Chapter Five: The recommendations of the Assembly
“I think the work of the Assembly is important, but not for me, for my children and grandchildren. Other members have said similar. It’s been eye opening learning about politics and the country and nice to learn. I didn’t know anything about the Assembly before I joined, but it’s nice to listen to others’ views and understand where they are coming from. Everyone gets their chance to speak. It will be good to see it going to parliament as it’ll be nice to see that it’s taken seriously and been worthwhile.”
A key consideration in Assembly design was how to address the 2nd and 3rd remit topics and the requirement that members identify specific challenges and consider constitutional aspects of those challenges. This was especially difficult given the very limited preparation time between Assembly sessions.
The 60 recommendations and levels of support for each of them set out earlier in this report are the response to these aspects of the remit. They are the actions that members think are most important to take forward in the next parliament. The recommendations mainly relate to achieving the Assembly vision, but also cover a range of other ideas which have been discussed over the course of the Assembly.
The Assembly prepared and voted on the recommendations over the course of weekends 7 and 8. The full text of all of the recommendations and the supporting information is set out at Annex 12. This material is entirely the work of members and was drafted together working in small groups with the support of facilitators. The voting process for deciding and reporting on the recommendations was agreed by members during weekend 7 and is included at Annex 13. The detailed results from the voting in weekend 8 can be found in Annex 14.
How the recommendations were developed
The recommendations draw on every aspect of the journey since October 2019 – the evidence, learning from each other and the skills and techniques of deliberation. Bringing together such an array of material from over a year of work was very challenging and is a great achievement. It would have been ideal if more time had been available to review and revise draft recommendations and further develop the supporting material, but in no way does this diminish the importance of the work. The breadth and depth of the Assembly’s vision and the direction members have set is clear and unambiguous. The recommendations are a testament to the journey travelled and the enduring commitment of Assembly members, who are fully committed to the recommendations and look to the Government and Parliament to act upon them.
This chapter outlines how the recommendations were prepared and provides commentary on the key themes involved and the processes for taking decisions. It describes the work in weekends 3 and 4 on the challenges relating to sustainability, finance and tax, and includes the interim outputs from that earlier work which are an important starting point for many of the final recommendations.
The process of considering evidence, identifying key challenges to investigate and producing potential areas for action began at the start of the Assembly. As described above members began by exploring general evidence on the country, including looking at the constitutional position and how decisions are taken and then explored different ways of looking at issues such as different approaches to the economy, what makes for happiness and how values influence decision making. Members also learned about the different kinds and sources of evidence and how to interpret these. They met with a politicians’ panel, heard about their priorities and discussed how politics is conducted and decisions are taken.
Over the course of weekends 3 and 4 members investigated challenges facing Scotland in more detail. Deciding which topics to investigate was not straightforward but the starting point was the vision statements prepared in weekend 2. The statement below was one of the most strongly supported and brought together a wide range of topics:
The country we are seeking to build will be a sustainable society where we balance our environmental, economic and social impacts for the good of the country and its citizens
In weekend 3, members took evidence on this topic from a range of speakers who considered different aspects of the statement and prepared interim outputs in the form of 14 ‘canvasses’ covering difficult choices and trade-offs and potential areas for action. These canvasses are an important interim output which laid the foundations for many of the final Assembly recommendations. Through a voting exercise, levels of support for each potential area for action were identified. All of the materials from the weekend can be found on the Assembly website.
“Very illuminating. I found the discussions very energising. It’s the kind of topic I love to get my teeth into. It was informative and, equally, combative but good-natured.”
More difficult was selecting the focus for discussion in weekend 4. There was very limited time to prepare for the weekend and a range of different approaches would have been possible. One approach considered was to explore in more detail challenges around health services, which was important to members. However, members had also indicated that they wanted to know more about Scotland’s financial resources. Given how important the topic is to achieving all other outcomes and to understanding how decision are taken, weekend 4 therefore developed the discussion of the challenges of building a sustainable country looking in more detail at finances and taxation.
Weekend 4 was a both a difficult and a rewarding weekend. Members were presented with a daunting array of evidence and were asked to explore challenges in different ways; they again developed canvasses which recorded key findings and also undertook an exercise to consider how taxes might be gathered and used differently. They came out of the weekend feeling significantly better informed about the country and empowered and confident about setting a direction of travel for the country. All of the work from weekend 4 can also be found on the Assembly website.
“Tax – a dreaded, feared word! Before today, tax for me was you open up your pay packet and you think, “Oh, do I have to pay that?” Today we learned about the bigger picture: UK tax, Scotland’s tax and other countries’ tax system. That was a lot of information and, for me, very informative. I didn’t know half of that.”
Preparing the final recommendations
Across weekends 3 and 4, the canvasses produced by the Assembly collectively set out a range of ideas on how to address the challenge of sustainability and the resources to achieve it. These ideas were brought together for members in the interim reporting paper prepared by the Secretariat in the summer Journey So Far: Challenges paper, which drew out three overarching themes:
Fair Work and Taxes – where members highlighted the importance of fairness and equality for all citizens, noting the need for fairer work through review of employment regulations and pay conditions and increased work opportunities for all, such as through apprenticeships. Members explored how fair work policies as well as some specific tax raising ideas could contribute to increases in income tax revenues to resource a sustainable country. Members also advocated building an equal society through a tax system that taxes wealth more fairly, through increasing taxes for those individuals who can pay and for large corporations.
A Greener Scotland – where members suggested a range of ideas to improve energy efficiency, invest in Scotland’s renewable energy potential and green technologies, develop sustainable community infrastructure including accessible public transport, and to ensure green behaviour from business through taxation and eco-laws.
Citizen information and improving decision making – where members commented on how difficult it is for citizens to be well-informed in order to be properly involved in decision-making and how valuable it had been to be discuss these issues with fellow citizens. Ideas focused around need for better information to the public on issues of climate change and taxation, and a need to improve the quality of political discussion and decision-making to deliver a sustainable country.
As described earlier in this chapter the final recommendations were drafted and voted on in weekends 7 and 8. The Secretariat provided an extensive pack in advance of weekend 7 with an overview of the evidence considered to date and other relevant information, together with key points of reflection from previous sessions, including the interim outputs prepared in weekends 3 and 4 and guidance on how to prepare recommendations. The materials were organised in 15 different topics which broadly related to key aspects of the Assembly vision. All of these materials are available on the Assembly website.
Preparing recommendations was exceptionally challenging. Over the course of weekend 7 members worked tirelessly and patiently, sharing ideas, agreeing key themes and preparing the text of the recommendation and supporting material. Preparing 60 carefully considered recommendations in such a short period of time is an extraordinary achievement demonstrating the commitment and ambition of Assembly members; that these were prepared in a truly collaborative manner, as is shown by survey data, is even more remarkable.
“This weekend was so intense, I let some emotions out, tears. There was tiredness, feeling of accomplishment. I did have the feeling of [an] exam falling into place. I’m very proud I took part in it, I had my say and I look forward to next weekend.”
“To me, this weekend’s an overwhelming success and it’s saved the day. To the point now where I personally am very reluctant to let it go. It’s a shame we’re coming to the end of the process now, but we’ve got to hand it over, I get that.”
To support voting in weekend 8 the recommendations were organised into the following thematic groups:
- How decisions are taken – covering a range of ideas to improve citizen participation in decision-making, the provision of information and the accountability of the Scottish Government and Parliament.
- Income and poverty – a range of proposals to improve incomes and wages and to both prevent and tackle poverty.
- Tax and economy – covering a range of ideas to improve tax collection, incentives positive behaviours and make taxation fairer, more transparent and better understood, and initiatives to develop new industries and employment opportunities, including through investments in research and development and innovation.
- Young people – a strong focus on supporting young people to realise their potential, including support for their health and wellbeing, access to housing, skills development, employment and incomes.
- Sustainability – ideas to improving Scotland’s environmental sustainability, including through technological innovation and use of taxes.
- Health and Wellbeing – a strong focus on prioritising mental health, improving health promotion, on NHS governance, increasing the wages for healthcare staff and a focus on community health.
- Further powers for Scotland – including a range of recommendations around tax powers, to negotiate own trade agreements and control immigration law, as well as other recommendations that do not explicitly reference constitutional change but which have constitutional implications, for example, around green tax breaks, reducing the pension age and around employment laws.
- Mixed group – a range of other recommendations such as education and vocational opportunities, equal internet access and a review of the criminal justice system.
The outcome of voting
In weekend 8, members voted on the 60 draft recommendations. The voting took place across two sessions with voting and reporting of voting conducted in line with decisions made by members in weekend 7 (which can be found in Annex 13). In voting on the Assembly recommendations members decided whether they ‘strongly agreed’, ‘agreed’, ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’ with each recommendation. They further decided to report the results according to whether each recommendation was:
- ‘strongly supported by a majority’ (where more than 75% of members either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the recommendation)
- ‘supported by a majority’ (where more than 50% of members ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the recommendation).
- ‘Supported by a minority’ (where over 25% of members either ‘agreed or strongly agreed’ with the recommendation)
- ‘not supported’ (where less than 25% of members either ‘ agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the recommendation)
103 members voted in the first round of voting on recommendations 1-37 and 100 members voted in the second round of voting on recommendations 38 – 60. The detailed breakdown of voting on each recommendation can be found in Annex 14 of this report.
All of the recommendations were supported in final voting, with 58 of the 60 being ‘strongly supported’ and the other 2 ‘supported by a majority’. Some recommendations secured near unanimous support. Levels of support within the thematic groups are further discussed below, highlighting where overall levels of support were highest in that group and also where voting was highest for ‘strongly agree’:
- How decisions are taken – All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’, with the exception of investment in national and community libraries which is a ‘majority supported’ recommendation. The highest levels of overall support were for those recommendations: calling for increased accountability to ensure the honesty, transparency and integrity of politicians; an accessible and honest annual presentation of major commitments and progress against them; encouragement of MSPs to consult and act on the views of constituents; and the publication of accessible tax payer documentation. The recommendation in this group where the highest number of members ‘strongly agreed’ relates to making further use of citizens’ assemblies to gather people views and ideas on issues of national importance.
- Income and poverty – All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’, with the exception of the suggestion of a universal basic income for all citizens, which was a ‘majority supported’ recommendation. The highest overall support and where the highest number of members ‘strongly agreed’ concerns a legal requirement for a living wage and abolishment of zero hour contracts. Members were aware that these recommendations might relate to reserved matters of employment law.
- Tax and economy – All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’. The highest overall support in this group was for recommendations relating to: tax incentives for all business to encourage good employment practices in terms of green values, job creation, wages, apprenticeships and workforce skills; and for investment in Scotland being a leader and hub in scientific and technological innovation. While not as high on overall support, the recommendation that secured the highest level of ‘strongly agreed’ votes covers a plan for small and medium business focused investment in Scotland to secure jobs in the wake of COVID-19.
- Young people – All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’. The highest levels of overall support relate to: apprenticeships (in terms of increased opportunities and wages); the funding of mental health support and access to housing (social housing and making buying property more accessible), with the first two of these also those with the highest number of votes that ‘strongly agree’ with the recommendation.
- Sustainability –All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’. The highest overall levels of support relate to: consistent recycling approaches and reduction of waste and unnecessary use of non-biodegradable products; and to investment in infrastructure to harness our renewable energy potential and green tax breaks to small businesses affected by COVID. The highest number of votes that ‘strongly agree’ were for recommendations related to improving energy efficiency of homes; and harnessing our renewable energy potential.
- Health and Wellbeing – All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’, with the highest levels of overall relating: to improving transparency of NHS governance in terms of contracts being passed to private companies; increasing the wages for healthcare staff; and creating social and minor health care hubs in the community to build proactive community resilience and reduce the strain on hospitals. The highest votes that ‘strongly agree’ were also those recommendations covering transparency and wages.
- Further powers for Scotland – All recommendations were in the ‘strongly supported’ quartile. Those receiving the highest overall levels support in this category were those relating to: tax powers; aspects of employment law, such as, abolishing zero hours contracts and the payment of a living wage; and green tax breaks to small businesses affected by COVID. The recommendation with the highest number of ‘strongly agreed’ votes relates to the living wage and zero hour contracts.
- Mixed group – All recommendations were ‘strongly supported’, with the highest overall levels of support relating to: guaranteed free education, vocational studies and apprenticeships open to all ages; and improved public information systems to ensure collaboration, accessibility and communication. The recommendation on education and vocational opportunities had the highest number of ‘strongly agreed’ votes.
The recommendations capture the ideas and issues that have been important to members throughout the Assembly. The breadth of the recommendations and the levels of support for them send a very clear message to the Government and Parliament about the action the Assembly believes is needed to achieve its vision for Scotland.