Overview of the Scottish Government's response
The Citizens' Assembly of Scotland provided a unique opportunity to hear what people in Scotland think about what Scotland should be, and for those views to be presented directly to the Scottish Government and Parliament.
The Citizens' Assembly was different in its nature from more conventional forms of engagement by the government. The Assembly was not a consultation for interested stakeholders, nor an expert working group or commission. Instead it was a representative sample of the people of Scotland, with a wide range of backgrounds, views, interests and knowledge. The Assembly itself adopted the description "a mini-Scotland"
Its process was therefore different. Information and evidence was provided to members to allow them to learn about the issues, question experts and consider what was important to them.
As a representative cross section of the people of Scotland, the views of the Assembly have a different status than those of other consultative bodies: these recommendations tell the Scottish Government and Parliament what is important to the "mini Scotland" that was gathered together, and what can be considered important to the nation as a whole.
The first striking feature of this different kind of report is the scale of the ambition that Assembly members have for Scotland.
This is set out most clearly in the Assembly's vision for the nation:
- The Scotland we want to see should lead with integrity, honesty, humility and transparency, in a self-sufficient and innovative way, and actively include the people of Scotland in decision making.
- Authorities have a duty to publish information that is valid, accurate, reliable, verifiable and accessible to all.
- Scotland should be a country where the people and government communicate with each other honestly and respectfully; whilst working together with concise and factual information, based on openness and accountability.
- The Scotland that we would want to see would be leaders in innovation, with an obligation to invest in people to create jobs, confidence, development and growth.
- Scotland should be a country where the people of Scotland have properly resourced and managed health and social care services, built around individuals and communities to achieve good health and wellbeing for all.
- In order to achieve a better standard of living and opportunities for all we must invest in accessible, relevant training, support and improved income through a realistic living wage.
- Scotland should be a country where people are supported out of poverty by identifying and removing barriers to employment, education and housing.
- Scotland should be a country where all taxes are simplified and made more proportionate so that everyone is taxed accordingly; taxation is transparent and understandable; measures are introduced to minimise tax avoidance: and companies are incentivised to adopt green values.
- The Scotland we want to see will provide support, education, growth opportunities and security for all young people to realise their potential, both physically and mentally, regardless of their background with a view to securing their future and that of our country.
- Scotland should be a country where we encourage and support everyone to reach their full potential through support and training. Providing fair and equality-driven opportunities, through personal development, with a focus on life and vocational skills, apprenticeships and hands-on experience.
The Assembly then identified a wide range of themes as their priorities for action, with specific recommendations in each:
- How decisions are taken
- Incomes and poverty
- Tax and economy
- Young people
- Health and wellbeing
- Further powers
- A mixed group, including connectivity, justice, state pension age, and lifelong learning
The report also shows the concern of Assembly members for particular sectors of society: the challenges facing young people; the emphasis on mental health across society; lifelong opportunities for learning and development to prevent people being left behind; a simple test for poverty which everyone can apply to their own circumstances.
The government shares many of the Assembly's priorities: alleviating poverty; sustainability and a just transition to net zero; investing in training and technology; maintaining the health service; transparent taxation; increasing the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament; greater participation of the public in government.
However, there are also themes throughout the report that should worry all involved in the government of Scotland: a lack of transparency and accessible information; and a lack of trust and accountability in politicians and public bodies.
This response sets out the government's detailed plans for many of the areas identified by the Assembly. However, the government is clear that meeting the vision of the Assembly, and its call to do politics differently, requires more than one government programme and more than one Parliamentary term. The Assembly has presented a direct challenge to all in government and the political system to meet the scale of the aspirations the people have for Scotland.
The vision and recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland have demonstrated the potential of bringing together a representative group of citizens to consider questions of national importance in great depth and produce wide ranging and ambitious recommendations. Its example has already been followed by the Scottish Climate Assembly, and more assemblies are planned.
Members of this Assembly were in the unique position of deliberating before and during the pandemic. Its vision of "what kind of country are we seeking to build" is a crucial contribution both to the immediate task of recovering from Covid and to building back to a better nation, already recognised in the government's Covid Recovery Strategy.
The Assembly also sends a clear message to the Scottish Government and Parliament, that the business of government and society is, or should be, a national undertaking, involving all. As the members say in their introduction:
Too often discussions are about what other people should do for me, but they should be about what I can do and what I can contribute. This is not just about the government, we should all be working together as one nation. The onus is on us – everyone.
This response sets out actions the government is taking now on the recommendations of the Assembly, but the spirit and scope of its report goes beyond the immediate plans of government to a wider, long term approach to the future of Scotland. Providing an ambitious vision for the nation, and challenging its government and Parliament to deliver it, will be a lasting legacy of the Citizens' Assembly.
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