Ruth Wishart opens her column in The National by observing that the world is “crying out for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose” and goes on to note the dearth of these attributes in US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Few of us, I suspect, would dispute the latter claim. Rarely have two concepts jarred quite so nauseatingly as ‘strategic vision’ and ‘Brexit’. Humility requires a degree of self-awareness that must surely be fatal to such towering egos. Seriousness of purpose is as evident in Trump on Twitter as it is in Boris on a zip-wire. Neither of these persons exhibits any of the qualities that would commonly be associated with the role of political leader in either of the countries where they have been elevated to that status. But thus elevated they unarguably have been. Which seems strikingly inconsistent with Ruth’s assertion that the world is “crying out” for leaders possessing the qualities that Donald Trump and Boris Johnson so evidently and entirely lack.
I have it on good authority that he UK and the US are two of the world’s greatest democracies. The Greeks may have invented it, but it took the Brits and the Yanks to show them how democracy should be done. We’re not supposed to laugh when it is claimed that Westminster is the exemplar of democratic parliaments and mother to all others. We’re not supposed to grimace at the idea of America bringing the light of democracy to those dark corners of the world where the wrong forms of tyranny reign. And yet, both these supremely democratic nations have somehow managed to contrive for themselves political leaders who are the very antithesis of what they are supposedly crying out for. How is this possible? How can it be that in nations where the people possess the power to choose their political leaders, the people end up with political leaders only vanishingly few would choose?
How can it sensibly be claimed that the UK and US are functioning democracies at the same time as implying that they have had political leaders imposed upon them by some power other than the people? For this is surely what Ruth Wishart is implying. Nowhere in an article bemoaning the paucity of their qualifications for their respective roles does she acknowledge that ultimate responsibility for this grotesque mismatch between requirement and incumbent must rest with the people. In a democracy, the buck stops with the people.
With what some might see as a certain lack of humility, Ruth Wishart closes by seeking to contrast Scotland’s political leadership with those of the US and the UK. She says,
There will not be a posse of the hard of thinking picketing the Scottish Government offices demanding to be “liberated”. And there will not be a trio of Scottish Government spokespeople railing at China, the WHO or any other useful scapegoat. This is a time for grown-ups. The UK and US got a short straw.
However well Scotland comes out of this comparison, humility demands we recognise that it would be extremely difficult to come out badly. And, while it may well be that this is a time for “grown-ups”, it cannot just as truly be claimed that the UK and the US “got a short straw” – as if ending up with Donald Trump as US President and Boris Johnson as British Prime Minister were a matching pair of unforeseeable and unavoidable mishaps for which nobody is at fault. We, the people, are at fault! We must be! For none is above us!
The UK and US didn’t ‘get’ a short straw. They chose the short straw! As electorates, they knowingly opted for the short straws. It was no secret what kind of person Donald Trump is. Boris Johnson’s blustering buffoonery was not concealed. That both can claim to have been democratically elected according to the constitutions of their respective countries must reflect on the people of those countries. It is no defence for the people to maintain that the democratic systems are dysfunctional. The democratic system in a democratic nation is as much a product of the will of the people as the political leadership. If the democratic system is dysfunctional then it can only be because the people have made it that way. Or allowed it to become that way.
If the people of the US and the UK really were “crying out for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose” than that is what they would have. The hard truth is that we all get the governments we deserve and the political leaders we deserve. Whether because we choose them or because we fail to prevent them being chosen by choosing differently. Either way, the people are responsible. Like it or not, our political leaders are a reflection of us – collectively.
It is futile to hope for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose in our political leaders if such qualities are a relatively rare exception amongst the people.
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