Corruption breeds corruption

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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10 thoughts on “Corruption breeds corruption

  1. This is not the time to be talking about whether Scotland should have an honours system. And it is not excused by proposing that it will be less corrupt than the British system. As for the House of Lords, I don’t like the concept, but they do have their moments when they do some good. But I am largely past caring about reforming them. It is better to make them NOP [Not Our Problem].

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    1. I don’t recognise your authority to dictate what we discuss. And I’m pretty sure I also speak for Tommy Sheridan when I say that. I constantly emphasise the need to make BECOMING independent our main focus. But this doesn’t mean I can’t from time to time enjoy a short excursion into the realm of BEING independent. My mind may not be as sharp as it once was. But I am still capable of thinking about more than one thing.

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      1. I didn’t dictate that you discuss anything. Nor even that you don’t discuss something. Discuss a future honours system if you like, but I say that this is not the time to discuss that.

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      2. Are you aware that the article was written in response to a piece by Tommy Sheridan? It’s what I would deem normal political discourse. Something the Yes movement is supposed to be good at.

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      3. Sheridan is only writing about the British honours system. Fair enough, he is right, but we know the problems with the British establishment already.

        Sheridan conflates the British honours system with the question of the composition of one house of the legislature. It is quite natural for him to write that way because in reality, the two are conflated anyway. But this conflation makes for a rotten starting point for discussing Independent Scotland’s separate needs for 1] an honours system and 2] to develop our legislature for Independence rather than devolution.

        I am up for discussing 2] right now, but I am not up for discussing 1] because the discussion ties us back to the monarchy and I believe we should have a few years clear water between us and the UK before discussing the matter simply to avoid conflation with the British System. What could be worse or more likely to tie us back into British ways than to have a Scottish New Years Honours list published by the Palace stapled to the British list?

        It is a debate to be had in Independent Scotland. As that has not arrived, it is not yet the time to discuss honours.

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  2. “…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…”

    Strangely enough, some of them thus appointed are not themselves corrupt or abuse their privilege, and some of them are head and shoulders, intellectually, above the Green Benches. Same with the judiciary which is drawn, largely, from one class of people. Occasionally, the judges can defy everything and prove that they do know that the lives of many of us are nothing like their own, but that common humanity can and does prevail. As the old saying goes: there’s nowt queerer than folk.

    I agree that there are many in our communities who do sterling work on behalf of all of us, and their efforts deserve recognition, even if it is a wee bauble and an invitation to a garden party or to the Palace.

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  3. Any legislative body, secondary chamber on not, must be elected by the people to serve a fixed term. There can be no set of circumstances under which makers of primary legislation are not directly chosen by, and directly answerable to, the People.

    Any system where determinations are made by individuals or committees about who is to be considered good and great enough to populate such a legislative chamber, is inherently corrupt regardless of the good intent of the participants, for those participants are at the very least inherently biased by culture and group think.

    Any primary or secondary national legislative body must remain directly answerable to their masters, the sovereign people of Scotland, in general elections and where the remedy is warranted and prescribed by law, recall elections.

    The state should establish NO national badges of merit, honours or titles of ranks or nobility, awardable to any individual. The creation of such strata of citizenship establishes a hierarchy which will in time seek to maintain its status and privilege regardless of merit. That is to say, it will inevitably become corrupt.

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    1. Why? Why must it be elected? Why fixed terms? Why replicate the structure of the lower/first chamber? Why suppose there is only one way of implementing democracy? Why not use a bit of imagination to devise a second chamber which does things differently, but in a way that complements the other part of the legislature? Why not take party politics out of it altogether?

      I have long favoured a house of delegates with members appointed by – or co-opted from – qualifying organisations. These delegates would represent the interests, and act in accordance with the views, of that organisation’s members. The membership of the organisation would be their constituency. Obviously, having spent a number of years considering the matter, I have fairly detailed ideas about how this delegates’ chamber would dork in practice. But others may come up with their own solutions – if they can get out of the rut of assuming that the way democracy is implemented in the British state is the only or best way.

      I hasten to add that I am not necessarily thinking in terms of independent Scotland. The idea of a house of delegates was developed as a replacement for the House of Lords. Which is not to say it couldn’t be adapted for Scotland’s purposes.

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  4. The problem with an elected second(or reviewing) chamber is you will likely get the same mix of PPE/Law at university, then researcher, then elected than in the first chamber, with little general experience.
    If the second chamber is made up of representatives from professional bodies, trades unions, trade associations, various branches of the armed forces and emergency services then you will have a huge fund of knowledge and experience for feeding into proposed legislation and (even perhaps reviewing policy documents?)

    Fixed term or replaced as they reach a certain age to ensure currency of experience.

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