I love the passion Tommy Sheridan injects into his articles. And few things rouse that passion more than the British honours system and the House of Lords.
Like so many things associated with the British states, the British honours system is corrupt. But this doesn’t necessary imply that honours systems themselves are a bad thing. I like to imagine that Scotland might have some sort of arrangement by which people who have acted with particular distinction in the service of community or nation receive recognition. A system which is not corrupt. A system which operates to the general benefit without bestowing individual privilege.
The problem, of course, would be ensuring that such a system didn’t become corrupt. That seems to be a tendency when people are involved. But I don’t think it’s beyond the wit of man – or woman – to devise a system which has adequate built-in checks and balances.
Which is yet another condemnation of the British honours system. If, as I assume, it is perfectly possible to devise a system which is neither corrupt nor corruptible, why has the British system been allowed to become ever more corrupt? I would suggest it’s because it is British. It is inextricably tied up with the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute and define the British state.
I would be not at all displeased if independent Scotland demonstrated that it is possible to have an honours system which is not corrupt so long as the state itself is not corrupt.
As to the House of Lords, I find it almost as offensive as Tommy does. But I am cautious about calls for abolition. For one thing, the House of Lords does serve a purpose. There are what are called ‘working Peers’ who actually do a job – scrutinising and amending legislation etc.
More importantly, the House of Lords can be, and often has been, a check on executive power. And if there is one thing the British state needs it is some kind of check on executive power. Any kind! Recent events serve to illustrate this need very starkly.
Of course, the way members of the House of Lords are appointed is as much part of that corrupt system of power, privilege and patronage as the honours system. I am most decidedly not arguing that it should be retained. And perish the thought that Scotland would ever emulate such an appalling institution.
I am cautious about calls for abolition solely because I am concerned about what would replace the House of Lords. More particularly, I’m concerned about who would decide what the replacement would be. Bad as the House of Lords is, I can easily imagine something worse. And if I was looking for a way of making it worse then I’d assign the task of designing a replacement for the House of Lords to the British political elite.
Corruption breeds only further corruption.
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