Citizens' Assembly of Scotland - Doing Politics Differently report: Scottish Government response

Our response to the report of the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland report 'Doing Politics Differently'.

1. How decisions are taken

"covering a range of ideas to improve citizen participation in decision-making, the provision of information and the accountability of the Scottish Government and Parliament"

'Doing Politics Differently'

Summary of recommendations

Recommendations 1 – 14 are themed as 'How decisions are taken'. They propose greater use of the citizens' assembly approach, and establishment of new mechanisms for direct participation in the democratic process such as a 'house of citizens' and 'citizens' committee'. The other recommendations under this theme aim to ensure the integrity and improve the democratic accountability of both government and individual MSPs.

There are three main themes to the recommendations in this section:

  • The use of citizens' assemblies and other forms of direct participation of citizens on political processes (recommendations 1-6)
  • integrity and accountability for politicians and government (recommendations 7 – 10)
  • More accessible and easily understood information to allow citizens to participate fully in decision making (recommendations 11 – 14)

The government is committed to promoting citizens' assemblies and other forms of deliberative democracy – such as citizen juries, mini-publics and people's panels – to bring people together to generate new ideas; add fairness, equality and credibility to the policy making process; and improve trust between government and the people it serves.

A second Citizens' Assembly – Scotland's Climate Assembly[24] – has now taken place, and its report and recommendations were laid in the Scottish Parliament on 23 June. The government has now set out its plans for further use of the citizens' assembly model,[25] including an assembly for under 16s.[26] There will also be a citizens' assembly on local government funding, including Council Tax.[27]

The Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party shared policy programme[28] also sets out a commitment to increased use of deliberative engagement, development of support for effective citizens' assemblies, and deliberative engagement on funding local government, starting locally and culminating in the national citizens' assembly.

Later this year, an expert group will report to Ministers on institutionalising inclusive participatory democracy across Scotland's democratic processes, including future governance and question setting for citizens' assemblies.[29] The Participatory Democracy Working Group brings together experts from Scotland, UK and international organisations to propose recommendations on making participation routine and effective. This will include defining the principles, standards and aims of using participatory processes including (but not limited to) citizens' assemblies; identifying methods of governance for delivering credible and trustworthy participatory democratic processes; and setting out options, and an indication of the resources necessary, to establish and deliver these routinely and sustainably.

Other recommendations from the Assembly on a house of citizens and a citizens' committee go to the heart of how parliamentary democracy in Scotland operates. They engage the interests of all political parties, civic Scotland and the Scottish Parliament at an institutional level. Consideration is therefore needed with these key stakeholders on how to address the recommendations. There would be a challenge in incorporating a representative selection of the public directly into existing government and Parliamentary institutions which are based on representative democracy, elected at regular intervals. The Scottish Government plans to engage with the Scottish Parliament on the best way to take these forward.

Similar considerations apply to the recommendations that concern the conduct and integrity of politicians and the responsibilities of MSPs to their constituents, as well as the appointment of a non-political independent review body. Again the Scottish Government plans to engage with the Scottish Parliament on the best way to take these forward.

The Assembly also recommends that the Scottish Government publishes information that will allow it to be held accountable for progress against its commitments and goals.

The annual Programme for Government sets out the actions planned for the coming year and beyond, including the legislative programme, and progress since the previous year. While not a new approach, this is a comprehensive publication which attempts to fulfil the objectives of these Assembly recommendations.

In addition, the National Performance Framework provides information on progress towards National Outcomes and key national indicators.[30]

However, the clear and strongly expressed recommendations from the Assembly are a reminder (with other recommendations such as recommendation 19 on poverty, recommendations 25, 27 and 28 on tax, recommendation 39 on sustainability and recommendation 45 on the cost of the NHS) that however much easily accessible information the government believes it is publishing, citizens may find that information both difficult to find and difficult to understand. The Assembly has again illustrated that government information can appear to be targeted only at professionals rather than the public.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP)[31] is a global partnership that aims to make governments more inclusive, responsive, and accountable. OGP supports governments to work in transparent, accountable and inclusive ways, which resonate with these Assembly recommendations. Scotland has been a member of OGP since 2016 and the third Open Government Action Plan (2021-25) is now under development, in collaboration with civic society. It will again focus on democratic improvement and using open government to help tackle inequalities, institutionalise inclusive participation across the work of government, improve financial transparency and increase access to open data.

On libraries (recommendation 13)[32] the government recognises the crucial role they play in delivering services that support community wellbeing. Covid has impacted the delivery of public library services, but libraries also have a role to play in supporting their communities to recover. A one-off fund of up to £1.25 million will be provided through the Scottish Libraries Information Council to support them to stay open. [33]

The recommendations in this section go to the heart of the Assembly's report. Calls for greater participation of citizens in government and decision making are being progressed through greater use of citizens' assemblies and better understanding of the options for participative democracy. The need for good information for citizens to exercise these rights properly is clearly set out by the Assembly, and is recognised by the government. Some of the recommendations present a challenge to the underlying structures of Parliamentary democracy as it is set up in Scotland. These will require further work by the government and the Scottish Parliament itself, taking account of the observations and recommendations the Assembly makes on trust and honesty between politicians, the government and people.



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