Here’s how to end the UK’s ‘elective dictatorship’ – Alastair Stewart

The case for allowing constituents to deselect sitting MSPs and MPs is stronger than ever (Picture: Jayne Wright)
The case for allowing constituents to deselect sitting MSPs and MPs is stronger than ever (Picture: Jayne Wright)
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The power to recall and deselect MPs and MSPs for political reasons would be a good way to enable people to hold their elected representative to account, writes Alastair Stewart.

Back in 1976, the former Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, Lord Hailsham, declared the British executive an “elective dictatorship”. And why not? Barring no-confidence votes, by-elections or snap general elections, both the Scottish and British governments can have full legislative dominance for five years.

But ever since the expenses scandal in 2009, and certainly with the yo-yo-ing of opinions from members in both parliaments about Brexit, there’s been a stronger case than ever to hold MSPs and MPs to account outside the normal election cycle,

Complaining about public representatives is something of a British pastime, but isn’t it time to do something more than just accepting duplicity as a fact of life? MSPs who break election pledges should be held accountable.

What happens if they vote against their election promises or U-turn on an essential issue to a constituency? What happens if they’re just ineffective? Five years is a heck of a long time to remember a catalogue of failures.

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Sites like TheyWorkForYou and the Scottish Parliament’s Official Reports are proficient consolidations of MSPs’ work in Parliament.

Yet there is no requirement for them to release their diaries, to declare how they spend their days or even how much casework they undertake. Aside from the public assembling the story themselves, there should be a mechanism for residents to express their dissatisfaction collectively.

The Recall of MPs Act 2015 is the closest example in operation today in the House of Commons. An MP can lose their seat if there is a successful petition to recall them for criminality. In Scotland, MSPs are disqualified from the Parliament if they’re handed down a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, but there is no comparable system of recall in place.

Crucially, in neither case is there any provision for recall for breaking political promises – a grave dereliction of duty to constituents given these are the bedrock for being elected in the first place.

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An online system where a voter can register their dissent would revolutionise local democracy.

Petitions in the House of Commons which reach 10,000 must receive a government response and 100,000 names make a petition eligible for debate. Why can’t a similar local mechanism be initiated for MSPs and MPs?

If these thresholds are introduced, adjusted for constituency or regional population, there could be an automatic by-election giving people the chance to respond to the problems of the day, then and there.

Elected representatives are just that, and five years in the age of Brexit is too long to wait. As with any reform, there’s the challenge of implementation. It could also be abused. But the question is this: is more accountability really a bad thing in 2019?

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart