First citizens ‘mini-assembly’ start works on shaping response to Covid pandemic

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By Tom Gordon

Political Editor

MEMBERS of the public are to have a direct say in how Scotland’s politicians should respond to the coronavirus pandemic in the coming year.

Holyrood’s first Citizens Panel will hold its inaugural meeting today as it embarks on a month-long experiment in influencing the Scottish Government’s choices.

The 20-strong group, chosen from across Scotland as representative of the country at large, will then meet for three more weekends and report to Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee.

The initiative comes just days after Scotland’s first Citizens Assembly, which had 100 members, reported its findings and recommended ‘mini-assemblies’ should work with MSPs.

The new Citizens Panel will consider: “What priorities should shape the Scottish Government’s approach to COVID-19 restrictions and strategy in 2021?”

Informing its work will be expert presentations on public health, medical and behavioural science, epidemiology, virology, and the social, legal and economic aspects of the pandemic.

The panel’s findings are intended to help the Committee scrutinise the SNP Government’s strategic approach to the pandemic, including key concerns for any future restrictions.

The Committee will also draw on the panel’s work as it makes its own recommendations on how Covid scrutiny should continue after the Holyrood election due on May 6.

Covid-19 committee convener Donald Cameron said: “In spite of the hope provided by vaccines, we find ourselves at a worrying juncture in this pandemic.

“Unfortunately, there is a going to be a need for restrictions for months to come, and the way we respond in 2021 is likely to shape our economy and society for many years to come.

“Therefore, it is critical that we have public support for Government plans to respond to Covid-19, and that we ensure areas important to the public are prioritised.”

He went on: “While the Covid-19 Committee is able to provide robust scrutiny and recommendations, it will be immensely helpful to this work to have the informed opinion of a representative group of citizens.

“We are very grateful to the panel members and experts assisting them for giving up their time, and look forward to receiving the final report next month.”

The Citizens’ Panel is due to meet and confer online on January 16, 23, 30 and February 6 before reporting.

In its report, published on Wednesday, Scotland’s national Citizens Assembly called for greater input from the public in Government decision-making and for Covid to be a priority.

It said the Government and parliament should “make decisions jointly with citizens through mini assemblies on issues that affect everyone, including all under-represented groups”.

Such assembles are intended to look at long-term problems free from short-term political concerns.

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