Weekend 5 Report

This report has been prepared by the Secretariat to the Citizens’ Assembly to summarise the fifth weekend of the Assembly. We hope members find it a useful overview of that weekend. It provides insight for everyone else who is interested in the progress of the Assembly. 

 

Conveners' Statement

Convener

It was with great pleasure that I welcomed back the Citizens’ Assembly after an absence of six months due to the Coronavirus. This was our first Assembly meeting online and everyone was a bit uncertain about whether we would be able to replicate the spirit and productivity of previous face to face weekends. I’m delighted that all of the hard work in preparing the ground for the meeting proved to be really effective. It was great to see the strong bonds between Assembly members being remade immediately and I can say with confidence that members engaged with great enthusiasm demonstrating their unwavering commitment to the work of the Assembly and to the task ahead to rebuild a better Scotland. 

I look forward to our next meeting on 3-4 October.


Overview

The purpose of weekend 5 was for members to reconnect with each other, reflect on the impact of COVID and how it affects the work of the Assembly and begin work on a final Assembly vision on the kind of country we are seeking to build. 

The Secretariat prepared a wide range of materials summarising the work of the Assembly to date and ‘horizon scanning’ papers on the impact of COVID. Members viewed a series of videos which summarised this work, including reflections from a range of experts on the impact of COVID and ideas for responses to it.

In small groups members discussed COVID identifying points that would be important to reflect in Assembly outputs. Drawing on this work they went on to review the outputs from the Assembly to date and agreed areas of consensus on a vision for Scotland. The outputs from the weekend will be the starting point for the preparation of the final Assembly vision in weekend 6.  

All of the materials for the weekend have been published on the Assembly website, together with a recording of the plenary sessions.  

We hope that you enjoy reading this report. The next meeting of the Assembly will be 3-4 October 2020.

COVID Reflections

Members discussed personal experiences of COVID and the materials prepared by the Secretariat. The discussion was wide ranging reflecting the diverse membership of the Assembly. 

For some lockdown has been a reasonably positive experience, enabling them to spend more time with their children, enjoy their gardens and even save money. A number also valued the peace and the opportunity stop, reflect and enjoy the outdoors. As one member said it has reminded them how precious life is. It was noted that people have adapted quickly and communities have pulled together to support each other.

But for many members this has been a very challenging time.  Some members have lost their jobs and yet more have been furloughed. The challenge of juggling work alongside caring responsibilities has been a real challenge for many.  Feelings of being isolated and overwhelmed were highlighted, particularly for those who have been shielding; as was the sadness of losing loved ones and not being able to mark their passing in the usual ways. Those working on the front line with disadvantaged communities and as carers and in the NHS have seen the life and death impacts of the pandemic up close and spoke about that in very moving terms.   

Members are worried about the impact of COVID on the economy, on the poorest and the most vulnerable in society and on mental health and wellbeing. Many of these themes had already been important to the Assembly, but the crisis has highlighted the challenges and made it more urgent to take action. It has also shown that it is possible to take decisive action and for governments, communities and citizens to work together to deal with issues. A key point in discussion was that although we faced many demands and resources would be tight we must not lose sight of these priorities.

At the end of this session members fed back some of the key points that were important to recall.  A summary of those points is set out in Annex 1 below.

Assembly Vision

Members went on to review previous Assembly work and to prepare areas of consensus for the final vision of the Assembly. This will mainly be a response to the first question in the remit - what kind of country are we are seeking to build. 

Discussion first of all considered matters around purpose and process.  Key points noted in the discussion included the uniqueness of the Assembly as an authentic and representative voice of citizens and the importance of this voice being heard at this point in time for the country. Also discussed were what would happen to the vision statement and how members would be involved in presenting it to the Government and Parliament. A further paper will be prepared for members on the main points that came up in the discussion.

Members then began the process to develop a final vision. In small groups they reviewed their previous work, particularly the vision statements prepared in weekend 2, and identified areas of consensus for that final vision. 

Many of the areas confirmed previous thinking but with a renewed focus influenced by the COVID experience on fairness, equality, social responsibility, community and supporting the vulnerable. Building a sustainable society and a green recovery, fair work and fair incomes, reform of the tax system and investment in public services to support education and training and health and wellbeing were strongly supported. The importance of good governance, including accountable, honest, transparent, fair and compassionate government, and ensuring citizens and communities are fully involved in decision making were highlighted, as was a new point to ensure resilience and adaptability to future threats. 

You can see a more detailed summary of the areas of consensus at annex 2 below. 

Member quotes


“I was a wee bit nervous because this was my first online meeting and I’m not particularly great with technology. But it was great, and I’m really looking forward to the next one.”

“I feel excited about us using the technology as this will be the way forward in future. Some people are still shielding and will be delighted to talk to others. I’ve watched politics and the news more than ever during the pandemic. It’s interesting to see how the politicians react and what they’re saying. Moving online shows the resilience and how the members want to complete the work and have politicians debate our recommendations.”        

“The lay of the land has changed since we last met. There’s a huge obstacle in the road ahead. It’s now clear that we need systemic changes, in healthcare, social policy, employment, and protection of the vulnerable. I’ve seen it first-hand through the pandemic. People are living different lives.”

“I missed being round the table with everybody. In person you can get that wee bit of feedback from whoever is sitting next to you, whether they agree or disagree with you. But on the whole it was absolutely brilliant and not a problem at all.”


Annex 1: Issues to Recall on Covid

This note provides an overview of the main themes noted in this session. The full list of points made by each breakout group is available to members in the members area, which can be accessed by members here.  

Ensuring a more equal and socially responsible country

A need for equality and for social responsibility towards others.

Supporting education and training for all young people

The importance of equal access to education and for training and apprenticeships to support employment opportunities for all young people.

Prioritising health and wellbeing

The central importance of investing in and reforming NHS and social care and using public health powers wisely and robustly to ensure compliance with emergency measures.

Responding to mental health impacts

Social isolation and wider mental health issues, including among children, have been exacerbated by the crisis, and should be a priority in terms of services and support.

Building more resilience into planning

Need to consider better, careful resilience planning based on the lessons for the economy and other areas of life, with a need to learn lessons from care homes example.

Measures to support recovery

Importance of helping businesses to get back up and running and a need to consider how employees can continue to work flexibility without being restricted to home.

Focussing on a sustainable economic recovery

Changing the economy, taking the opportunity to do things differently, learning the lessons from recent austerity and prioritising tackling inequalities, incentivising green recovery whilst recognising difficult trade-offs.

Delivering fair work and pay and valuing key workers

Employment opportunities for all through fairer work.   Protecting those on the lowest incomes through improving minimum living wage and introduction of a universal basic income.  Valuing and better rewarding health care workers.  

Recognising the challenges for public finances

The cost of COVID and the impact of that on public finances. How does that affect achieving the Assembly’s vision – what can we afford and what should we prioritise?

Establishing a fairer tax system

A simplified and fairer tax system fairer, closing loopholes and incentivising positive behaviours by businesses and citizens.

Tackling the climate crisis

Climate change still a high priority and risk of further pandemics as environment changes.  Priority of investing in green businesses and energy sources.

Improving decision-making through citizens involvement

Learning the lessons of community and citizen involvement and building on that to do policy differently and embed participation into decision-making, including through Citizens’ Assemblies.

Strengthening devolution and improving working between Governments

Scope for more powers to be devolved to respond directly to Scottish circumstances and for governments to co-operate more effectively on developing rules.   


Annex 2: Preparing the Assembly Vision: Areas of Consensus

This note provides an overview of the main areas of consensus for the Assembly vision that members discussed in their breakout discussions, together with a brief contextual summary which includes some of the key points made and links to earlier work. The full list of points made by each breakout group is available to members in the members area, which can be accessed by members here.  

The areas of consensus describe the following values and outcomes that are important to the Assembly: 

1. Ensuring fairness with equal opportunities for all

Support is still strong for the previously agreed statements about being a just country which supports all citizens regardless of age, race, gender etc. In discussions members noted that COVID and its impacts on health, work, education and incomes has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities. Discussions also noted there is an opportunity to do something completely different now and rebalance society to be more equal.

2. Putting an end to poverty

Support remains strong for previous statements focussing on tackling or ‘being free from’ poverty and related action on work, pay and incomes. These issues have been amplified by COVID with those already in poverty being badly affected and new groups slipping into poverty.

3. Being socially responsible and taking care of the most vulnerable

Support remains strong for statements around social responsibility and related points around inequality and poverty. Kindness and being caring and community minded remain values that are important to members. COVID has highlighted the importance of these values and of ensuring services are in place to support the most vulnerable in society. 

4. A country that other countries will want to follow

This aspirational statement for Scotland from weekend 2 was highlighted by members as an important area of consensus. 

5. A sustainable country, balancing environmental, economic and social impacts

Strongly supported at weekend 2 and explored further in weekend 3, this broad description of the sustainability challenge remains an important area of consensus in the Assembly. The sustainability statement continued to be strongly support as accurately capturing the ambition of members.

6. An economic recovery that responds to the challenges facing society

There was strong endorsement for many of the previous statements related to this area, including the importance of a prosperous and financially secure country. Sustainable economic recovery, including through local and community-based economies and self-sufficiency, exploiting and investing in new technology and being resilient and adaptive in face of future threats, were amongst the ideas considered to be important.

7. A focus on a greener Scotland

Related to sustainability and economic recovery this area is about the importance of continuing to focus on the climate crisis and protecting the environment, including to build public awareness. Investment in renewable technologies and industries to support the Scottish economy and create jobs were also identified as important priorities for action as were incentivising positive behaviours through taxation. 

8. Protecting the incomes of lower earners

Previous statements around improving living standards by ensuring fairer work and better incomes remain an important area of consensus. COVID has highlighted the urgency of the challenges in this area. Ideas which were discussed included points covered in earlier weekends and in the COVID evidence, including a focus on improving access to employment and ensuring job security, a living wage, universal basic income and stronger pensions, and fairer taxation.

9. Recognising the challenges for public finances and using resources wisely

In weekend 4 members learned about Scotland’s public finances and taxation. An area of consensus was a recognition that COVID had and would continue to have a huge impact on the budget and that this was important to consider. Members were concerned to understand these impacts and where they fall across the Scottish and UK Governments; with ensuring the public are better informed about financial and budgetary matters affecting the country being important more generally.

10.       A fairer tax system

In weekends 3 and 4 members learned about the tax system, including where powers lie between governments, different approaches to tax and how tax can be used to promote certain outcomes and incentivise behaviours. Discussion highlighted the importance of taxation to achieving the outcomes important to the Assembly including achieving fairness, tacking poverty, raising resources for public services and ensuring a green recovery and sustainability.

11. Supporting young people to realise their potential

There continues to be strong support for this theme and the range of statements previously prepared. Points noted included the importance of a free high quality education system that is adaptable and flexible to meet the needs of all learners across the country, and for providing training and apprenticeships to equip young people with the skills to be successful and support them into employment.

12. The importance of health and wellbeing

Previous statements on investment in health services were strongly endorsed in weekend 2.  This theme was strongly emphasised as an area of consensus, with a renewed focus on social care, mental health and supporting people to live healthy lives including through health education. The integration of health and social care services and ensuring better recognition and reward for healthcare staff were also noted.

13. Ensuring fair and decent housing for everyone

There was renewed support for some of the statements on housing prepared in weekend 2. Discussion highlighted the need for fair and decent housing for all and noted measures during lockdown to take people off the streets and into accommodation, which showed what can be achieved and should be a priority more generally.  

The areas of consensus also describe the following improvements to how decisions are made that are important to the Assembly:

14. A collective responsibility of government and citizens to contribute to society

Throughout the Assembly there has been agreement that politics is too partisan and excludes people and that citizens find it hard to know who and what to believe. Members have also noted that the Assembly has shown that it is possible for citizens to understand and come to agreement on difficult issues. The theme of shared and collective responsibility, builds on previous work, with members highlighting how COVID starkly demonstrates how decisions of government and individual citizens affect us all and the importance of finding ways to come together to act collectively by agreement in the national interest and beyond party and political boundaries.

15.       Accountable, honest, transparent, fair, compassionate government

There was widespread agreement that issues around good governance and being able to trust politicians and hold them to account more effectively is still an important area of consensus in the Assembly. Members emphasised the importance of transparency in decision making and the need for fair and compassionate government. Much of the work in weekend 2 covered this ground but COVID had brought more sharply into the spotlight the visibility of leaders and the importance of ensuring public trust and confidence.

16. Improvements in the provision of public information

This issue is central to the Assembly remit.  In exploring complex and contested issues in discussion with experts and with each other, members have learned about the importance of providing high quality evidence that can be trusted and which provides information in a format that is accessible to citizens. This remains an area of consensus, with discussion highlighting the importance of communicating clear and credible information in responding to COVID.

17. Citizens’ involvement in decision making

The Assembly had already identified the importance of citizen participation, with the Assembly process being a very clear demonstration of what can be achieved when citizens’ are given the time, information and responsibility to consider difficult and complex issues. The importance of citizens and communities becoming more involved in decisions making processes was highlighted as an area of consensus.  Different ways for achieving this were noted in discussions, , for example, through Citizens Assemblies, a new second chamber, , and exploring the use of technology to more broadly engage and involve people in decision-making.

18. Devolution of powers

Where powers lie to take decisions for and about Scotland has been a central theme throughout the Assembly, with members learning about the constitutional settlement, including the impact of Brexit. Discussion highlighted the importance of these matters and also how COVID had shown the practical importance of power being exercised at the right level - so that Scottish institutions have the powers they need to take decisions for Scotland on a national level, and also that powers should be devolved to local authorities and to communities, which are often much better placed to know what to do.