SCOTLAND’S first Citizens Assembly has finished it work with 60 recommendations offering a "new chapter in our democracy" and a long-term vision for the country. 

The £1.4m exercise, involving a group 100 citizens representing a “mini-Scotland”, called for Holyrood to have powers over immigration, employment and tax. 

However, in spite of early Unionist claims that it would be a Nationallist stunt, the year-long forum didn’t express a view on Scottish independence.

Although the issue was discussed, "consensus" and finding common ground was put put first.

Of the 60 recommendations, 58 were backed by at least 75 per cent of the Assembly, with the remaining two backed by more than 50%.

At its launch this morning, several members said measures related to the Covid pandemic should be prioritised to help alleviate poverty, ensure good housing, and address mental health problems.

Based on the Irish assembly that debated abortion and other divisive issues outside the normal political process, the Scottish version looked at three main questions: the kind of country we should be, overcoming challenges including Brexit, and giving people the information they need to make informed choices about Scotland’s future.

It said its vision was for a country that should "lead with integrity, honesty, humility and transparency, in a self-sufficient and innovative way, and actively include the people of Scotland in decision making". 

As part of that, Scotland should support people out of poverty, support education and employment, pay a realistic living wage, tax fairly, invest in innovation, provide better physical and mental health services, better housing, and promote green values. 

Most specific ideas involve spending money, including free education for life, a free bank account at birth with £1000 in it, a lower state pension age, a legal living wage, higher NHS pay, tax breaks for business, and investment in energy and IT infrastructure.

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On raising tax, it said Scotland should have more powers to create a simpler system that taxed “wealth more fairly, through increasing taxes for those individuals who can pay and for large corporations”, and put more effort into pursuing tax dodgers.

It said the tax powers could “gather, keep and use more tax income from companies based in Scotland, and from products such as whisky, fishing industries, oil, tourism and energy”. 

It also suggested “a credible, engaging and independent figure” should be used to “communicate government tax and spending information every quarter” to the public, possibly “in person or using characters and voice overs through animation”.

READ MORE: Scottish Tories urge boycott of Citizens Assembly, dismissing it as 'Nationalist stunt'

The Assembly called for Scotland to have powers “to negotiate and agree our own international and trade relations”, and maximum control over “immigration laws and arrangements to the benefit of Scotland and its people”, both reversing large parts of Brexit.

Many ideas in its report, Doing Politics Differently, amount to a rebuke of Holyrood's political class.

The Assembly recommended a “house of citizens”, effectively an unelected second Holyrood chamber, should in future “scrutinise government proposals and give assent to parliamentary Bills”.

There should also be a randomly-selected Citizens committee at Holyrood to “offer advice and opinions on government proposals and “hold the government to account”.

Other ideas included ways to hold politicians to account, and make them put the interests of their constituents ahead of party interests. 

To stop backsliding on policy delivery, the government and parliament should “be held accountable and consequences in place when goals are not met”.

The Assembly also called for far wider use of citizens assembles at national and local level in future, including ‘mini-assemblies’ constituted at the start of each Holyrood parliament to examine specific issues, whose work must be debated by MSPs.

There should be simple, annual presentations on Government progress on targets.

The Herald: From the Citizens Assembly reportFrom the Citizens Assembly report

The Assembly also backed changes on incomes, poverty, health, the economy, young people and the environment, many of which would require the devolution of powers currently held at Westminster. 

Recommendations included a legal requirement for all employers to pay a living wage, a ban on zero hours contracts, and council task forces to overcome poverty, which would be defined as homelessness, or too little money for heating or food. 

There should also be incentives for businesses to invest in greener jobs and hi-tech innovation, and a plan to secure jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

It called for a “root and branch review of public services in order to prioritise good mental health care and holistic wellbeing for every individual through education, awareness, person-centred care and appropriate resourcing”.

On sustainability, it recommended a world-leading ban on non biodegradable products, and more infrastructure to maximise green energy.

Other ideas included better mental health provision in schools, rent caps, better housing for young people, local health hubs to reduce the strain on hospitals, and greater provision of apprenticeships .

Introducing their 260-page report, the Assembly’s members said that “recent years have seen us lose trust in politics”, and so sought evidence from independent experts instead.

They said: “We wanted to hear the facts, the honest reality, the truth of how Scotland is governed, and the difficult choices that we face, to help us think about the future, how to plan ahead and achieve good outcomes with a positive mindset.”

The Assembly stressed its report was not an idle wish list, but intended for “consideration, action and delivery” by the Scottish Government and Holyrood.

“The recommendations in this report are to be commenced after the election of the next parliament in May 2021 and we understand this is not an overnight thing, but is a long-term plan that may take many years to achieve.”

The Assembly had a difficult birth, and was dogged by accusations of political chicanery.

It was announced by Nicola Sturgeon in April 2019 at the same time she published legislation paving the way for a second independence referendum.

SNP ministers said the Assembly would be independent and arms-length from government, and would be transparent, inclusive, accessible, balanced, and open-minded. 

However the Scottish Tories called for a boycott, calling it “nothing but a talking shop for independence”, an accusation echoed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats. 

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

The claims were given impetus by SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who described the Assembly as “part of the process of preparing voters in Scotland for a second independence referendum”.

In the end, all parties barred the LibDems contributed to the Assembly’s work by fielding people for political discussions.

The Assembly held its first four weekends between October 2019 and February last year before coronavirus forced it to suspend its meetings.

It resumed its work last September online with an unchanged remit and held for more weekends up to December.

Its report will be laid in Parliament for debate, with an action plan from the Scottish Government to follow.

Convener Kate Wimpress said: “Our members made up a ‘mini-Scotland’ and worked hard together over many months to find common ground. 

“I’m delighted that the Assembly’s report offers such a positive vision for our future and a set of bold and imaginative recommendations. 

“This is not a box ticked, or a full stop, but a beginning, opening up a new chapter in our democracy with citizens at its heart. 

“It puts Scotland at the forefront of democratic innovation globally.”

Member Shona Peace, a GP practice nurse from Orkney, said, “Before the Assembly, politics was something somebody else did. That wasn’t me. I had no say in what politics were about before. Now, I have had a say on how we bring Scotland forward for the next generation.”

Anne Nisbet, an addictions social worker from Paisley, said: “It’ll go down in history, to be part of the first ever Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland. I want to be part of Scotland’s future and I’m passionate about Scotland thriving as a country. 

“To be part of something where you’re representing the people – I want my daughter to look back and say ‘that’s my mum’s face there, she’s part of that line-up of people that were involved in that.’

"It makes you feel so proud.”

Paul Dowd, a 45-year-old IT manager who took part, added: “It would be a tragedy if the document was just kept on a shelf and nothing was to happen.”

Leanne Thomson, 29, a barmaid and mother of three from Aberdeen, said: “I think the problem is politicians have lost touch with reality and what it’s like for the real person on the ground. So I think citizens assemblies are important for that reason. 

“I don’t think we necessarily need something as big as this in the future. I think community-based ones for me would be the way top go working with councils.”

Benedict Amamize, a secondary teacher from West Lothian, said: "I'm calling on parliament, politicians and the government, please look beyond party boundaries and make our dreams come true."

SNP Constitution Secretary Michael Russell, who steered the creation of the Assembly, said: “This comprehensive final report from the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland provides an insightful and wide-ranging contribution to the debate about what kind of Scotland we want to build in the future – and how we go about building it.

"As we look to rebuild following the coronavirus pandemic I would like to thank members of the Assembly for their enthusiasm and commitment throughout these difficult times.

“Ministers look forward to meeting with Assembly members in due course to hear more about their recommendations and the experience of being part of this unique process, which was established to involve the public in our democracy and enable the widest possible range of voices to be heard on key issues.”

Despite his party snubbing the Assembly, Scottish LibDem leader praised its work.

He said: "The assembly was set up by SNP ministers as part of a package of steps to promote independence.

“It is good that the assembly has gone wider in order to look at issues such as mental health, tackling poverty and recovery from the pandemic.

“The evidence from around the world is that fairer societies are more successful economically and it is good to see the assembly members highlight this. Their recommendations on universal income, fair employment and the living wage support that aim.

”I share the concern of assembly members that our public services and industries need people to move to Scotland from elsewhere, and we should welcome them.”

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland said: “The Citizen Assembly for Scotland has set out a shared vision for Scotland, one created not from the remote and dusty halls of power but by ordinary people, coming together with a shared purpose to improve their own community.

“The signals are coming from many places that a last century system of democracy has been left behind by a world of social media and virtual realities.

"It is creaking and in many places cracking. The yawning gaps between rhetoric and delivery just feed the growing mistrust between people and their leaders.

“The Government’s commitment to remake Scottish Local Democracy starting with a bill in the next parliament is an ideal opportunity to build citizens assemblies into a system that allows people to really run their own towns, villages and communities.

“The process puts Scotland at the forefront of democratic innovation and sets out a blueprint for elsewhere – a model for true citizen participation demonstrating what can be achieved when ordinary people are given the time and space to debate, discuss and deliberate the issues that affect their day to day lives.

"It delivers not only great solutions but trust and understanding between citizens and a knowledge of the trade-off required in government.

“Democracy isn’t an end product – if it is to survive and flourish it needs to keep evolving. We need to innovate to rebuild trust. Citizens Assemblies like this one are key to making that happen.”