WELL that didn’t take long. Scotland’s latest experiment in direct democracy was all but killed off this week, barely two months after Nicola Sturgeon announced it.

Work, we are assured, is already underway to find its 120 members ahead of six sessions this autumn and next spring, but whether the Citizens Assembly of Scotland has any kind of practical future is another matter.

It’s a pity, because the Citizens Assembly is an interesting and useful idea. It could, ideally, help thrash out some of the long-term problems facing the country, tackling the issues election-minded politicians recoil from.

But it’s also unsurprising it has run into immediate trouble, thanks to the SNP’s clumsy mishandling of it.

The Irish experience is instructive.

There have actually been two kinds of assembly in Ireland. The first, the Convention on the Constitution, ran from 2012 to 2014 and discussed possible amendments to Ireland’s constitution.

Two-thirds of its 99 members were randomly selected citizens judged broadly representative of the country as a whole, and the other third were politicians. They met over a series of weekends to discuss eight set topics, plus two they added themselves.

The names and hometowns of participants were published, their deliberations and evidence sessions with expert witnesses put online, and their non-binding recommendations sent to the government for a formal response and a debate in parliament.

Some recommendations led to referendums, notably one in May 2015 which legalised same-sex marriage.

The Convention was followed by the separate but similar Citizens Assembly, which ran from 2016 to 2018 and looked at both constitutional change and wider societal issues such as an ageing population and climate change.

Its 99 members were all citizens, with no politicians, and its weekend sessions were live-streamed for all to see.

The Assembly’s first piece of work fell under the constitutional strand, as it considered whether Ireland’s eighth amendment, which effectively banned abortion, should be repealed.

At the time, some saw it as kicking the can down the road. Then, when the Assembly backed unrestricted access to abortion by two-to-one, it was accused of being more liberal than the country. But in the ensuing referendum last year, all Ireland backed legalisation two-to-one.

The Assembly proved a very accurate barometer of public opinion,

Last week, some of the officials behind the Irish experience came to Holyrood to brief MSPs and the media on how they worked. A key factor for success was the independence - and the perception of independence - from government and government agendas.

They could name only one example internationally of a citizens assembly looking at an issue where the government was heavily invested in the outcome.

But when Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland’s version she did so while publishing the Referendum Bill she hopes will pave the way to a fresh vote on independence. That was a bad mistake.

She also gave the Assembly a vague, but distinctly Indy-scented remit: “What kind of country are we seeking to build? How can we best overcome the challenges that we face, including those that arise from Brexit? What further work should be carried out to give the people the detail that they need to make informed choices about the future?”

The Assembly also winds up next spring, just as Ms Sturgeon hopes to start her next campaign for a Yes vote in the autumn of 2020.

When Brexit Secretary Michael Russell set out more details on Wednesday, he said the Assembly would be guided by the principles of independence, transparency, inclusion, accessibility, balance, cumulative learning and open-mindedness.

But it was too late. Minds had already closed against it. Tory MSP Adam Tomkins said such assemblies had their place in Scotland, but they depended on cross-party agreement to work.

“This one does not have that,” he said. “This is not a genuine attempt at a citizens assembly in Scotland. It is a Nationalist stunt to kick-start the conversation about independence.

“As such, I am afraid that we will have nothing to do with it, and I urge all unionists in Scotland to see it for what it is and give it a wide berth.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie was equally scathing of an “SNP exercise... to patch up its case for independence”, while Labour’s guarded welcome was contingent on ministers proving the Assembly was free from their “ambition for another referendum”.

Mr Russell seemed rather taken aback by the reception. I’m not sure why. If you treat people like mugs they don’t like it.

As SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC said earlier this month, the Assembly is “part of the process of preparing voters in Scotland for a second independence referendum”. The Assembly, for all Mr Russell’s fine talk about autonomy, transparency and shaping its own agenda, is not intended to serve Scotland, or even the Scottish Parliament. It is intended to serve the SNP and the Yes movement.

There was another clue at Finance Committee, as Government officials were asked about the Referendum Bill, which would also be used if ideas from the Assembly were put to the country.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser asked if SNP ministers had discussed any issues, other than independence, they might want to settle in a referendum.

“No, ministers haven’t talked to us about other issues,” came the reply.

Double-checking, Mr Fraser asked if officials were aware of anything that ministers were contemplating using a referendum for besides independence.

“Nothing that ministers have talked to us about.”

As I’ve written before, the Bill is a con job because Ms Sturgeon won’t get the power from Westminster she needs to use it for an independence vote before the 2021 election. It’s a bit of panto to gee up the home team over Indyref2.

But now it appears to be a multi-level con job. Holyrood is being asked to vote for it on the basis that it can also be used to put devolved questions to the people. Yet ministers haven’t mentioned any candidate issues - almost as if that’s not what the Assembly is really about.

It’s not a Nationalist stunt. Stunts don’t waste people’s time on such an epic scale. But as it is an ill-disguised Nationalist enterprise, I fear it will end up as an opportunity missed.