How the recommendations were developed
The process of considering evidence, identifying key challenges to investigate and producing potential areas for action began at the start of the Assembly. As described earlier and as detailed in Part 2 of Annex 8. As described above members began by exploring general evidence on the country, including looking at the constitutional position and how decisions are taken and then explored different ways of looking at issues such as different approaches to the economy, what makes for happiness and how values influence decision making. Members also learned about the different kinds and sources of evidence and how to interpret these. They met with a politicians’ panel, heard about their priorities and discussed how politics is conducted and decisions are taken.
Over the course of weekends 3 and 4 members investigated challenges facing Scotland in more detail. Deciding which topics to investigate was not straightforward but the starting point was the vision statements prepared in weekend 2.
The statement below was one of the most strongly supported and brought together a wide range of topics:
The country we are seeking to build will be a sustainable society where we balance our environmental, economic and social impacts for the good of the country and its citizens.
In weekend 3, members took evidence on this topic from a range of speakers who considered different aspects of the statement and prepared interim outputs in the form of 14 ‘canvasses’ covering difficult choices and trade-offs and potential areas for action. These canvasses are an important interim output which laid the foundations for many of the final Assembly recommendations. Through a voting exercise, levels of support for each potential area for action were identified. All of the materials from the weekend can be found here.
"Very illuminating. I found the discussions very energising. It’s the kind of topic I love to get my teeth into. It was informative and, equally, combative but good-natured."
More difficult was selecting the focus for discussion in weekend 4. There was very limited time to prepare for the weekend and a range of different approaches would have been possible. One approach considered was to explore in more detail challenges around health services, which was important to members. However, members had also indicated that they wanted to know more about Scotland’s financial resources. Given how important the topic is to achieving all other outcomes and to understanding how decision are taken, weekend 4 therefore developed the discussion of the challenges of building a sustainable country looking in more detail at finances and taxation. Weekend 4 was a both a difficult and a rewarding weekend. Members were presented with a daunting array of evidence and were asked to explore challenges in different ways; they again developed canvasses which recorded key findings and also undertook an exercise to consider how taxes might be gathered and used differently. They came out of the weekend feeling significantly better informed about the country and empowered and confident about setting a direction of travel for the country. All of the work from weekend 4 can also be found here.
"Tax – a dreaded, feared word! Before today, tax for me was you open up your pay packet and you think, “Oh, do I have to pay that?” Today we learned about the bigger picture: UK tax, Scotland’s tax and other countries’ tax system. That was a lot of information and, for me, very informative. I didn’t know half of that."
Across weekends 3 and 4, the canvasses produced by the Assembly collectively set out a range of ideas on how to address the challenge of sustainability and the resources to achieve it. These ideas were brought together for members in the interim reporting paper prepared by the Secretariat in the summer Journey So Far: Challenges paper, which drew out three overarching themes:
Fair Work and Taxes – where members highlighted the importance of fairness and equality for all citizens, noting the need for fairer work through review of employment regulations and pay conditions and increased work opportunities for all, such as through apprenticeships. Members explored how fair work policies as well as some specific tax raising ideas could contribute to increases in income tax revenues to resource a sustainable country. Members also advocated building an equal society through a tax system that taxes wealth more fairly, through increasing taxes for those individuals who can pay and for large corporations.
A Greener Scotland – where members suggested a range of ideas to improve energy efficiency, invest in Scotland’s renewable energy potential and green technologies, develop sustainable community infrastructure including accessible public transport, and to ensure green behaviour from business through taxation and eco-laws.
Citizen information and improving decision making – where members commented on how difficult it is for citizens to be well-informed in order to be properly involved in decision-making and how valuable it had been to be discuss these issues with fellow citizens. Ideas focused around need for better information to the public on issues of climate change and taxation, and a need to improve the quality of political discussion and decision-making to deliver a sustainable country.