Convener's Blog - June 2020

Kate Wimpress

A few weeks ago I had pause for thought as I reflected on what should have been the sixth and last weekend of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland. I don’t think any of us could have imagined, at the start of the year, the landscape we now find ourselves in. Whilst our thoughts are of course with those suffering from the harshest effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the collective social distancing effort is weighing heavily on us all, and I definitely miss the buzz of the Assembly readying itself for the day ahead and the enthusiasm of our members, who brought all of Scotland into one room. 

Despite our enforced separation, the positivity of the Assembly members remains undimmed; I know this from conversations with our members’ steering group, and from the results of a members’ survey about keeping in touch. Members are very keen to keep the conversation going, they are writing their own blogs and one has even composed a song

Of those responding to the survey, we found that:  

•    There are  extremely high levels of interest in keeping in touch with the Assembly, with 94% of respondents saying they are keen to do so.
•    The most popular reasons for wanting to keep in touch are related to Assembly planning going forward and topic based engagement. Many Members also noted their own reasons, such as the increased importance of the Assembly and the importance of considering the Assembly in light of Covid-19. 
•    Members’ showed interest in a range of types of engagement, expressing a preference for viewing new information, contributing to the Assembly website or participating in online forums, as well as in taking part in small group meetings by video or phone.  

These contributions are being taken on board as we plan our way forward as an Assembly. 

It is clear that the current pandemic creates huge uncertainty over when it will be safe to hold large public gatherings such as our Assembly meetings. Indeed, Scotland’s Route Map published last month places mass gatherings within the fourth and final phase of our transition through the crisis. It could be ‘many months, or longer’ until we reach this phase.  

However, with all challenges come opportunities, and I have been watching with interest how the work of both the Climate Assembly UK and Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat have moved online using the latest technologies to assemble, deliberate and conclude. Our Stewarding Group continue to provide great support and advice, especially amid the current uncertainty, and I have been buoyed up by their expertise, insight, and enthusiasm whilst wrestling with the difficulties in hand. 

I took the opportunity to write to the Cabinet Secretary, Mike Russell, to consider the future options for the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland. I am pleased to have had a positive response which recognises both the importance of the Assembly’s work to date and the need to find innovative ways to complete members’ deliberations, particularly for the post-Covid period. 

With all this in mind, work will now begin in earnest with the Secretariat, with the Stewarding Group, and with Assembly members themselves to explore and establish the best possible way to complete the work of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland whilst we are unable to reconvene face to face.  

It would be fair to say I was initially uncertain about a digital future, but I am now excited about the possibilities an online Assembly can afford Scotland. Particularly as we are able to pull on the existing work, experiences, and relationships built up by all involved across the four weekends staged thus far. In fact I can think of no better group with whom to innovate on online participatory democracy, at a national level. 

Since my last blog, prior to our enforced hiatus, a number of members have spoken with the press about their experiences so far, and some are preparing to speak to their local communities about the work of the Assembly in general. I am very hopeful that the Assembly will continue to share this unique perspective on the next ‘first’ on our journey, which has definitely been one of discovery. 

We will continue to post links on social media as stories about the Assembly are published. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and see previous video content on our YouTube channel from the livestream recordings and interviews with members and other speakers from the previous weekends. 

Kind regards