The high concept of democracy

Posted by Euan Bennet on 25/08/2014

Ahead of tonight’s TV debate, I wanted to write a post about what the vote on September the 18th is actually about, rather than whatever diversionary rabbit-hole the TV debate runs down. I’ve already expressed my opinions about the flawed format of the debates, and the media’s shameful lack of effort to engage with the real debate that is happening between individuals and equals. I’m finishing this as the debate is on and I’m hearing that it’s been a bit more productive than the last one, so that’s good.

After the first TV debate, a friend on Facebook challenged me to write “why vote Yes” in a maximum of two sentences. My answer?

In one word: democracy. It’s the catalyst for better governance instantly due to proportional representation in elections, where the people making the decisions will have to live with the consequences and justify it to the electorate in a system where there are no “safe seats”, no governments under the thumb of lobby groups forcing through policies without appropriate scrutiny, and a corruption level of “claiming the wrong taxi receipts is a resignation offence”.


If my second sentence is too long, then here is a shorter alternative: with 100% influence instead of 4% influence, it will actually be possible to kick out governments who make bad decisions.


In the weeks that followed I have written about improved democracy and the lack of corruption present now or ever in the Scottish Parliament. I hope that I have demonstrated beyond doubt that it is a fact that a Yes vote will improve our democracy overnight.

It has taken me some time realise that the absolute, core reason that I am voting Yes is for democracy. Previously when asked I would have listed off as many reasons as Greg listed here, and then some more. Now having spent a lot of time thinking about it, talking about it, and writing about it, I have reached the simple conclusion that I want better democracy. Everything else follows from that basis.

A part of the reasoning behind what I’ve written on this blog is the saying “the best prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour”. The UK is not a functioning democracy in comparison to other Western nations. People have been trying to reform it for over 100 years with no success. I’ve had people tell me that voting Yes is giving up – really? How many more centuries should we try to reform the un-reformable? How many more children in poverty is “the Union” worth?   

Einstein is attributed with the quote “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, yet expecting different results”. The UK’s quasi-democracy is, by that definition, totally insane. The medieval First-past-the-post electoral system has firmly entrenched two parties who for the past 35 years have taken it in turns to rule with only minor ideological differences. We are now at the stage where after the European Parliament elections in May, both main UK parties are desperately trying to appeal to the 10% of the electorate who voted for racists, rather than trying to appeal to the 66% of the electorate who didn’t bother to vote.

In UK elections, the main parties can promise whatever they like and then do the exact opposite, with no democratic recourse from the voters. Even if the voters managed to punish them by voting someone else in (not an easy task), both parties know they just need to wait a few years until it is their turn again. How is that democratic? How is that ever going to reflect the will of the people?

The UK voting system is such that only a handful of “swing seats” actually matter. Thus both main parties tailor their policies to attract support from the people living in these seats. Thus the political ideologies converge. And voters everywhere are left without a meaningful choice.

Are you one of the 84% of people who want the NHS to remain public? Tough, you can vote for one lot to privatise it now or the other lot to privatise it now but slower, whatever that means.

Perhaps you are experiencing financial difficulties or care about those less fortunate in society than? Tough, you can vote for one lot who are cutting benefits and dismantling the welfare state, or the other lot who want to be even tougher.

Maybe you feel strongly about foreign policy, and would like to see diplomacy replacing force and a relationship of equals between nations rather than trying to strut in the shade of former glories? Tough, you can vote for one lot of illegal warmongers, or the other lot of illegal warmongers.


The UK is not a functional democracy

I’m sure the point has been made. In the above example I mentioned two main parties because that is effectively all that the choice is between. While other parties do exist, under the First-past-the-post voting system it is almost impossible for minor parties to establish a strong voice in Parliament, much less form a government.

The only meaningful political choice available to this generation of UK citizens is a Yes vote in the referendum. In the aftermath of a Yes vote, the people of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will have a narrow window in which to seek the democratic reforms that we have all unsuccessfully fought for for over 100 years. That is a huge challenge but it’s a chance of reform, and that small chance is more than what will be available after a No vote.

After a No vote, Westminster and the entire establish will breathe a sigh of relief, and continue with business as usual. Remember: past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. If Westminster were serious about extra powers, they would have accepted the Scottish Government’s offer to put that option on the ballot paper. But they refused. The reason that they refused to put Devolution Max on the ballot paper is that we are already at the maximum amount of devolution that they will consider. Every single gain that we have made has been because Westminster are scared of the threat of independence. With a No vote, that threat will have been removed. Going by past behaviour, what do we predict will happen?

Greg absolutely nails it in this post (, which I wholeheartedly endorse. It’s pretty much what I would have written, had this blog not been intended to be passive voice, analytical writing.

After a Yes vote, we will have 100% control over our government. Whichever party is elected will have to deliver on their promises. And you know what? If they don’t, we’ll elect a different government that does deliver. That’s the true gain of independence. Everything else follows from that. Gandhi is attributed with the quote “Be the change you want to see”. That’s what independence is about.




3 thoughts on “The high concept of democracy

  1. Pingback: Euan’s Ramblings: collected for reference | The Science of Independence

  2. Pingback: People of Scotland, it’s time to choose: one Union or the other? | The Science of Independence

  3. Pingback: #ScotRef | The Science of Independence

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