We’re often too ready to let the politicians act for us, writes Robert Durward
If necessity is the mother of invention then affluence must be the mother of decay. Our society is weakening and we have become lazy, abrogating responsibility to the political elite.
The current independence campaign by the Scottish National Party is a case in point. Having collected just 23 per cent of the available vote in 2011, the SNP has made breaking up the United Kingdom the predominant issue on the political calendar.
Proposed alternatives to independence are growing by the minute. Whatever we end up with, two things are certain: one, it will be hugely complicated and two, the electorate will have very little say in its final design.
Are politicians too smart for the electorate or have we become too complacent about those who act and speak on our behalf?
This disconnect developed gradually over a long period of time and with many contributory factors, yet we descended the slippery slope of our own free will and now find ourselves in a situation that our ancestors, many of whom fought and died for our freedom, would never have countenanced.
Recovery is possible and the starting point must be the re-engagement of as many people as possible in the democratic process. It happens in other countries and it used to happen here. Paid councillors and regionalisation simply created fiefdoms of incompetence saddled with a “them and us” culture. It is time to replace paid bureaucrats with enthusiastic stakeholders working collectively for the common good.
Despite its shortcomings, the Scottish Parliament fits the need for increased local decision making, but it must be improved.
From a business perspective the present system is catastrophic, incomprehensible and guaranteed to cause problems. There are 129 MSPs elected under a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional voting system for just 73 constituencies. A number of responsibilities are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and some are reserved to Westminster. We therefore have a further 59 Westminster MPs who cannot take part in Holyrood proceedings, just as our MSPs cannot take part in Westminster debates. Scotland’s 188 parliamentarians are numerically responsible for only 19,500 voters whereas English MPs are responsible for 68,000. Again from a business perspective, the solutions are staring us in the face, simplification and quality control.
Simplification: the roles of MPs and MSPs should be combined and their number set to match the number of constituencies. We would then have 73 MSPs elected by first-past-the-post, able to go to Westminster. Debating UK- wide issues at Westminster and devolved issues at Holyrood, Scottish politicians would no longer vote on English issues.
Quality Control: the surest way of addressing this would be by the addition of a suitably qualified revising chamber. Members of the second chamber would be elected from their constituency of residence. They would stand on their experience and record rather than a political platform. In other words, they would be elected on their ability to deliver rather than their ability to promise.
Complex suggestions are also emerging for creating different tax regimes from the rest of the UK. These proposals are idealistic, they have not been sufficiently thought through and they would cause endless confusion. In the middle of an economic crisis, this episode increasingly resembles two bald men fighting over a comb. How can we possibly explain such an egotistic and selfish campaign to other less fortunate nations? And how shall we explain it to our own children? Our generation will have the dubious honour of being the first ever to leave its children in less auspicious circumstances than it enjoyed for itself. Are we actually going to compound our folly by breaking up their homeland as well?
The Scots who wish to remain within the United Kingdom must be given a viable option to vote for as the status quo is plainly not fit for purpose. If the political elite continue to disdain the wishes of ordinary people and exclude them from the decision-making process, then they will simply create another rotten structure to replace the one we already have. I strongly believe that “devo-simple” would allow Scotland to once again forge ahead. Speak out before it is too late.
• A longer version of the article will be published at thinkscotland.org