Citizens’ Assembly should act as Holyrood second chamber, says think tank
A Citizens’ Assembly should be set up to scrutinise Holyrood’s work, according to a think tank.
The chamber would fulfil the same role as the House of Lords does at Westminster, acting as a second chamber helping to shape laws while checking and challenging the actions of the Scottish Government.
The jury service-style panel would be selected at random from around the country, but weighted to “reflect the demographics of the population as a whole”.
Groups would then work together full-time for six months or more on “monitoring and advising on legislation going through parliament”.
The claim comes in a submission to a global government programme from the Common Weal think tank.
The multilateral Open Government Partnership aims to secure commitments from political leaders to “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”. More than 75 states are taking part, including Scotland, which is to draw up its own action plan.
Common Weal says its “radical” proposals would revolutionise civic and public life here.
The report states: “While we appreciate that the initial proposals for Scotland’s action plan are likely to be some way short of the ideas in this paper, we hope that these can set an agenda for a much more forward-looking approach to participation and transparency over the months and years to come.”
The proposed citizens’ assembly would allow members to call politicians, policy-makers and other experts to give evidence on ongoing issues before producing reports which would be considered by MSPs as part of the legislative process.
It could also call inquiries on any aspect of the government or public sector it wanted.
The submission also calls for elections for “crucial roles” in public life to stop a “narrow group of people” from dominating the country’s most important positions in arts, academia and other areas.
Meanwhile, the think tank also seeks a lobbying watchdog to monitor the influence of private money on government policy and the creation of an independent statistics agency to plug holes in the information available on major issues.
It states: “Scotland is underserved by statistical data on its society and its economy. Lack of economic data in areas such as imports, balance of trade or company ownership make it difficult to assess the impact of public policy and lack of data on land ownership makes it difficult to judge the impact of land reform.
“Having much more data about Scotland would make it much easier to assess how well government is delivering change and improvement.”
A major overhaul of councils is also called for, creating a new Burgh Council-style level of local government to bring the ratio of politicians to citizens in line with that of “most modern, complex democracies”.
The submission states: “Scotland has the least localised ‘local democracy’ in Europe. Our local authorities are enormous and the constituents served by each councillor are many times the number served by an average local politician.
“Public trust in local democracy is not good and fewer people participate in local democracy than in any identifiable comparator country.
“Scotland cannot claim to ‘pioneer’ open government and maintain the most centralised and centrally-controlled local democracy of any nation of its type.”
Common Weal director Robin McAlpine said: “Most of the western world has a form of democracy which is little changed since the 19th century and looks almost exactly the same as it has for nearly the last 100 years.
“That was an era when there was the belief that the ruling classes simply knew better than the rest of us and the best government was one that allowed a certain class of person to manage everyone else for their own good. That this is still the model we use today in an era when we know that no one group knows how to run society on their own is a sure sign that we’re in need of real innovation.
“The ideas contained in this report show what shape a 21st century democracy might look like. One day the idea that democracy meant ticking a box once every five years will come to seem utterly daft.”
Source: The National