Funny how things work out sometimes. I was reading Andrew Tickell’s superbly scathing analysis of the British political system and its attendant media circus and immediately realised how it complemented something I’d written last the previous evening in response to a purposefully provocative comment from my old friend Mike Fenwick. Responding to my observation that the Yes movement has one thing to campaign for. The one thing that will be on the ballot paper. Nothing can be chosen that isn’t on offer, Mike asked inter alia,
…are you sure you wish the people to have no say, none, beyond one vote on all the matters that will arise?
This, as both my regular readers will surely have worked out for themselves, relates to my insistence that the Yes movement must be absolutely focused on the constitutional issue and that contentious issues around policy have to be set aside in order that the Yes movement can unite to create a force such as is needed both to impress on the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government the need for urgent and effective action and provide the visible popular support for that action when it is taken. Mike, I am obliged to stress, was not seriously suggesting that I “wish the people to have no say”. He was deploying a bit of argumentum ad absurdum to make a point. That point being that we cannot just leave to chance and/or the politicians what happens after Scotland’s independence is restored.
My reply to Mike explains why his mock allegation is so absurd. It speaks of how the restoration of Scotland’s independence presents us with the opportunity to escape the corrupting British political system described so accurately by Andrew Tickell and do politics better. I recommend that you read Andrew’s column first and then the following copied and pasted from Facebook.
Of course I don’t “wish the people to have no say, none, beyond one vote on all the matters that will arise”. What a ridiculous notion. It should go without saying that the people of Scotland will be responsible for electing all the governments after independence is restored. And, of course, we will actually get the governments we vote for.
But prior to that the people will have their say in the formulation of a written constitution. The draft of this constitution, once passed by the Scottish Parliament, will have to be ratified by the people. So it’s just daft to suggest the people’s involvement in the democratic process will end with independence. If such a thing were even a remote possibility I doubt if either of us would be campaigning for it.
The default position in a democracy should be that nothing is ever left to the politicians alone. But think about why that is. It’s not because politicians are a breed apart and inherently wicked. It’s not the politicians that are the problem but the political system within which they are obliged to function. Anyone with some awareness of Scottish politics could, I venture to say, recount more than one instance of a decent and trusted individual who having served a few years in the British parliament had become as venal and slippery as those who lend that reputation to the entire political class.
Independence is an opportunity to do our politics better. Simply leaving the British political system behind will see an immediate and possibly considerable improvement. But that will not be enough. The constitution must be used to create a political system within which decent and trusted individuals can properly represent the interests of the people without being so corrupted as to serve only the system and themselves.
Leaving nothing to the politicians alone is an ideal which is very unlikely ever to be realised. It would require something close to a perfect system of direct democracy. Which in turn would depend on the constant engagement and active involvement of the majority of electors. Until that pipe dream takes on the solid form of reality there will necessarily be much that will have to be left to the politicians – although not the politicians alone.
Never the politicians alone. Because even the best constitution we can devise will not eliminate the possibility of error and/or malfeasance. Politicians are required because human nature makes functioning direct democracy as close to impossible as makes no difference. But there must always be people willing and able to maintain scrutiny of those politicians. The British political system is as rotten as it is largely due to a near complete failure of adequate scrutiny. In this the media, the people and the politicians themselves are all to blame.
We can do better. Indeed, it would be surpassingly difficult to fail to do better even without an effort dedicated to that purpose. I am confident that such an effort will not be lacking. Confident enough to be cautiously and watchfully relaxed about what happens “one day further” than Scotland’s independence being restored.
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