UNIONIST parties are refusing to take part in the Citizens’ Assembly planned by the Scottish Government.

The Tories and LibDems yesterday said they would not take part, describing it as a “nationalist stunt”, with Labour completing the Better Together trio in suggesting it was a ploy relating to independence.

It came as Government Business Secretary Michael Russell said the views and recommendations made by a future Citizens’ Assembly on national issues in Scotland must be respected.

Plans for a Scottish Citizens’ Assembly were announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in April this year.

Speaking at Holyrood yesterday, Russell set out the guiding principles of such an Assembly and committed the Scottish Government to listening to and learning from the process.

Under the proposals, 120 members of the public, broadly representative of Scotland’s adult population, will be chosen at random to serve on the Assembly, with meetings held over six weekends between late autumn to spring.

Russell told MSPs: “Within the remit that will be set out, and with expert support, members of the Assembly, once in place, are free to explore the matters entrusted to them as they see fit.

“It is right that the Assembly itself will set many of its rules and procedures and decide how to operate.

“We must ensure that as far as practicable, we respect the outcome too.

“So I confirm today that when the first Citizens’ Assembly for Scotland concludes, the Government will ensure that its recommendations contribute to, and are seen to contribute to, positive steps towards a better collective future.”

Russell said the Assembly would have independence from Government, with the appointment of impartial conveners, an independent secretariat and expert advisory groups.

A politicians panel would also be established for the Assembly to call on as it wishes.

Scottish Tory MSP Adam Tomkins said the SNP wanted set up such an assembly only to advance the campaign for Scottish independence.

He said: “This is not a genuine attempt at a Citizens’ Assembly in Scotland, it’s a nationalist stunt to kick-start the conversation about independence and as such, I’m afraid that we will have nothing to do with it and I urge all Unionists in Scotland to see this for what it is and to give it a wide berth.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “We are not participating in this latest SNP exercise that’s been set up simply to patch up the SNP’s case for independence. Taxpayers’ money should not be used for this party-political process.”

Scottish Labour MSP Claire Baker said: “I welcome the principles of autonomy of the Assembly from Government and open-mindedness.

“But to have announced a Citizens’ Assembly at the same time as a Referendum Bill has certainly created the impression that the Government has already provided the answer.

“We will offer a degree of support, provided the Government can prove the Citizens’ Assembly is free from the Government’s ambition for another referendum and that Parliament has an opportunity to scrutinise the terms of reference and the remit of the Citizens’ Assembly.”

The Scottish Greens welcomed the proposed Citizens’ Assembly.