NICOLA Sturgeon’s plans for a Citizens’ Assembly on Scotland’s democratic future will come under the spotlight at an event organised by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Scotland.

Almost 300 people have signed up for today’s event in Edinburgh, which will include among its speakers The National columnist Lesley Riddoch, SNP MP Joanna Cherry and David Martin, a former Labour MEP.

The Scottish Government has proposed the assembly as an opportunity for greater public engagement on the big issues facing the country. It comes after recent ERS polling indicated that just 4% of the public feel properly represented at Westminster.

ERS Scotland has run “deliberative” community events involving thousands of people over the past few years and, while it has welcomed the Government’s plans, it said that getting the process right is essential.

It said there is growing support for new models of democratic engagement, particularly in a time of polarisation, and six Westminster select committees have announced plans for a Citizens’ Assembly on combatting climate change and achieving the pathway to net zero carbon emissions.

The First Minister announced the assembly plan in April, but it was largely overshadowed then by her saying she wanted indyref2 within the next two years.

Members of the public would be selected to listen to evidence from all sides in Scotland’s constitutional debate, including independence and Brexit. Sturgeon said she was inspired by the model in Ireland set up to discuss a range of divisive issues and voters will tonight be able to discuss the proposals hosted by the ERS at Edinburgh University, with a public panel discussion.

Earlier in the day, civil servants, academics, MPs and MSPs, along with representatives from the third sector, will learn about and discuss key questions related to the assembly’s remit and where the Scottish Government is in the process, as well as if and how it will help members explore constitutional issues.

Around 200 people signed up for the event when it was announced and it has now sold out.

Willie Sullivan, director of ERS Scotland, said: “The huge appetite for this event shows that Scots are keen to find out more about a new model for democracy here.

“Old-fashioned party politics and binary divides have failed to provide solutions that Scots can unite around.

“Citizens’ assemblies offer a way to ensure deep, informed public

involvement on big and often contentious political issues – finding a positive way forward based on co-operation.

“How a citizens’ assembly is organised must reflect the principles of public participation and openness that characterise ‘deliberative’ democracy.

“We’ve long campaigned for more people power at a local level through our ‘Act As If You Own the Place’ initiative, exploring how communities want their services and areas to be run across Scotland.

“It’s positive to see that approach being taken up at a national level. Now the devil will be in the detail. There’s a phrase among reformers and community activists: ‘Nothing about us, without us’.

“That has to hold true for these Citizens’ Assembly plans – another reason we’re organising this.

He added: “There is a lot of work to do in making sure the Scottish people see the assembly as the trusted, independent institution that it should be.

“We are glad the Government is keen to hear from across society. This event must be the first of many such discussions, as society begins to set out a vision for Scotland’s constitutional future.”

Dr Oliver Escobar, a senior lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh, who will also address the meeting, said: “There are important questions about what Citizens’ Assemblies are good for and how to best develop this kind of participatory process. This event gives us the opportunity to openly discuss hopes and concerns for this form of democratic innovation.”