THE chair of Scotland’s fledgling Citizens’ Assembly has moved to reassure its Unionist critics by insisting it will not be used to push any questions relating to Scottish independence.

Former Scottish Labour MEP David Martin made the comments as he admitted it was a “mistake” for Nicola Sturgeon to announce the scheme at the same time as she rebooted the debate on a future referendum.

In a bid to “keep the political temperature down”, Mr Martin made a direct appeal to sceptics during an event in Edinburgh.

READ MORE: SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC has made Citizens Assembly 'ten times harder', says adviser

He said the Citizens’ Assembly “is not going to decide whether Scotland should have a second referendum, because that’s a matter for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, and they’ve already legislated for that”.

He added: “It’s not a matter of when the timing of that will be, because that’s a matter for the Scottish Government and the British Government to negotiate.

“It’s not even a matter of what the question should be. It’s not also a matter of whether Scotland should be an independent country or not.

“What it is, is trying to involve and inform citizens in as active and proactive a way as possible, so that when that choice comes we’re all better informed and all better able to make that decision.”

Mr Martin, who is taking on the role of the Assembly's co-convener after losing his seat at the European elections, was speaking at an Electoral Reform Society event at Edinburgh University to discuss the proposals.

It comes amid widespread Unionist scepticism over the plans – with both the Scottish Tories and Liberal Democrats refusing to have anything to do with the body, which will deliberate on issues relating to Scotland's future.

Senior SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC also caused controversy after calling the process the "perfect way" to advance independence.

Mr Martin said he hoped those urging a boycott would change their minds, but said he understood why the LibDems and Tories had adopted such a stance.

He said this was “partly because of the toxic nature of Scottish politics at the moment”, but insisted a Citizens’ Assembly would help “lower the temperature” and get a dialogue going.

However, he criticised the way in which the scheme was unveiled by the First Minister in April, arguing the decision to announce it at the same time as legislation paving the way for a future referendum created suspicion.

He said: “Speaking personally, not in the position of co-chair, I think with hindsight it was a mistake to have announced this as part of a three-course-of-action package.

“It was announced at the same time as the indy2 debate, it was announced at the same time as the cross-party talks on the constitutional situation, and then the assembly was thrown in.

“And I think throwing the three things together has created some suspicion.

“I want to assure all political parties that they don’t need to be suspicious about this. This is a conversation they should want to be part of.”

But he added: “If they don’t take part, then nothing changes – because this is a Citizens’ Assembly. There’s no formal role for political parties anyway.”

Based on similar scheme in Ireland which led to referendums on same-sex marriage and abortion, Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly will see 100 members of the public chosen at random as a "microcosm" of society.

They will consider long-term challenges facing Scotland over six weekends. However, the exact issues to be discussed are still unclear.

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

Addressing the event in Edinburgh, Ms Cherry also insisted the Assembly “is not about whether or not Scotland should become an independent country”.

She added: “My personal view is that having a Citizens’ Assembly may assist on that path – others may think it may underline that the devolution we have is enough. Who knows.”

She also dismissed calls for a boycott, arguing “most people are not [adherents of] one political party”.

She added: “If this boycott goes ahead – and I really have a lot of positive feelings that it won’t – it’s not the same as boycotting an election or a referendum, because it will not be difficult to find 100 citizens who represent a cross-section of Scotland. I don’t think a boycott will destroy the assembly at all.”