Tag Archives: democracy

Schadenfreude city as UK Government shambles continues

Posted by Euan on 04/11/2016

I spent much of yesterday trying not to die of schadenfreude at the High Court verdict saying the UK Parliament as a whole is required to trigger Article 50 on leaving the EU. I understand the Government’s case put forward in court was that the unelected Prime Minister should be able to do it alone, acting by the divine right of power channelled straight from God’s storage cupboard via the Queen.

Apart from a deep satisfaction at a would-be dictator not getting their anti-democratic way, my main feeling was utter despair at the incompetents who rule over us (unelected). They clearly thought that they could just continue to make things up as they go along (and to be fair, they would have no reason to think otherwise given we live in a ridiculous country with an “unwritten constitution” instead of the modern 21st-century European democracy you would expect from our location on the world map) and they have been totally caught out – AGAIN.

In 2014 I campaigned for Scottish independence as a route to proper democratic accountability and better (i.e. kickoutable) leaders. The only circumstances under which I would have even considered voting No would have been if there had been actual likelihood of meaningful reform for the UK, and that would have required evidence of actual ability at the top. Just competence at matters of state. Apparently that was, and is now more than ever, too much to ask. I could not possibly vote to endorse the ability, and attitudes, of the “ruling class” in Westminster. It used to absolutely baffle me that anyone could look at that place and think “yes, I am happy with control of my future being in their hands”. Now I keep trying to remind myself that people vote with the information they have available, but that’s getting more and more difficult to believe.

With that in mind, how many people who voted to Leave the EU based on the “Take Back Control” message will be deeply unhappy with this? It’ll be further evidence for some that they never had control (hopefully inspiring a political revolution that will drive for ACTUAL REFORM of the UK. LOL J/K UKIP will be along in a minute to blame foreigners!) but surely there must be others who at least look at this latest crop of the ruling class and think “THESE people are in charge?!”,

Brexiteer Britain 2016: Mainstream newspapers openly call for dictatorship

Today the front pages look like this:

worrying

There’s a lot of white noise in the air at the moment, between the furious brexiteers who have been led to believe that this is in open defiance of the vote, and the ecstatic bremainers who have convinced themselves that all will be well after this (to grossly generalise and stereotype two “sides”) . In all the excitement, both groups seem to have missed that this was a legal decision and not a political one. Imagine if the court *had* ruled that the Government could trigger Article 50 without a vote in Parliament or even so much as a basic look at the details. In our glorious unwritten constitution, that would have set a precedent for the Government being able to override the rule of law whenever it feels like it. That would be the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. We’re still not out of the woods on that yet either, as the Government plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.

While we should certainly celebrate the fact that the court has prevented, or at least slowed, the UK’s descent into dictatorship, we should not lose sight of the fact that this was a legal decision, and has little bearing on the political decision to invoke Article 50 or not. A friend pointed out to me yesterday that the whole reason we’re in this mess in the first place is the self-serving incompetence of MPs. Does anyone seriously believe enough MPs will “defy the will of the British people” and vote to block Article 50, when the alternative is saving their own skin for the next election?

I’m reasonably sure that at least 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs will vote against Article 50 (as clearly instructed by their constituents, incidentally), but that’s unlikely to tip the balance. In the meantime, more and more voters in Scotland will be looking at the absolute shambles of a Government at Westminster and asking themselves “surely we could do better by electing our own leaders”.

 

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Welcome to Great Britain. Unless you’re “foreign”, in which case, you will go on the “list”.

Guys, I’ve had an amazing idea! Lots of people are talking about the UK Government’s plans to force businesses to list their non-British workers, to “shame” them into giving British jobs for British workers. It’s Gordon Brown’s dream come true at last! Well I was thinking, that all sounds really boring, I mean who has the time to search through a list to find people to arbitrarily hate. So I’ve got an idea that will make the Government’s job and all our patriotic British lives easier, and I’m pretty sure (like, 99% sure) that no one has ever thought of it before.

How about we find all the foreigners and give them armbands to wear so we can all tell who’s coming over here, stealing our Great British jobs? Maybe make them yellow or orange, something bright so they stand out. Also I know I said the list idea was boring but actually, maybe we should still do that. And so that we can make sure everyone is on the list and we can check it easily, we need to make sure they all have a unique number. And it has to be somewhere easy to check… Got it! How about tattooing the number somewhere visible, like their forearm? Man, I am churning out these brilliant ideas today. Like I said, I’m pretty sure these have never been thought of before. They say there’s nothing new under the Sun, but I’m proving them wrong today!

Ok so that’s the foreigners-stealing-our-jobs problem sorted for now, but the Government has also said they want to start deporting people back to where they came from. I mean, what proud British patriot wouldn’t support people staying where they were born instead of travelling all round the World just to interfere in places? I mean, how un-British is that? And don’t worry, the Government aren’t completely stupid: they’ve said they won’t deport all the doctors and nurses who keep the NHS working until *after* new good British doctors and nurses have been trained. Everyone else though? Well they can just fuck off and get the next ferry back to Bongo-bongo-land, said one prominent Government official.

Well I was thinking about that as well, and I mean there are, like, millions of immigrants that the Government wants to deport. I think I have just the plan to make the Government’s life easier: we build some sort of temporary accommodation out in the countryside for them. Great, right? And because it’s only temporary, the conditions don’t have to be that good, so it’ll be more of a camp. Camping is fun, right? We should put that in the name. And it’s a place where all the foreigners can be concentrated, so they don’t keep taking British jobs and benefits. So it’s a camp where people are concentrated, but what to call it? Ah, we’ll think of a name later, I’ve got more ideas for now.

Ok, what’s next? Well I don’t know about you guys, but the sick and disabled are just such a bummer. I mean, they should be out looking for jobs but they’re just so lazy. And the Government has been trying so hard to get them to get off their backsides and get a job. The jobs that all the foreigners are taking… ok no it must be different jobs, yeah. All those other jobs that are out there. Lots of them. I mean, if you look at their record guys, the Government has been trying really hard. They keep cutting benefits for sick people, forcing them to humiliate themselves if they want to survive, I mean the Government is doing everything they can to persuade the disabled that it would just be easier to get a job instead of leeching off of us genetically-pure able-bodied folk, am I right?

Well once the foreigners have all been deported, the fun camps we built for them will be empty, so why not use those? I mean, we’d be able to find some jobs for the disabled people we put there, but it would be really hard jobs that no one else would want to do. But hey, then the disabled wouldn’t be such a burden, right? Sure, lots of them might die, but who’s going to miss them? The Government is already making sure the genetically weak can die alone and not be found for months – so this is just a natural extension of that policy. I mean, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t even need to ask the Parliament to vote on any of this, just like how they don’t need to ask about Article 50! And if we just let all the impure people die, then only the strong shall pass on their genes to the next generation! Think about how wonderful it will be to have a country full of strong, pure (and obviously white) children – I am honestly amazed that no one has thought of this before.

Ok I’m going to stop there but I have so many more ideas, so Theresa May just drop me an email (you’ve already read all my emails so you know how to get in touch) and I can help you solve even more problems! I like to think my main strength here is the joined-up thinking of my ideas. The Government has been trying some brilliant stuff to solve their problems, but if they take my ideas on board they’ll really connect all the issues and solving them will be super effective!

\end{satire}

In the face of the ruling party helter-skeltering into outright open racism, step forward Her Majesty’s Opposition, the Labour Party, saviours of the Union and champions of international brotherhood. The Labour Party, providing credible opposition and putting forward their own ideas to convince voters that they should be the Government instead. The Labour Party, standing up to the dangerous rhetoric of the Tories…..

Oh, maybe not.

People of Scotland, it’s time to choose: one Union or the other?

Posted by Euan Bennet on 24/06/2016

Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? The people have spoken, and the answer was

Remain in the European Union: 16,141,241 (48.1%)

Leave the European Union: 17,410,742 (51.9%)

 

result_map

The results by council region

This striking results map shows at a glance that the UK is now more than ever a Union in name only.

Scotland only

Remain a member of the European Union: 1,661,191 (62.0%)

Leave the European Union: 1,018,322 (38.0%)

Every single council area in Scotland voted Remain, some overwhelmingly (67% in Glasgow and 74% in Edinburgh), and some were a wee bit closer (Remain win by 119 votes in Moray). Watching the map of Scotland turn uniformly yellow as the night went on was very pleasing. The country is united, as the saying goes.

The Disunited Kingdom

The absolute opposite applies to the “United” Kingdom.

England only

Remain a member of the European Union: 13,266,996 (46.6%)

Leave the European Union: 15,188,406 (53.4%)

The only Region of England to vote Remain overall was London (59.9% Remain). Check out how the other English Regions voted.

Wales only

Remain a member of the European Union: 772,347 (47.5%)

Leave the European Union: 854,572 (52.5%)

Wales man, what on Earth happened there? Even with UKIP’s vote shares there in 2014 and 2016, I still expected Remain to narrowly win. Show’s what I know!

Northern Ireland only

Remain a member of the European Union: 440,437 (55.8%)

Leave the European Union: 349,442 (44.2%)

The vote in Northern Ireland seems to have split along Unionist (Leave)/Republican (Remain) lines. I’m not really in a position to comment in detail on the unique situation in Northern Ireland. Suffice it to say they, London and Scotland tried our best – but collectively we were still outnumbered by the rest of England and Wales.

So it’s an overall Leave then

Facebook is full of people expressing their disbelief at this result. I’m oddly calm today – maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet. More likely it’s because I’ve been anticipating this for nearly two years.  I was one of the raving Yes campaigners during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum who wouldn’t shut up about Better Together’s dishonesty on EU membership.

BTlies.jpg

This image has been doing the rounds all night, and rightly so.

Looking at the direction of travel politically of the UK as a whole (driven by England [and Wales, as it turns out]) my view during the IndyRef was that the real danger to EU membership was with a No vote. The trouble is, at the time there were no guarantees either way. For me as I’ve discussed before, the primary driver for a Yes vote was the better democracy that would have resulted from it, with everything else following.

I complete understand people who voted No based on the premise of wanting to keep EU membership. Whether they agreed with me or not, voters all made their decision based on the available information, and why would they listen to vile separatist bloggers like me over the UK Government and official No campaign assurances that the “only way to guarantee EU membership is to vote No”?

A material change in circumstances

In 2014 voters made their decision based on the information available at the time. Last night the available information dramatically changed. Voters in Scotland can now choose: either stay in the UK, or stay in the EU. Both are no longer an option.

I truly hope that every No voter who based part of their decision on the EU membership is willing to re-evaluate their decision. Those voters for whom this changes their mind about Scotland within the UK will be welcomed with open arms into the independence movement. Nobody benefits from saying “I told you so”. We voted in 2014, promises were made if we voted No (not just on the EU membership), and every single one of those promises have been broken. Those of us on the Yes side in 2014 will only persuade a majority of people to support our view that Scotland should be an independent country by positive encouragement and welcoming all to the cause.

Last night’s result was the starkest reminder ever that Scotland’s voice does not count as part of the United Kingdom “Union of Equals”. As a consequence our country faces being dragged out of a true Union of Equals against our democratic will. In 2014 I argued that one of the main constitutional reasons Scotland should be independent was that 60% of the time over the last 50 years we’ve had governments imposed on us that we soundly rejected at the ballot box. Functionally this time is no different: but it is more serious, and far harder to refute the fundamental differences in outlook after a binary choice vote as opposed to a multi-party election.

In addition to the constitutional angle there is the political angle. Politically the direction of travel of Scotland could hardly be more diametrically opposed to that of England (outwith London). The Leave vote won the referendum yesterday where the main focus of the campaign was on reducing immigration. Scotland needs MORE immigration, for goodness’ sake! Our problem for the last 3 centuries has been too much EM-igration! Not only that, Scotland now has a Scottish Government and a vast majority of Westminster MPs who were elected on an anti-austerity platform. David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister but do any of the candidates for the Tory leadership (and unless an unlikely General Election is called and an even more unlikely Labour victory occurs, our next Prime Minister) seem likely to give us less austerity given that the pound just crashed through the floor?

At what point is enough, enough?

During the 2014 independence referendum I debated with people who wanted to vote No to stay in the UK and help reform it for everyone. My view was that the UK had already proven itself unreformable and that it was futile to tie ourselves to the direction of travel that England (mainly) was choosing, when with less than 10% of total votes we had hardly a hope of affecting anything.

If ever there was clear evidence of Scotland trying to influence a progressive choice for the UK as a whole, and failing, then it was yesterday. Yesterday was a major turning point: the cliche in Scotland to explain Labour’s electoral annihilation is “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me”. After yesterday it would be fair to say “Scotland isn’t leaving the UK, England & Wales are leaving us”.

In 2014, Scotland was asked to vote No and be part of something bigger than ourselves. 55% of voters did.

In 2016, 62% of voters in Scotland voted to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We now face a clear choice: Which Union do we want to stay in?

What price are we willing to pay to stay in the UK?

Referendum differences and one similarity

Posted by Euan Bennet on 23/06/2016

I’ve left it a bit late to restart the blog for this vote, and perhaps that’s an indication of how engaging the referendum campaign has been. I’ve been appalled at the two official campaigns, and it’s only been relative fringe voices on either side that have presented anything in a tone worth paying attention to. I already had a pretty good idea of how I’d vote, but very little has been said or done by the campaigns to either make me reconsider or harden my resolve.

Several of the usual media suspects have lately attempted to equate this referendum with the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, and in particular the Yes campaign with the 2016 Leave campaign. I haven’t seen any evidence for their assertions, so it’s probably just a sneaky way of flogging the dead “Scottish Nationalists are racist: there’s no evidence for that, but it’s a fact” horse that the media loved to trip out regularly during our referendum. The tone and content of the Yes and Leave campaigns could not be more different. The prospectus for independence was a 650-page Scottish Government textbook. The prospectus for leaving the EU is a lie on the side of a bus, Boris Johnson promising to apologise on live TV if it causes a recession, and Lord Farage joining the UK Government. Casual observers might notice a difference in rigour.

The tone and content of the official No and Remain campaigns have been startlingly familiar however. Project Fear 2.0 has been rolled out promising all the same apocalypses that were supposedly going to befall Scotland. Though mercifully we were spared the “attack from space” scare story this time. Once again I was bemused by those in power essentially telling voters “vote for us or we will punish you in these varied and extensive ways”. Not exactly a good tactic for winning people over to their cause.

However, the point of this blog was to try to avoid the emotional aspects which undoubtedly play a part in any big decision. Let’s look at some evidence.

The difference between Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU

The question of “how can you support one Union but not another?” has come up a few times. My answer is that the UK Union and the European Union are fundamentally different creatures, down to their DNA.

Scotland in the UK is in a position of having power devolved from the centre of a Union state that behaves as if it is a Unitary state. Power devolved is power retained: Westminster is the final arbiter of the powers of the Scottish Parliament. We can see this in the paltry offering of further devolution that has materialised since 2014 – a settlement that failed to meet low expectations, especially when compared to the desperate campaign promises made by the political leaders of the No campaign. Every single amendment proposed by MPs representing constituencies in Scotland was voted down and rejected by the UK Parliament.

Financially, the UK Treasury gathers almost all of the taxes collected in Scotland (about 88% before the referendum, now it’s about 85% off the top of my head). The Scottish Parliament has limited tax-raising powers, and still none of the important macro-economic levers such as corporation tax, duty, and social security. Westminster decides how much money is spent in Scotland based on a formula that translates how much spending has been done in England. No reference to what might be needed in Scotland. No agility to respond to changes in circumstances quickly. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for about £30 billion in spending, with Westminster spending the rest (another £50-60 billion) on our behalf.

The UK in the EU is a member state of an umbrella organisation that can legislate on matters that member states agree should be legislated on at a European level. Member states have “vetoes” over policy areas and indeed the UK has used vetoes in the past on issues such as immigration. Power is shared between the member states but ultimately still lies with the member states themselves.

Financially, the UK and other member states pay a “subscription fee” to the EU. This fee has been a big focus of the referendum campaigns. Putting it in context it amounts to between 0.5% and 1% of UK Government spending per year. Considering the fiscal multiplier attached to it, it seems to be a sound investment. The UK has in the past negotiated a “rebate” meaning effectively the other member states pay part of their fee. Some of the membership fee goes into funding the EU itself as an organisation, but a lot of it comes back in the form of funding and grants for a variety of projects. It’s actually an incredibly effective mechanism for redistributing wealth from Westminster to outlying parts of the UK.

One of these things is not like the other

Hopefully it’s obvious just how fundamentally different the UK and EU Unions are. There is a world of a difference between the relationships with power, and money, of each Union. There is also the fact that the EU was founded to preserve peace through diplomacy and shared economic development, while the UK emerged from feudalism straight into bloody imperialism. I would propose that there is evidence of both outlooks continuing to this day – though only one of those is a good thing.

The similarity (singular) between the 2014 and 2016 referendums

The only common link that I can see between the two referendums is the unacknowledged heart and core issue of the EU referendum, which was also the core issue of the Independence referendum (though it was only acknowledged and talked about by the Yes campaign): the issue of power, who holds it, and how it (and they) relate to the voters.

My number one reason for campaigning for Yes to independence was essentially as a super efficient mechanism of electoral reform. At a sweep we would have transferred power over the many important Reserved policy areas (energy, macro-economic  powers, welfare, foreign affairs, defence…) from the medieval sham democracy of Westminster to the proportionately-elected modern European parliament of Holyrood.

This time round the proposition from the Leave campaign is “Take Back Control”. Superficially the slogan bears a resemblance to some themes of the Yes campaign – but that doesn’t excuse so -called journalists from conflating the two. If we ask “ah, but Take Back Control for whom?” then the answer gets to the heart of the matter.

Presently the (imperfect) European Union functions a voluntary Union between member states, with an executive that can pass laws on issues that member states have agreed should be shared across the Union. The power to pass these laws ultimately rests with the European Parliament, consisting of 751 MEPs elected by proportional representation by voters in all member states. The power to propose laws (N.B. not pass) is partly with the European Commission, made up of one individual per member state. These individuals are nominated by their (democratically-elected) member state Governments, and their appointments have to be approved by the (democratically-elected) European Parliament.

So a democratic Parliament has the power to pass laws affecting all member states, but only on matters that member states agree should be legislated on at a European level.

By voting Leave and “Taking Back Control”, the powers that are currently shared with the other Member States will return to Westminster. The power will entirely rest in the hands of the least democratic Parliament in Western Europe, and far from having “unelected EU officials” passing laws (a popular outright lie from the Leave campaign) power will be passed to the House of Lords – a bona fide unelected chamber (the only one in any Western democracy) of 825 illegitimate lawmakers. Who would I trust more to make the decisions that are currently shared and rigorously debated by 28 Member States? That’s a simple answer for someone who believes in voters having the power to influence lawmakers.

Final point – international trade

We’ve heard a lot about how much trade the UK has with the EU compared with the rest of the World. Various figures have been bandied around, with no indication if they are remotely comparable – I suspect several apples and oranges situations have been used. However, the Leave campaign always talks about how we can trade more with the RoW than with the EU. That might be true, but today I realised I had a very strong gut feeling that what they mean by that is “we can sell more weapons to the rest of the World”. I don’t have any particular evidence so it’s just speculation, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if the growth in trade the Leavers are aiming for would be driven by arms deals.

From love-bombing to carpet-bombing

It’s been an interesting week for the independence debate. Last week David Cameron gave a keynote speech at the London Olympic velodrome (showing his connection with Scotland there) entreating citizens from all over the UK to contact friends and family in Scotland and tell them how much they want us to stay. The best response to this plea by far was from the Artist Taxi Driver in the video above, warning: strong language.

A compilation of responses from a small and unrepresentative number of people on social media can be found here. Faith in humanity was restored marginally.

Until…

herald_yes_means_no

Today a “senior coalition source” stated that Westminster may ignore the referendum result if negotiations don’t go their way. This is an astonishing admission, as James Kelly has noted on Scot Goes Pop there is a word for a government that overrides the democratic will of the people in its own interests: dictatorship.

Meanwhile the change in tactics was also reflected by a small and unrepresentative number of people in the rest of the UK, as reflected in newspaper comments sections throughout the mainstream media. A particularly eloquent contribution was made in this petition to the UK Government, which has an unpleasant whiff of racism about it.

Don’t you just feel the love?

This song sums it up perfectly, and should be viewed by everyone before the referendum:

Comparisons of democracy

Posted by Euan Bennet on 09/10/2013

Work and real life took over for a couple of weeks there so I haven’t had a chance to update. This is a follow-up to the piece on democracy, since to put that post into context it is useful to have some meaningful comparisons to look at. This post came about as a result of a conversation with a fellow Yes campaigner who wondered if we would expand the size of the Scottish Parliament after independence to better cope with the legislative workload of having the full powers of a normal parliament.

All of this data is from the relevant Wikipedia page for each Parliament, which can be found in this list. Interestingly, the UK is the only state on the list of UN member states which has a larger “upper house” of unelected members than corresponding “lower house” of elected members.

So where do Scotland and the UK currently lie in relative democratic terms with comparable nations? Let’s start by looking at the usual suspects for comparison to Scotland – Western nations with population fewer than 10 million. Most of these are unicameral Parliaments like Scotland, i.e. there is no so-called “revising chamber” like the House of Lords in Westminster. To avoid confusion I’m describing “number of MPs” even though it should be noted that most countries call their representatives by other descriptors.

Country Population Number of MPs Population per MP Voting system
Scotland 5.3 million 129 40734 Mixed-member PR (FPTP, D’Hondt and party list)
Denmark 5.6 million 179 30969 Mixed-member PR (D’Hondt and Saint-Lague)
Norway 5 million 169 29785 Mixed-member PR (open list, doubly proportional by population and by land area)
Finland 5.4 million 200 25900 Electoral district PR (D’Hondt)
Ireland 4.6 million 166 27640 Single Transferable Vote, also unelected Senate with 60 members
Sweden 9.5 million 349 27286 Open list PR (Saint-Lague)
Iceland 320000 63 5080 Mixed-member PR (party list)
Switzerland 8 million 200 40000 Party-list PR (Hagenbach-Bischoff), also upper house of 46 elected by FPTP
New Zealand 4.5 million 120 (normally) 33566 Mixed-member PR, system allows extra seats (over the normal 120) to be allocated to ensure proportionality if necessary.

Key:

  • PR – Proportional Representation: a system that attempts to allocate the correct number of seats to each party, such that the percentage of seats that a party takes in parliament is equal to the percentage of the vote received by that party. As such outright majorities are very rare, as the system requires one party to receive >50% of the vote in order to win a majority of seats.
  • FPTP – First Past the Post: a plurality voting system where within each constituency the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. This means that one party can receive a majority of the seats with far less than 50% of the vote. In the UK in 2005 for example, the Labour party received 35.2% of the vote but that got them 355 of the 646 seats (55%).
  • Mixed-member system: A hybrid system that includes geographic constituencies as well as “top-ups” using various systems to ensure total proportionality. Examples of the seat allocation system include the D’Hondt and Saint-Lague systems.

So the Scottish Parliament is very similar to comparable nations’ parliaments in voting system and number of members, albeit at the bottom end of the MPs per head list. If we wanted to move towards having more representatives per head of population, then a maximum of an extra 40-50 MSPs would bring us absolutely in line with Denmark and Norway.

One independence dividend will be not having to pay for Westminster representatives (currently 59 MPs plus our share of the large cost of the House of Lords). The cost of even 50 extra MSPs is still much less than the cost of our Westminster representation – I will include the numbers for this in a future post.

 Comparisons with the UK

We’ve seen how Scotland compares to nations of similar population, but how does the UK compare to nations comparable to its population? In the same format as above:

Country Population Number of MPs Population per MP Voting system
UK 63.2 million 650 95787 FPTP, also unelected upper house of 765 members appointed by Queen
Germany 80 million 620 (Federal Government) 131934 Mixed-member PR, also upper chamber of 69 elected by state governments
Spain 47 million 350 131894 Party-list PR (D’Hondt), also Senate of 208 elected and 58 appointed by regional governments
Italy 60 million 630 94556 Party-list PR, also Senate of 315 elected by party-list PR and 6 appointed by the President for life
France 65 million 577 113258 Two-round (“run-off”) system, also Senate of 348 indirectly elected by elected officials of all levels
Netherlands 16.8million 150 111533 Party-list PR, also Senate of 75 members indirectly elected by the provincial parliaments

In terms of population per MP, the UK is near the top of the list. However, in terms of the voting systems and upper house structure, the UK’s systems stick out like a sore thumb. Among large Western European nations (and the Netherlands which is really in the middle in terms of population), the UK is the only state that has a lower house elected by a non-proportional method AND the only state with an unelected upper house. It’s not surprising that UK politicians are perceived as being out of touch with the electorate.

What does all of this mean?

When the Yes campaign talks about the democratic argument for independence, it is usually phrased in terms of getting the governments we vote for every time instead of 40% of the time, and that the people who live and work and contribute to Scotland should elect the people who make all of the decisions about Scotland. Another less often heard but equally important argument is that on day one of independence we will have better democracy full stop. Not just in terms of governments accurately and proportionately determined according to votes, but that every decision will be taken by elected representatives. Scotland is is well-placed to become a democratic, equal European country. The UK on the other hand, is lagging well behind the rest, and has shown time and again that it is institutionally incapable of meaningful reform. The future democracy of Scotland is a choice of two futures.

radical democracy

The affordability of staying in the Union – part 2

Posted by Euan Bennet on 25/09/2013

DEMOCRACY

We are often told by the No campaign that Scotland benefits from being able to influence the UK – and that we benefit in some nebulous way from the “clout” that being part of the Union brings us. The “best of both worlds” narrative has been developed by the Better Together campaign as one of the meaningless platitudes that sounds positive enough to (they think) mask the dark heart of negativity that comprises their entire campaign.

That being said, recent pronouncements by senior Labour party MPs have somewhat undermined this case for the Union.

Whatever one expects to happen in the event of a No vote, it is worth examining the assertion that as part of the Union, Scotland has a say in the government and policies that are put in place for us. Here the facts are so public, and so established, that browsing Wikipedia practically tells you everything.

Scotland’s Influence

It is well-documented now that Scotland’s votes have never swung a UK government one way or another, and that in 60% of the years since 1950 Scotland has had a government that it rejected at the ballot box.

Within the UK Government there are two Houses of Parliament – the Commons and the Lords. Both still govern Scotland in Reserved matters (which will be the topic of a future post, but headline matters include welfare, nearly all taxation, energy, macroeconomic policy and defence & foreign affairs). The No campaign argues that since Scotland is represented in these Houses, we have democratic influence within the UK. Since we certainly don’t have influence in electing the government of the day, how do these claims stack up in the context of overall representation?

  • House of Commons – 650 MPs – of which representing constituencies in Scotland – 59
  • House of Lords – 819 – of which representing Scotland – technically zero

Since membership of the HoL is by appointment rather than linked to any constituencies. 92 of the 819 are hereditary, while another 26 seats are reserved for Church of England bishops (with a further 12 allowed). No other Church of the British Isles is afforded such a privilege. As this report from the London School of Economics shows, only 22 countries in the world have one Parliamentary chamber which is entirely unelected – and ten of those are not classified as ‘electoral democracies’, while the other twelve are Commonwealth countries which are still using the UK model. The UK HoL is of course the largest of the 22.

As an aside, by age the House of Lords is shockingly unrepresentative of society: there are 8 times as many Lords aged over 90 as there are aged under 40.

In the final analysis Scotland, with 8.4% of the UK population, has the democratic capability to influence just over 4% (59 out of 1469) of members of the Houses of Parliament. In a bizarre twist, the 38 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords technically have more say over the defence, welfare and economy of Scotland than do the 129 directly and proportionally elected MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

This is probably an even more serious democratic deficit than the fact that Scotland rarely gets the government it votes for. The UK Parliament is a medieval institution that has demonstrated for more than a century that it is incapable of meaningful reform: even when given the chance to vote on a change to the terrible first past the post voting system, the system on offer was a very minor improvement that was campaigned for extremely poorly and ultimately defeated.

I had intended to compare the voting systems in the UK and Scotland to other comparable nations, but that will have to wait until a future post: this one has gone on for long enough already. It’s clear that Scotland’s voters have very limited influence over our nation, but with independence we will have a modern democracy worthy of the name.

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Image credit: Wings over Scotland

[Updated 10.30am 25/09/2013: removed section on devolution to save for a future post and shorten this one]