Room for more effective consultation
Are the consultation exercises by Holyrood and Westminster on the independence referendum the equivalent of a political charade? Indeed, are such efforts throughout public bodies achieving any serious purpose at all?
Tom Peterkin makes a valid point (Perspective, 6 April). They are not surveys of public opinion among a random sample of the population. Even if they were conducted among a representative section of the population, they can never be a substitute for those in power actually making a decision.
In a democracy there is a need to be seen to be listening, to be assessing the public mood, to be in touch with both professional and public attitudes. That is the basic rationale for consultation – to seek information and advice, to have discussions before undertaking a course of action.
The trouble is that simple point has been perverted over the decades, and for a number of reasons.
The first is that consultation exercises can allow those in authority to delay action that might work to everyone’s benefit. The second is that organised pressure groups can use modern technology to hijack the process. They can act as if there was some sort of race to give one opinion prominence.
Hence the encouragement of the use of standard letters or emails to deluge the administration with one particular view. This encourages a cynicism which often deters those with very cogent points to make from actually taking part.
A third is the actual cost of consultation which may often be disproportionate. There is little point in appointing or electing people to office if they rely on consultative mechanisms to avoid the harsh but necessary business of actually doing something about a problem. Seeking public views should be about getting reliable opinion and facts and not simply a means of keeping the crowd quiet.
With the local elections looming ever closer, perhaps we should consider the perilous state of Scottish politics and the glib assumption that Labour is the only party still capable of making a dent in the roaring success of the SNP. While this might have been true until quite recently, sadly it is no longer the case.
The current situation looks like this: the Tories, despite the best efforts of Ruth Davidson, are still a toxic brand in Scotland and the antics of David Cameron and his self-serving Westminster millionaire cronies do nothing to dispel this image.
The Lib Dems are no longer credible and the Labour Party has no clothes (or socialist credentials) left any more, because the SNP has stolen them all and moved further to the left, while beating the drum of independence.
Since Scotland is now almost irrevocably left of centre, the only thing the Scottish public can do is decide how far left they want to go and, more to the point, do they want the dire future offered by narrow and inward-looking nationalism or the comparative safety of the United Kingdom?
Andrew HN Gray (Letters, 6 April) typically uses exaggerated emotional language (“separatism”; “tearing Scotland out of Britain”) to distract from his shallow arguments against independence.
I’ve followed the letters debate throughout and have yet to find any evidence of serious animosity towards the other component parts of the UK. Alex Salmond himself recently expressed concern for the interests of English people.
I’ve also re-read Mary McCabe’s letter referred to by Mr Gray but I see no trace of “talking Britain down” as claimed by him.
The main thrust of her argument is that all significant power remains with the UK government. That is undoubtedly the case, although it is not thereby necessarily undesirable, depending on opinion.
Mr Gray’s claims of British influence in making the world safer – an extremely dubious notion – are completely irrelevant to the subject at hand.
The case for or against Scottish independence rests on a single argument: whether it would be in the best interests of the Scottish nation.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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