Friday, 13 April 2012

Is Holyrood fit for purpose?

The clear answer is that as a national government it must be “no”. As a product of Westminster’s machinations it served its function for less than a decade. As a vehicle of national hope and inspiration, of grass roots change it failed for the greater part of that first decade. Holyrood has come somewhat of age not because it was designed to, but in spite of the fact that it was created to forever prevent its own maturity. 

Scotland’s government in Edinburgh is seeing small measures of success simply due to the overwhelming opinion of the Scots electorate, an electorate that did something it was designed to be unable to do – it elected a majority nationalist government.

The fact that a political franchise was designed to fundamentally defeat democracy declares it, quite simply and just as conclusively, not fit for purpose. The D’Hondt system isn’t intrinsically bad, it was Westminster’s modifications to it that cause issues; modifications designed to prevent Scots aspirations.

The tipping point towards reform in Scotland has been crossed as Scots became aware that the only political advancement they are likely to see is that which they take for themselves. This understanding is also evident outside our borders from the increasing crescendo of anti Nationalist verbiage in Scotland’s foreign controlled mainstream media, to such an extent that the legislature in Holyrood even stands “accused” of failing to act in areas where it has no current authority, such as closing corporation tax loopholes.

Holyrood might as well stand accused of failing to steer US foreign policy.

Opinion polls on independence are now neck and neck; momentum running with the liberty option.

Still the political parties and mainstream media appear not to want to discuss the future of democracy in Scotland. This is to be expected of Westminster backed organisations, they are devoted to protecting London rule and the illusion of democratic process perpetuated by vested interest.

The independence proponents must provide an alternative, they must provide the disenfranchised and apathetic with a way to either make a difference in the political process or believe that it will at least actually represent them. They must bring the greatest slice of franchise possible on board.

This thought process reveals a significant set of questions that remains unasked; at the forefront is what we in Scotland can learn from Westminster’s mistakes and how to apply that learning so that no part of our own resurgent nation undergoes the damages presently inflicted upon the current UK from London.

We should study as many varied systems as possible in our search for a singularly Scottish solution to good government, an enfranchised electorate and strong political accountability.

We must begin by asking ourselves why we accept, even expect breach of promise from politicians when in any other area of life they would be required to hold to their word or face consequences. Breach of promise should apply to politicians equally with any other individual.

What of the current Scottish Parliament itself, we should see if it is actually fit for purpose and thoroughly examine what can be reasonably be expected of it and the direction it will choose, and ensure that it’s path is the same one we as individuals would collectively walk.

The modified D’Hondt system of proportional representation that Scots presently live with is inappropriate. It was designed, tailored by another nation to specifically prevent a single party majority in Scotland.

Any political system must be designed to reflect the wishes of its electorate, not be put in place to defeat them. That would perpetuate the wildest dreams of history’s cruelest regimes.

In the longer term due to both the relative quantity and the method of the MSP’s elected through the list vote, it must be changed. The first past the post system is fine for constituency MP’s, the number and quantity of these is also reasonable for a nation of Scotland’s size.

The issue with the list MSP’s is that they are primarily selected by party officials, and that is hardly appropriate as the electorate begins the process already somewhat disenfranchised. The system could perhaps be adjusted by reducing the list seats to 50, still using the D’Hondt system, constituencies could be set to 70 with size determined by population.

We could have 10 regions; each would be approximately geographically equal. Each constituency within the region gets its votes totaled and that selects the list MSP’s under the D’Hondt system with the caveat that the highest number of votes on the list is also the first MSP selected. Simply because a party wins a constituency seat it should not see its list vote diminished. These all could go to a lower house.

That works fine, up to a point, it certainly is more representative of the wishes of the electorate.

The problem with a D’Hondt system is that almost invariably there is a requirement for a coalition. The present Holyrood parliament is a definite exception to that rule. Coalitions are not necessarily bad, but by their very nature they are intrinsically less stable.

The second problem with the current voting system which is fully highlighted by the corrupt and intransigent Westminster example is that there is no proper second house.

This lack of a functional second chamber leads to substantial disenfranchisement; it also helps entrench voter apathy in the current UK. Why bother voting when half the government, far more than half by numbers is now simply there for life. People who have no concern about any impact their actions may have, such as life peers, often display little thought for those they are supposed to represent. A free Scotland should outlaw lifetime political appointees.

In any nation state there should always be a balance, it is right and proper that centers of population have a strong voice, that is where the majority live, but what about rural areas who’s needs have a tendency to speak with a quieter voice at national level. They must not be relatively disenfranchised. Scotland’s rural and outlying areas must never become another northern England with little hope of ever seeing effective representation in a true democracy.

Scotland must consider areas like the Orkneys, Shetlands, and the Hebrides who’s total area, land and sea, represent massive tracts of our nation. These areas should also have an equal voice, an equal voice that would encourage enfranchisement and immobilise Westminster’s agitation towards breaking Scotland more than she already has. An undertaking from Holyrood would help win their votes also.

Allowing Scots now proportionally pay for upwards of seventy life peerages, we could easily afford a second chamber of fifty, a chamber made up of the geographical list areas rather than by population, but a chamber with its own independent voice. Each of the ten approximately equal regions can elect five additional individuals to represent them in a second chamber.

We could easily utilise an additional vote between Holyrood primary elections to achieve this balance. The second vote can happen during local council elections, there need be no significant additional expense.

Each region having an equal voice in that chamber, irrespective of population size would provide a check and balance system that is considerably less expensive than a hundred Lords a-wittering in Westminster. It would be fairer, it would be quasi federal, it would be elected not appointed and it would serve to assist in moderating any severe excesses or bias that may from time to time issue from the existing chamber at Holyrood.

A geographically elected second house in Scotland would permit the areas of sparser population to feel enfranchised. It would permit them greater representation and would help to ensure their perpetual ongoing commitment to the community of the realm.

Laws would have to pass in both chambers, or the main chamber would be required to overcome a constitutional hurdle to override the second, such as a referendum with 60% approval.

There must be other changes made within Holyrood’s chambers as Scotland walks forwards. The potential of lobbying which could be contrary to the public weal should be minimised. Restricting lobbying is not a difficult proposition; simply prohibit any elected individual from joining any organisation or subsidiary with which they had dealings when in office.

Companies and organisations should be able to donate to the political process if they choose, but those donations should simply enter a common chest that is divided up fairly, perhaps a set amount for each prospective candidate and set amount for each active individual party member. There are ways. Scotland should never become a residence for the Nuclear, the Oil or Chemical lobbies; it should always be a fair and free home for its people.

In an ideal situation our base political process must be funded by tax, and it must be tied to a percentage of GDP. The political parties should only able to raise direct funds through individual memberships.

We have a good start in Holyrood, when compared to Westminster it is already a beacon of light and openness, but it is only a start.

Scotland must have what no nation or central government in Great Britain presently has, it must have a truly representative democracy which is directly answerable to the people, and not just at election time. Our present Holyrood has defied the odds and supplied us with an opportunity to have our say in 2014, when we accept the challenge it will have outlived its purpose, a purpose it was never designed to fulfil.

Thereafter it will be to our present generations to design a new Holyrood, one truly fit for Scotland’s purpose. We must not fail those who will come after us.

1 comment:

  1. "Scotland’s rural and outlying areas must never become another northern England with little hope of ever seeing effective representation in a true democracy. "

    They're not. They have proportional representation, which is what a "true democracy" means. Giving undue weight to minority groups is a policy for which a legitimate argument can be made, but it's not "democracy". Indeed, it could properly be argued to be the opposite.