Chapter Two: The members of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland
"What we shared was remarkable. Even with all the differences – and there are many huge differences in terms of unionists or nationalists or partisans – there are certain core values, beliefs and principles that we share. We’ve been through a process where we’ve actually agreed what the priorities are and what the principles are that we want to build on."
Citizens’ Assemblies are based on the idea that involving ordinary citizens in consideration of policy and political issues through deliberation on high quality and objective evidence can improve decision making and strengthen democratic processes. Ensuring a broadly representative membership is essential to the integrity of this process.
This chapter describes who the members of the Assembly are and how they were recruited and supported throughout the process.
How recruitment worked
Key decisions about the approach to member recruitment were taken by the Scottish Government drawing on advice from experts and international good practice. Member recruitment was undertaken by independent contractor, Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Ltd, following a competitive tendering exercise. An Advisory Group, which included researchers from the Scottish Government and National Records of Scotland was established to oversee the recruitment process and ensure it met the highest possible standards, including in relation to the profile of membership and methodology.
The main requirements were that there should be over 100 Assembly members who should be broadly representative of the wider adult population in terms of socio-demographic characteristics, geographical location and political attitudes.
- The eligibility criteria for membership were:
- Eligible to vote under the Scottish Government’s proposed franchise for Scottish Parliament and local government elections as set out in its Electoral Reform Consultation in 2017
- Available and willing to attend all six meetings of the Citizens’ Assembly
In addition, members should not be:
- Elected or appointed representatives (including MSPs, MPs, MEPs, Councillors and Members of the House of Lords)
- Staff or officers of political parties
- A public appointee or senior public or civil servant whose job restricts them from participating in political activity
- A participant in a market research discussion group or focus group in the last 6 months
Consideration was given as to whether it was appropriate to try to exclude individuals on the basis of their membership of certain lobby or pressure groups. However, the decision was taken that as the remit was so wide it would be very difficult to appropriately identify which types of groups would be relevant. Instead members were asked to confirm that they were participating as an individual and not as a representative of any organisation.
The following socio-demographic variables were selected to determine the profile of members:
- Ethnic group
- Educational qualifications
- Limiting long term conditions/disability
- Attitudes towards Scottish independence and the UK’s membership of the EU
- Scottish Parliament voting preferences
The expected and achieved profile, including data sources and recruitment methodology, is described in detail in a report prepared by the contractors and published on the Assembly website.
In recognition of likely changes over the course of the Assembly, in particular the possibility of members being unable to continue for any reason, 120 members were initially recruited following visits to around 10,500 households across Scotland. Over the course of the Assembly circumstances did change for some members. However, over 100 members continued attending to the end of the Assembly. This high level of participation is above all a testament to members’ commitment to the work of the Assembly. The support provided by the Convener and Secretariat is also likely to have been important. It is notable that Covid-19 and the break in the Assembly generally served to reinforce members’ determination to see the process through to the end.
Support to Members
"What an amazing team of people and to me they truly represented that disparate nature that is modern Scotland that is its people."
A condition of participation was that members’ names and geographic location are published. The members who attended over the whole of the Assembly period are listed at Annex 6.
Assembly members received a gift of thanks of £200 for attendance at each of the weekends 1 to 4. All travel and subsistence costs were reimbursed and accommodation was provided. The move online significantly reduced the formal time involved in Assembly attendance, but in recognition of the extended duration of the commitment and the preparation required, a gift of thanks of £150 was provided for attendance at each of the four online weekends.
Maintaining relationships with members and providing them with a high level of support were key responsibilities of the Secretariat. Survey data from members gathered during Assembly weekends shows that members consistently felt supported during the Assembly process, with between 94% – 98% of respondents feeling ‘very satisfied’, or ‘satisfied’ with the support and assistance provided by the Secretariat across Assembly weekends.
Members support needs were identified at the beginning of the process and arrangements put in place to ensure everyone was able to fully participate. These arrangements ranged from the provision of additional resources to cover the costs of caring responsibilities, such as childcare or personal assistants to attend meetings to support individual members, and the provision of materials in large print. In addition to these measures, steps were taken to work closely with members who required other support. A safeguarding policy and procedure was set in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all members during the in person and online meetings.
Moving the Assembly online brought additional challenges, including around access to equipment and the internet. These issues are likely to be very important for similar initiatives in the future.
Code of conduct and conversation guidelines
A code of conduct was drafted which members signed up to at the first meeting. The code put in place a process for dealing with any behaviour or action which could be harmful to the Assembly or its members. In addition, members prepared their own Conversation Guidelines.