DO you remember Scotland’s first Citizens’ Assembly? Nicola Sturgeon launched it in a speech to MSPs in April 2019, saying she hoped it could “help find consensus on issues where people have sharply divided opinions”.

Its 100 members met in person and online over eight weekends, then a year ago it made 60 recommendations on tax, health, education, housing, poverty and a slew of other issues, and the Scottish Government patted it and itself on the back.

This week, amid suspicious silence, the Government slipped out the research it had commissioned on the £1.4million exercise.

Their coyness was understandable.

For while participants found the forum “hugely rewarding” and stimulating, the report also found a number of problems.

No blame can be attached to the folk who selflessly gave up their time to act as a ‘mini-Scotland’ on behalf of the country as a whole. But blame can most definitely be laid at the door of the SNP ministers who cursed the Assembly from the outset.

For, as Ms Sturgeon hoped, it did achieve a consensus. A consensus that it had been given such a vague and unwieldy remit that it was doomed to disappoint.

(Disclosure: I was one of the journalists interviewed for the research, so my tuppence worth is in the report here and there, but I was certainly not a lone voice).

The First Minister said she had been inspired to set up the Assembly by Ireland’s example. Ireland ran two kinds of assembly between 2012 and 2018, both of which led to big changes in the law.

The first resulted in a referendum that led to legalising same-sex marriage.

The second, which ran from 2016 to 2018, looked at five areas, including climate change, how best to hold referendums, fixed term parliaments, and the challenges of an ageing population.

However its most famous assignment was to consider the eighth amendment of Ireland’s constitution, which effectively banned abortion. The Assembly backed repeal, the government held a referendum, the public agreed, and abortion was duly decriminalised. Job done.

Now compare the remit set for the Scottish version. As Ms Sturgeon put it in the Holyrood chamber, it would be “tasked with considering, in broad terms, the following issues: 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?”

In other words, it was a shapeless blob. It lacked the focus that helped make Ireland’s Assembly a success. The new research called it a “key challenge”.

Indeed, the “very broad” remit, coupled with a fixed timescale, created a cascade of problems that hampered almost every aspect of the Assembly’s work, up to and including its final recommendations.

After interviewing participants and those helping to steward the work, the researchers said the baggy remit had made it “hard to plan the Assembly weekends in advance, meaning that their organisation was compressed and rushed”, and so they were partly designed on the hoof.

One organiser was quoted saying the scale of the questions meant that, by the time Assembly members had decided which areas they wanted to look at, there wasn’t enough time left to do it properly by assembling evidence and finding the right expert speakers.

Interviewees voiced concern that “the array of topics covered meant that none of them were addressed in any depth”.

This in turn led to the Assembly producing “a lot of recommendations, some very general, which may prove hard to transfer into policy”.

One expert stewarding the event went as far as saying they would be “‘deeply uncomfortable” if any recommendation fed straight into policy development “because I don’t think any of them came from a sufficiently deep deliberative process... it was trying to do too much”.

In addition, the rushed timescale contributed to a “lack of clarity” over people’s roles and responsibilities, leading to frustration and sometimes “anger”.

Overall, and “regardless of their views on the breadth of the remit, interviewees agreed that it created challenges to design and delivery, resulting in uncertainty about the direction, endpoint, and output of the Assembly”. So pretty much all of it.

But the most depressing aspect is what happens to all that uphill work. In Ireland, the recommendations led to referendums which changed the law. But here there is no clear sense of how the Assembly’s work engages the gears of government and parliament and produces tangible change.

The research is damning. It found there had been “little advance planning on what would be done with the recommendations before they were produced”.

One civil servant was unsure “what kind of mandate” the Assembly had. Most politicians interviewed doubted it would influence Holyrood to any great extent.

“There’s no need for anybody to pay any attention to what they’re saying,” said one.

“There’s no legislative pressure to do so, there’s no pressure from voters to do so. There’s no requirement for anyone in Parliament to pay the slightest attention to what it says in those reports.”

Another forecast “warm words... and then we carry on with business as usual”.

True, the research was about learning lessons and makes recommendations for improving the next such Assembly.

But that crucial lack of purchase on policy making means that next Assembly will surely struggle for credibility because its predecessor wasn’t taken sufficiently seriously or properly executed.

It was a good idea, valiantly attempted, but held back by a dumb remit and a lack of planning for what to do with its ideas.

Indeed, looking back, it’s hard to shake off the suspicion that it was, for the ministers behind it, always more about presentation than legislation.

One small positive in the research is that even the sceptical think the Assembly’s proposals may yet be used to taunt and goad ministers into action now and then.

It’s some sort of consolation, I suppose.

But it’s a far cry from what could have been if the Government had bothered to get the Assembly right in the first place.