By Kate Wimpress

Today marks a milestone in the history of Scottish democracy as the report of our first Citizens’ Assembly is laid in the Scottish Parliament for debate, with an action plan to follow from the Scottish Government. 

Assembly members expect their recommendations to be taken seriously and acted upon. As one member, Shirley, put it: “Our vision and recommendations represent the voice of ordinary, everyday people. My message to MSPs today is: we need you to take our report to the next level and make policy out of this.” 

Anyone with a passing interest in Scottish politics is familiar with the usual dividing lines. But until now it wasn’t clear what common ground on our future might look like. We have lacked a shared vision that our society as a whole can get behind. As we confront the profound impacts of Covid-19, this is needed now more than ever. 

My hope is politicians will be emboldened today by the Citizens’ Assembly’s work, illustrating as it does a remarkable level of agreement across a host of critical areas. 

Read more: Scotland's first Citizens Assembly reports its findings on country's future

100 people from all walks of life, and from all across Scotland have set out in the Citizens’ Assembly’s report a positive and inspiring vision for the country, supported by 60 detailed recommendations. These were agreed by overwhelming consensus, showing what can be accomplished when combining hard work and close scrutiny of complex evidence with detailed and open deliberation.  

This rigorous process has found many areas of genuine agreement about Scotland’s future. The Assembly is independent of government and its membership includes people of all political persuasions, and none. This, along with the commitment shown by the members, is what makes the Assembly’s report a credible and valuable document. 

The Assembly’s recommendations include changes to how citizens are involved in decision-making, further powers for the Scottish Parliament, and action on incomes and tackling poverty, tax and the economy, support for young people, sustainability, health and wellbeing,  

It is easy to be cynical about consensus. But progress doesn’t happen overnight, or without consistent collective effort. You can’t lament the breakdown of trust in politics and the harmful effects of polarization whilst also dismissing the serious efforts of ordinary citizens to build meaningful common ground across political differences. 

Members have met over recent weeks with journalists, Scottish Government ministers and MSPs. The warm and thoughtful discussion at each of these meetings has been encouraging. But the proof of the pudding begins today in Parliament. 

A positive, constructive response from parliamentarians and government policy-makers will start to build the concrete changes members have pinpointed as crucial to our future. It will also prove that this new way of doing politics in Scotland can be a key part of our democratic toolkit. Citizens’ assemblies are no panacea but when convened, and acted upon, they can support a healthy democratic culture, one that demonstrates clearly that citizens’ everyday experiences and voices count.  

Today’s debate in Parliament stands, for me, as a moment to be hopeful. A new chapter can open in our democracy, with citizens right at the heart. 

Kate Wimpress is convener of the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland