Political context for the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland
The intention to establish the Assembly was announced in April 2019 against the backdrop of uncertainty and controversy about the future of the country in light of Brexit and the debate about a second independence referendum. In announcing the Assembly the First Minister cited the success of similar initiatives in helping people to find common ground and move forward by agreement where opinions are divided (the Assembly was announced in a debate on Brexit and Scotland’s future alongside 2 other initiatives: a decision to introduce the Referendums (Scotland) Bill and proposed cross-party talks to identify areas of agreement on constitutional and procedural change). In a subsequent parliamentary debate the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Michael Russell, noted that in the 20th anniversary year of devolution the Assembly represented an important innovation in democracy and citizen participation.
Not all political parties supported the establishment of the Assembly. The Liberal Democrat and Scottish Conservative parties, whilst supporting the use of assemblies, expressed concerns that this Assembly would be skewed towards making a case for independence. Throughout the process the Assembly Convener has engaged with representatives of the political parties and there has been some shift in opinion as the breadth and diversity of our work has been demonstrated in practice. As described below, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, all of the parties in the parliament attended an Assembly session and engaged in discussion with members.