The SNP has won another term in government on a manifesto that commits to annual citizens’ assemblies. This pledge has the potential to bring significant change to Scotland’s democratic system. Alan Renwick and Robert Liao discuss how the Scottish government should go about implementing its promise and how assemblies could be used as part of the independence referendum process.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been re-elected to power in Holyrood. Most analysis of the implications of its victory rightly focuses on the future of the Union, and whether there will be another independence referendum. But another SNP manifesto commitment also deserves the attention of those interested in the operation of the democratic system: namely, the party’s plan for citizens’ assemblies. Such assemblies have already emerged as part of Scottish politics in the last two years. Two have been held: first the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, with a remit to set out a broad vision for Scotland’s future; then Scotland’s Climate Assembly, focused on the path to net zero carbon emissions. These have been well received by all Scottish parties. Now the SNP wants to go further. Its election manifesto pledged annual citizens’ assemblies and made a commitment to ‘genuine public involvement in decision making’. There will also be a further assembly ahead of any independence referendum to help shape an independent Scotland, and an assembly to represent those aged under 16. Though the SNP fell just short of an overall majority, its Green Party allies share a similar vision: they pressed for the Climate Assembly; and their manifesto pledged to ‘formalise citizens assemblies… locally and nationally’.
The SNP’s commitments are significant, because they propose not only more citizens’ assemblies, but also their institutionalisation as regular elements in Scotland’s democracy. Such assemblies will no longer be convened on a purely ad hoc basis, but will be embedded in the system as normal and expected.Continue reading