THE Citizens’ Assembly process has the potential to make a valuable contribution to democratic decision-making in Scotland, but it has to be developed with care (Former Labour MEP will chair new Citizens’ Assembly, June 10). The Irish model has worked, but it has worked in relation to a number of important but specific issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the conduct of referendums. The broadest topic has been elderly care, but even with that the focus has been quite limited.

The Irish Assemblies have been made up of 100 members selected by a polling organisation to be demographically representative of the nation. These are ordinary citizens with jobs and other responsibilities, so the time demands have to be manageable. They give up their time voluntarily – this is not like jury service. This has involved around ten weekends during which they hear and question experts and campaign groups, debate the issues and seek to reach conclusions. The Irish have chosen to have a politically neutral chair with a judicial background, and this would probably have been a wiser choice here. No matter the personal qualities of someone with a lot of political baggage (whatever complexion that is), perception is very important for credibility. In Ireland the chair is only a facilitator, not a promoter.

To ask this innovative project as its first task to produce conclusions on a huge subject like the future of Scotland is likely to overload it. A major general topic will not be properly covered in a few months of weekends. But if we make more demands than that on Assembly volunteers, we will make the participation of people with caring responsibilities and occupation or education pressures much more difficult. The outcome risks being more opinion poll than genuine deliberative democracy.

Better to start with a clear and specific question that does not cover too much ground. We can then see how it works and if changes need to be made. This is too important just to be a PR exercise.

Isobel Lindsay

IT is heartening to read that the Financial Conduct Authority is taking action on overdraft charges. Why has it taken them so long? The banks have been exploiting customers for far too long.

Soon after I was married in 1957, at age 25, we bought our furniture on hire purchase, always ensuring that we kept within affordable levels of repayment. I soon learned that a better way was to take out a bank loan at the reasonable interest rates on offer at that time. Then, as I became more aware, it occurred to me that an overdraft would be a much better option. I had to persuade an old-fashioned bank manager that I was a reliable person before he eventually agreed, and I got my overdraft facility at 2% above bank rate. At that time I think the Bank of England base rate stood at about 6%. Then when I bought more household items I could sign cheques and pay in full, with that new purchase going against my overdraft.

But you see, the real benefit of an overdraft to me was that each month my full salary going into my bank account was set against what I owed and I was charged interest only on the amount outstanding at the end of that month. And that is what happened every month until the overdraft was cleared, much earlier than it would otherwise have been. And I still had the overdraft facility to use at my discretion. As I have said, that was in the 1950s, and when the person at Standard Life introduced “offsetting” in the 1980s, I realised I had invented that 30 years previously.

I attended a bank seminar in the 1980s and in conversation with a Clydesdale Bank representative, my colleague commented that he had not heard from him regarding corporate finance lately. The reply was: “No, we are changing policy and in future are going for the man in the street with bank charges.” Have you noticed in the last 30-plus years that is exactly what the banks have been doing? Bank of Scotland adverts tell us they have been protecting our money since 1695. Well, they didn’t do a very good job of it in 2008. Of course they were not Bank of Scotland then, they were HBOS and we all know about that story.

People generally need to be much more diligent and watch that they are not taken to the cleaners, Personally I have adopted Scarface’s motto: Who do I trust? I trust me!

Robert Johnston

ARE there any plans by the Yes groups to gather at Arbroath Abbey next April for the 700th-year commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath? This would be a important date in any calendar for people supporting the independence cause. I know there are major events planned around this time in the town and the Abbey grounds. This commemoration must be covered by the media in all its forms as it is significant period in Scottish history and, dare I say it, in Scotland’s future.

Keith Taylor
via email