Alan Simpson: Paying £10,000 for an opinion is just a waste of public money

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OPINIONS are one of those rare commodities in that each and every one of us has them and many are only too happy to share them with anyone in close vicinity.

How we seek and give out opinions is a different matter entirely. Ask your average QC for theirs and you’ll probably faint at the size of the bill, while ask a sibling and it is highly unlikely you will get the answer you were looking for.

Regardless, most of us are happy to give out our opinions for nothing at all, even if they spark a lively debate with folk that don’t agree with them.

It is unlikely that any of us would consider charging for them, however the taxpayer has just shelled out £1.36million for 100 of our fellow Scots to do just that.

They were part of the first Citizens Assembly, and works out at more than £10,000 per opinion on how they would like the country to be better run.

Its final report, published yesterday, showed the Scottish Government agreed a budget of £1,366,000 for the controversial experiment in direct democracy.

Of this, £340,000 was spent directly on the 120 people, 100 core participants and 20 spares, who were recruited from every part of the country as a representative cross-section of Scottish society.

I’m not knocking the participants at all – after all, who would turn down the chance of getting paid and fed courtesy of the taxpayer to express an opinion?

But the whole exercise does raise the legitimate question of what exactly the point is.

Ask any member of the public what should be the priority of the government and the chances are we would agree the same things – better funding for the NHS, education and improved transport links.

Beyond that, we wouldn’t really have much of an opinion, apart from maybe on bin collections or gritting roads and pavements.

That is why we pay politicians and civil servants to run the country on our behalf – the majority of us have no real interest in doing it ourselves.

But if we were put in a room and fed with loaded questions, then our answers would be very different.

For example, how many folk have you heard in the pub, bus or workplace angrily debating the merits of more investment in renewable energy?

This, however, was one of the 60 recommendations made by the Citizen’s Assembly to make Scotland a better place to live.

Others include giving every newborn a free bank account with £1,000 in it, courtesy of the taxpayer, a lowering of the pension age and the possibility of a compulsory four-day working week.

All absolutely brilliant ideas, but none have any chance of ever being implemented on the grounds of cost.

In my opinion, it’s all a total waste of time and money and I fully expect £10,000 for saying so.

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