Falkirk area trio seizing Citizens’ Assembly chance to shape country’s future

The trying times brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have caused villages, towns, cities and entire countries to unite as one in solidarity and Scotland is of course no different.

Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 2:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 3:16 pm

Though the scientists, experts and politicians are the ones attempting to come up with the answers to a multitude of questions, the country’s citizens are playing just as crucial a part in halting the spread of the virus by staying at home.

In the short to medium term, the key considerations will rightly be made by the experts. Beyond that, the views of the people of Scotland could prove to be vitally important as the country tries to re-emerge from the potentially long-lasting effects of COVID-19.

Prior to the global pandemic, three Falkirk district residents were among a 100-strong Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland already giving thought to critical questions about our future.

David Smith, Colin Rowbotham and Aodhan Callaghan are representing Falkirk district as Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland members. Picture: Michael Gillen.

Aodhan Callaghan, David Smith and Colin Rowbotham were asked to become part of the new six-month initiative last year and have worked alongside fellow citizens of various ages and backgrounds to address three key questions.

These are: What kind of country are we seeking to build?

How best can we overcome the challenges Scotland and the world face in the 21st century, including those arising from Brexit?

What further work should be carried out to give us the information we need to make informed choices about the future of the country?

The Citizens’ Assembly was only formed towards the end of last year and no member could have foreseen what was to come at the start of 2020 and the problems coronavirus would pose.

With its monthly meetings suspended for the foreseeable, the Falkirk district trio have had time to reflect on the huge opportunity they have to make an impact on future government decisions — a role that could come with even more responsibility when the Citizens’ Assembly resumes.

NHS healthcare assistant Aodhan (20), from Falkirk, was approached at his home about participating and it was a chance he was more than willing to take.

He said: “It’s a real challenge but at the end of the day it’s really rewarding.

“The Citizens’ Assembly is the first one we’ve had in Scotland.

“Going from one week to the next, we will set the agenda and what we want as assembly members to be discussing.

“For example, we had a politicians panel come in to give us some facts about Scotland and how we can deal with the challenges of Brexit. From that we got to discussing things we can do and that brought up money.

“We also got a few tax experts in to talk about the state of finances. I’m really interested in all that sort of thing. I was too young to vote in the independence referendum and that kickstarted it for me.

“I’d like to thank everybody who is doing it because it’s not easy and we’re all in it as a team.”

For Shieldhill resident David (67), a retired prison governor who worked at HMYOI Polmont, being able to influence matters in his home country without politics coming into play was too good a chance to turn down.

The debates members have held have also led to him learning more about the difficulties faced by Holyrood’s decision makers.

The Citizens’s Assembly steering group member explained: “I wanted to know what was going on because I wasn’t sure if it was going to be one of these political things where you go along and they don’t listen to the public.

“In the main it’s unbiased. There are all sorts of people there from universities and government agencies to give us advice.

“Issues have included trusted sources, the press and modern media, what makes a life a good life and what makes a good country.

“People see this as an opportunity to try and make Scotland as good a place as we can without any political partying.

“It’s easy to criticise the government but now I realise there’s more to it and it’s made me more publically aware.

“People want things to be more clear and to be told the truth. The government hasn’t guaranteed they will implement what we say but they have said they will consider it.”

An out of the blue phone call led to Grangemouth resident Colin (70) becoming involved. Originally from Salford, the retiree worked for engineering company Foster Wheeler and has called Falkirk district home for 39 years.

He said: “I’ve found it quite enjoyable because it’s people of all ages from every part of Scotland, so you’re getting a different view of what others would like the country to be like.

“I hope parliament listen and they have a permanent Citizens’ Assembly that can have a say, maybe on a smaller scale. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

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