s citizens’ assembly.
Considering the newness of the idea, it was surprising that 43% of respondents, in a YouGov poll of 1,036 Scots, favored such a plan. The initiative would give voters a way to impact politics in between elections, advocates have said. The House of Citizens was proposed by pro-democracy groups: the RSA, Common Weal, the Electoral Reform Society, and the Sortition Foundation.
“Too often in politics people do not see people like them[selves] in power. A House of Citizens – made up to reflect all of Scotland’s wealth of experience and backgrounds – is one idea which could help change that,” said Willie Sullivan, a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society.
“We could ensure the public’s ability to properly scrutinize legislation and hold decisions to account – not just once every five years. This is an exciting idea that has real potential to revolutionize democracy here in Scotland.”
73 delegates would serve two-year terms at a rate of pay “comparable” to that of Members of Scottish Parliament. Their role might include serving as an advisory body to Parliament at the early stage of legislation and powers of review at the final stage of legislation, similar to the UK’s House of Lords.
Enjoy this eight-minute video, “Our Vision and Recommendations,” about the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly. It will warm your heart and whet your appetite for a future when we are “doing democracy differently.”