CHARLES Dickens’s novel Bleak House features a court case that took so long and became so complex that it brought disaster to everyone involved.

“Innumerable children have been born into the cause,” wrote Dickens. “Innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it … whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit.”

It sounds a bit like Brexit, which is why we should all do everything we can to find a new way to discuss, and resolve, differences.

The tragic divisiveness of Brexit arises not just from the issue but from the way it was handled by Theresa May. Instead of trying to reconcile those who narrowly won with those who narrowly lost, she insisted that Leavers must dominate everything and take all. As that stance excluded, among others, the elected government representing the Remain nation of Scotland, it was automatically going to cause problems.

Division was soon hard-wired into every discussion – but, in her inimitable manner, the Prime Minister then proceeded to make things even worse by obsessive and negative micro-management of every detail of the issue.

All of that should teach us a lesson about how to approach constitutional change.

That is why my statement to the Scottish Parliament this week outlined not just our preparations for a Referendum Bill, but also our wish for cross-party talks and our plans for establishing a Citizens’ Assembly.

The cross-party talks will make use of an interlocutor who will talk to each of the parties individually to work out what common ground there is about Scotland’s constitutional future. I am hopeful that by taking our time and showing respect for difference we will be able to identify areas for, at the very least, face-to-face

talks, and perhaps for a common platform on devolution to present to Westminster at some stage.

The LibDems still seem to be standing out against any involvement in such a process, but I hope they will change their mind. I repeat my promise to them which I made during the week: there are no preconditions, and just as no-one will be forced to give anything up, no-one will be forced to agree to anything they don’t want.

The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, to give it its formal title, is an even more radical departure, though Citizens’ Assemblies do exist in some other parts of the world. The most recent and most publicised success of the approach was in dealing with the ban on abortion in the Irish constitution. It was the Irish Citizens’ Assembly which brought forward proposals that resulted in a successful referendum in 2018.

Many thought that it would never be possible for Ireland to move forward in a united way on that issue, but it was deliberative democracy that allowed the country to do so.

Deliberative democracy is about decision-making based upon fair and reasonable informed debate between citizens. The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland will bring together more than 100 people scientifically selected to give a representative cross-section of Scotland’s population. Its task will be to address the overall question of our constitutional future.

Most involved in the 2014 indyref regard it as a hugely positive experience, but there are those who have a different perspective. If we accept – as most do – that the Westminster system is not serving Scotland well, then we must work out a way to find a new dispensation without deepening – in fact, by positively narrowing – that split.

The job of appointing a convenor and formulating the precise approach is already under way and later this month senior figures from the Irish process will be at Holyrood to brief MSPs and, I hope, party leaders. I am also, with Scottish Government officials, meeting with academics who have worked on Citizens’ Assemblies so we can identify and use the best practice possible.

Once again, there is an open invitation to the other parties to help shape things and to take co-ownership of the results. I am grateful for the enthusiasm of the Green Party but I do hope that the other parties will also recognise the value – indeed, the necessity – of doing things differently.

The third anniversary of the Brexit referendum is just a few weeks away. What has happened since is an object lesson in how not to handle difficult and divisive issues. We have a chance to do things better in Scotland, and we must grasp it – all of us, but especially the politicians – with both hands.