SCOTLAND’S new Citizens Assembly has been hit by a recruitment delay after Unionists said it should be boycotted as a front for independence.

The Scottish Government said it now expected to take a month longer than first thought to find the forum’s 100 members and 20 substitutes.

The start date for the Assembly has been pushed back from late September to late October, and its endpoint changed from “spring/summer 2020” to “late April 2020”.

The original timetable was set less than three weeks ago.

The Scottish Tories said it would be better if the Assembly was delayed "indefinitely".

READ MORE: SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC says Citizens Assembly is 'perfect way' to advance independence

Despite the recruitment process being extended, the Scottish Government said the delay to the Assembly was down to "venue availability".

The changes are contained in a revised tender document issued today which also revealed the Assembly would hold its first meeting in Edinburgh and its remaining five in Glasgow.

Until now, the six weekend gatherings had merely been pencilled in for “the Central Belt”.

The hold-up comes after Unionists urged people to boycott the exercise, dismissing it as a “Nationalist stunt” designed to advance independence and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Scottish Government issued its original tender for the recruitment of the Assembly’s members on June 14, anticipating the contract would last 2.5 months.

This has now been extended to 3.5 months.

READ MORE: Boycott problem grows for Citizens Assembly

Originally, member recruitment was expected to run from late July to early September.

This is now expected to take place from early August to early October.

Originally, the successful recruiter was expected to provide contact details of the 120 individuals to the Assembly’s secretariat by September 10. This is revised to October 2.

When Nicola Sturgeon announced the Assembly in April, she did so at the same time published a Bill paving the way for a second referendum on independence.

She said it would consider: “What kind of country are we seeking to build? How can we best overcome the challenges that we face, including those arising from Brexit?

“What further work should be carried out to give people the detail that they need to make informed choices about the future of the country?”

The Assembly is based on previous examples in Ireland, in which a cross-section of the population discussed possible amendments to the constitution and societal issues.

These produced led to referendums which legalised same-sex marriage and abortion.

Last week, Brexit Secretary Mike Russell updated MSPs on the Assembly’s progress, confirming that former Labour MEP David Martin had agreed in principle to be its first co-convener.

He was met by a vehement rejection from the Scottish Tories and Scottish LibDems, while Scottish Labour gave it a cool welcome, provided it was not to be about Indyrf2.

Apart from the SNP, the only outright support came from the pro-independence Greens.

After the Tories urged unionists to give the Assembly “a wide berth”, Mr Martin insisted on Monday that the new body would be “entirely independent” from the Scottish Government.

He said: “Give it a chance, let's see how it operates. I think it could make a big contribution to greater public understanding of the issues we face and perhaps build more consensus."

READ MORE: New chair pleads with critics not to boycott Citizens Assembly

However the following day, the Scotland in Union campaign wrote to its 26,000 registered supporters, advising them to snub the forum in case it was “misused” by the SNP.

Chief executive Pamela Nash said that, given the SNP’s record, “We cannot see why the Scottish public should have any faith in this process or, indeed, take part.”

Within an hour, the senior SNP MP Joanna Cherry appeared to confirm Unionist suspicions by describing the Assembly as the “perfect way” to move Scotland towards independence.

She said: “I’m very proud to have championed the idea of a citizens assembly for Scotland as SNP policy.

“I believe this is the perfect way to move Scotland on from the current state of Brexit paralysis created by Westminster and to move us towards independence.”

In June, Ms Cherry also described the Assembly as “part of the process of preparing voters in Scotland for a second independence referendum”.

READ MORE: Tom Gordon: Citizens Assembly backlash is of the SNP’s making

Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said: “It’s only been a few weeks but the SNP’s plans for a so-call citizens’ assembly are already in trouble.

“With their own MPs admitting that it’s simply a talking shop for independence, it’s no wonder there’s little interest in it.

“There is no way the Scottish Conservatives or anyone interested in preserving the union will take part.

“Rather than pushing back the start, the SNP should delay these plans indefinitely.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The invitation to tender to recruit Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland members has moved the date of the first meeting back a month due to the availability of appropriate venues. 

"The timetable to meet in Autumn 2019, and conclude by spring 2020, remains in place.”