IN 2019, amid the clusterbourach of UK and global politics, it’s hard to imagine a democratic process free of tribal affiliations and entrenched party politics.

But for anyone fortunate enough to have attended Scotland’s Democratic Future: Shaping Scotland in Edinburgh this week, or indeed to have watched it on (where I believe it is still available) and listened to the informed and experienced panel discuss the process of Citizen’s Assemblies, there is hope for movement beyond partisan politics to find consensus on the myriad of hot, topical issues currently facing Scotland.

Of course, depending on which papers you read, or how much you delve into the murky world of social media, you might think that these Citizens Assemblies are the work of crazed separatists and rabid nationalists, hellbent on indoctrinating citizens in order to cut off the UK landmass at Gretna, and sail away into the sunset shouting “Freedom”.

The mere suggestion of participative democracy seems to send shivers down the spineless Scottish Tories while groups such as the shadowy, but thankfully totally inept, Scotland in Union are desperately trying to rebrand the citizen assembly process as a “nationalist stunt”. Even the Scottish Liberal Democrats have stepped into the fray to announce their boycott of these assemblies – whoever thought the LibDems would be afraid of a “talking shop!” Perhaps they should think again before they jump on the sinking ship of uber Unionism.

As usual with this kind of negative political attitude, it’s all about misinformation and misdirection. These assemblies will not be discussing independence or whether Scotland should have another referendum as there is already a clear mandate for a second referendum which a majority of MSPs support, and it is now a matter for negotiation with the British government. It was Joanna Cherry who championed the idea of citizens assemblies, someone who is well respected for her work on cross-party engagement.

The Scottish Government certainly announced that these assemblies will take place this autumn, but therein ends the governmental or political involvement. The whole point is to create a space free of party political interference, where citizens can discuss difficult topics with access to balanced expert opinion, research and information, in order to reach consensus on a set of recommendations which will then be fed back to governmental bodies at the end of the process.

What is so scary about discussing Scotland’s future in this way? Why do certain sections of the political classes want to boycott or silence citizens voices and their opportunity to become more involved? Perhaps it suits them to keep people in the dark about the major contentious issues of our day; perhaps it’s too big a risk for them to find out what happens when people are empowered with information, facts and figures, free of bias and traditional party divisions. Perhaps, they just don’t want you to know.

Because the key issue with Citizens Assemblies, the thing that makes them so potentially potent and agenda changing, is participation, engagement and empowerment.

They are an opportunity for citizens to become involved in democracy at a much deeper level, to make their voices heard above the noise and bluster of the Westminster bearpit. After all, outwith the political bubble, is the general public really as polarised as certain politicians would like us to believe?

So here are some ideas on how they might work for Scotland.

These Citizens Assemblies will be made up of 100 citizens from a cross section of society, randomly selected to correspond with the socio-economic, education, ethnic, religious, age, and gender mix in Scotland, to create almost a microcosm of Scottish society. These citizens, many of whom will never have been afforded an opportunity like this to make their views heard, will then meet on a regular basis, and with the assistance of trained facilitators to ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute, and with access to expert opinion “on tap” not “on top”, will discuss major issues facing Scotland on which there is currently no consensus.

At the moment, these are set out into three broad topics: what kind of country are we seeking to build; how can we overcome the challenges facing Scotland; and what further work needs to be done to ensure people have access to details and information in order to make informed choices on our future? Before the autumn, these topics will be refined and focused further and could cover key issues such as immigration and climate change.

It seems petty to boycott something so positive, especially when we know how successful they have been in other countries. In Ireland, these assemblies were transformational, allowing a developing consensus on the thorny issue of abortion for instance, traditionally one of that country’s most contentious and divisive subjects, with deep historical and social wounds.

But here’s an even better incentive for the doubters and naysayers. Think on the likes of Michael Gove, with his now infamous and patronising suggestion that people don’t want to hear from experts, and others such as Nigel Farage or even Trump who make pronouncements with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

These are exactly the politicians who are terrified of ordinary people being trusted with discussing complex matters. Because they know that once people have access to factual information, once people become empowered through learning, free of lies and misdirection, and this energy and enthusiasm widens out to the general public as they engage with these assembles, there’s no turning back and there’s no room for Farage or Gove or Johnson’s style of polarising politics through dog whistles to the basest of emotions and the darkest of fears.

David Martin, the former Labour MEP and now head of Scotland’s new Citizens Assemblies, is seeking to “change the tone of the debate”, calling for parties to put aside their issues and engage in a respectful discussion on Scotland’s future. The message here is one of hope, of a search for common ground and a chance to move away from the toxicity of our current political climate. The political parties and organisations currently boycotting the idea in Scotland may find that if they don’t reconsider their position, they will be left even further behind, marginalised by their own prejudices.

There is a new Scotland coming which is not the result of any Citizens Assembly but rather this valuable initiative is itself a consequence of a changing and more confident national mood. That is why it should be embraced.