XR Scotland can no longer endorse Scotland’s Climate Citizens Assembly

With great reluctance XR Scotland has come to the conclusion that we will leave the Stewarding Group of Scotland’s Climate Citizens Assembly and no longer endorse this assembly as a good enough response to the climate emergency. XR has worked really hard to make this Assembly a success, but we will not endorse a citizens assembly that has had blinkers put on it and so can’t have the chance to develop a sufficient response to the climate emergency. It is because we see citizens assemblies as so crucial that we cannot endorse one that is not good enough.


The science is clear. We are heading towards a catastrophic rise in global temperatures which are putting the systems which support life on this planet at real risk. The political, economic and media systems which have led us to this point are unable to find a way out of this for many reasons, including the fact that initiating the transformations required seems impossible for politicians tied to a 4 to 5 year election cycle, corporations tied to economic growth and short term profit, and a UK media that is largely controlled by 5 billionaires who have a strong track record in climate denial.


Citizens Assemblies can break this deadlock, if organised with enough ambition and ability to actually trust the people to consider and assess the dilemma we are in. In France, we have seen an Assembly which became the focus of a much larger whole society debate; in Ireland, Assemblies on abortion and gay marriage made recommendations politicians would never have been able to make for fear of losing votes. 


We stayed in the Stewarding Group process for as long as we felt we were helping to make it better. We have now left to try to make a difference from the outside. What initially had the appearance of a very promising process has become increasingly controlled by the Secretariat, which whilst proclaiming independence from government is actually staffed by civil servants, and uses government processes, ways of working and attitudes towards the scale of the crisis.


Citizens can only make a full assessment when presented with the full spectrum of perspectives. In our view, this spectrum has been actively resisted by the Secretariat, for example by excluding highly regarded academic public intellectuals, including one who is an IPCC lead author, from being evidence leads because of their association with XR.  We have never argued that only one end of the spectrum should be part of the process of choosing what evidence gets presented, our point is that only having half the spectrum of evidence means the assembly is being blinkered in what it is allowed to see. 


Likewise, the Secretariat’s initial openness to allowing the Assembly to set its own ambition is increasingly overtaken by an insistence that their recommendations have to be actionable by Government. In reality, the point of such an assembly is to have the ability to choose to come up with recommendations that call on the Government to rethink what it considers necessary and actionable in the light of the crisis. The Covid experience has shown that the slower a Government faces up to the scale of a crisis the worse that crisis gets.


We remain utterly committed to trusting the people through well-informed and well-facilitated citizens assemblies to decide the steps we as a society need to take to tackle the multiple crises our system creates. We can work to support people in communities and in society at large to use deliberative processes such as peoples assemblies to collectively consider the crises we face and the steps we need to take to address them. If the Government is unable to hold a climate citizen’s assembly that is up to the task (by being unable to create one in an inclusive, open and ambitious way) then we will have to find the resources to do it ourselves. By ‘ourselves’ we don’t mean XR Scotland, we mean all those who are passionately concerned about the need to transform a political, economic and media system that is unable to solve the problem it has created.