LAST week, Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of the path towards indyref2 was about looking to Scotland’s future.

In doing so she laid out a plan towards a new vote on an independent Scotland – a Scotland that works for all of us.

But shaping the road ahead to independence is too important a task to be left just to politicians. It’s about bringing the views of all Scots together and creating a shared vision for the future to put to a vote.

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The Tory Brexit vote, with its short campaign period and lack of proper debate has left the UK deeply divided and has led to considerable frustration and uncertainty for the public and for business and left a majority of Scots feeling their voice has been ignored.

Whilst the 2014 independence referendum was different, and the tone and depth of the debate were much better, we must go even further this time around. We must lay a foundation for a shared vision of Scotland – one that can represent the views of people from across our nation.

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So, I was delighted when the First Minister embraced my plan as part of the package of measures paving the way for indyref2. The Citizens’ Assembly process will lay the foundation for the referendum and help us debate and discuss Scotland’s future in an open way using participative democracy.

At SNP conference today, together with Chris Hanlon, I will be proposing a resolution in favour of a Citizens Assembly for Scotland. Earlier this year when the idea was still embryonic, we were delighted to get the backing of my branch, Edinburgh Central SNP and, another Edinburgh South West branch, Sighthill/Stenhouse.

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Since then support has grown for the idea with the vocal backing of Lesley Riddoch and the expert input of people such as Willie Sullivan from the Electoral Reform Society and Oliver Escobar from What Works Scotland.

Since the FM’s announcement I have been inundated with queries about how a Citizens Assembly might work and how it could help to achieve independence, so I am grateful to have this opportunity to reach out to a wider audience than those attending SNP conference.

Citizens’ Assemblies are often set up in times of constitutional change to advise on solutions to thorny issues and can play a vital role in finding consensus on issues on which people are divided. It’s important to understand that they are not an alternative to the democratically elected Parliament but a process which feeds into policy making through Parliament and thus has a democratic underpinning.

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I WAS particularly struck by the example of Ireland – where it was a Constitutional Convention and Citizens’ Assembly that paved the way to the successful equal marriage and abortion referenda, allowing members of the public to hear from experts and debate, discuss and deliberate before any option was selected to be put to a public vote.

If a Citizens’ Assembly can bring people together over issues as fraught as these in Ireland then it has the potential to bring Scots together – those who have voted Yes, No or remain unsure to decide just what the future in Scotland might be.

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The membership of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly was made up of a Chairperson appointed by the Government and 99 citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected to be broadly representative of Irish society in terms of age, gender, social class, regional spread etc. Members of advocacy groups on the topics considered were excluded from membership but instead invited to make submissions. The selection process was conducted by a research and marketing company appointed following a competitive tendering process. More can be read about the methodology on the website

Random selection is a defence against domination by vested interests and lobby groups. In Scotland I would like to see the selection base include EU citizens and others resident here for a significant period of time.

The Irish assembly appointed a steering group from within its membership assisted by a secretariat. It was also assisted by an Expert Advisory Group who, amongst other things, advised on the criteria for selecting experts to appear before the assembly. The process is citizen led, the experts were there to assist the assembly; they were described as “on tap’ rather than “on top”.

When it reported it did so to the Irish parliament who then decided whether and how to action its recommendations thus providing a vital democratic check.

By bringing together a representative cross section of Scotland – people from across the nation from all walks of life and view points - we can begin to find consensus on the key questions that would shape any referendum and look at what kind of country we want Scotland to be and how we can best come together to overcome the challenges we face.

Most importantly we can give people the knowledge and confidence to make an informed choice about the future of Scotland when the independence referendum takes place and by taking the time to get the process right we can, I believe, get the right result.

This weekend I am also speaking at an SNP Conference fringe event organised by the Electoral Reform Society looking at just how Citizens’ Assemblies could help create the vision for an independent Scotland reflecting Scotland’s guiding constitutional principle that sovereignty lies with the people.

THE panel will bring together academics, journalists and campaigners to make the case for Citizens Assemblies in helping tackle this issue in a way that brings Scots together rather than divide them and to come to a result that we all have a stake in.

Back in 2017 the ERS ran their own Citizens Assembly on Brexit looking at what the public wanted from Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

It found consensus and engaged people in these discussions in a much less fractious way than the current Brexit debates and presented its findings to the government and its success has led to successive calls from across the political divide for a Citizens’ Assembly to solve the Brexit deadlock.

This all goes to show it’s a model we’ve seen work elsewhere and I believe one which can work well for Scotland too.

Our Citizens’ Assembly will be the first step of a process to shape Scotland’s future – a challenge we must all be part of.