SNP MP says Citizen Assemblies will ‘transform’ Scottish independence debate

The assemblies could hear from people 'across the political spectrum'. Picture: John Devlin
The assemblies could hear from people 'across the political spectrum'. Picture: John Devlin
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A senior SNP MP is calling for the party to convene a series of “Citizens Assemblies” across Scotland to help it shape its approach to independence by listening to sceptical voters.

Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, said the public meetings could have “transformative potential” as the party prepares another referendum campaign.

The MP for Edinburgh South West said the assemblies would aim to hear from people “from across the political spectrum” rather than only supporters of independence.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch: Citizens Assemblies could help build a new Scotland

Ms Cherry is hoping to get the issue on the formal agenda for the SNP’s forthcoming spring conference in Edinburgh, allowing members to have their say on whether to take it forward.

She is being supported by party activist Chris Hanlon as well as the Edinburgh Central and Sighthill/Stenhouse branches of the SNP.

The conference is shaping up to be an important moment for the party, as it will allow members to publicly air their views on the timing of IndyRef2 and the Growth Commission report.

Nicola Sturgeon has promised she will update MSPs on the possible timetable for a second vote in the “coming weeks”, likely to be before the Brexit deadline of 29 March.

The conference will give SNP members their first chance to discuss her approach, as well as debating a new approach to independence in the wake of the Growth Commission report.

The document, published last year, has already been discussed at three “national assemblies” organised by the SNP, but the events were only open to members and closed to the media.

Ms Cherry’s proposal was welcomed by SNP MP Douglas Chapman who said he was “interested to learn more” about the idea at the conference, which is due to be held on 27 and 28 April.

However, it may not make it onto the SNP conference agenda, which is decided by the party’s powerful Standing Orders and Agenda Committee (SOAC).

The party has introduced a “delegates’ choice” slot, allowing members to vote for proposals they think should be given time for debate, but the shortlist for this is also determined by SOAC.

An SNP spokesman said: “The agenda committee has yet to meet, so it’s not possible to predict which motions will be chosen.” Maurice Golden, Scottish Conservative chief whip, said: “It’s just typical that another SNP MP is looking for yet another way to promote independence.”