2014 Referendum, Constitutionalism, David Officer, Democracy, Euro-Scepticism, European Commission, European Union, National Collective, Opinion, Politics, Popular Sovereignty, Republicanism, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism
[“#Indyref Anguish” is a new feature which will provide rolling analysis of the final days of Scotland.]
Over at National Collective this morning, David Officer submitted “eleven reasons why a Yes vote will improve democracy.” This is the sort of argument that makes me glance back over my shoulder at the Yes campaign and pause in my steps. I am a democratic extremist and if Yes led to a revival in democracy then I would have to hold my nose and down Scottish nationalism to the dregs.
But Officer doesn’t seem to possess any actual definition of what democracy is. Bizarrely, therefore, most of his eleven reasons for improving democracy do nothing but outline the ways in which democracy can be qualified, regulated, and generally brought back under control.
1. We will have a written constitution, led by the people. If you want to place limits upon democracy, or the absolute will of a sovereign people to do whatever they want, then a constitution is usually the best place to start. Rather than fighting for your rights within the hurly-burly of contemporary politics, your rights are now frozen in a constitution and you will need to activate groaning and massively expensive judicial machinery if you wish to extract them. But supposing that history changes and there is a demand for new or better rights? Well, they’re not in the constitution so forget about it. In this manner, a constitution can soon become the epitome of conservatism.
The arrogance of thinking that the destiny of a nation can be written from the beginning, in a single ahistorical document, is comically indicated in the 27 amendments to the US Constitution. Nonetheless, the assumption that a constitution is more democratic than supreme parliamentary sovereignty should be challenged whenever it is spoken. To quote that prophet of democracy Tom Paine “every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it.”
2. The House of Lords will have no power in Scotland. This is more like it! But Officer objects to the HoL because its members are unelected, rather than with the broader principle upon which the Lords is founded: that our democracy needs supervision. Hence number #3:
3. More representation in Europe. Officer thinks that because an independent Scotland will be able to send double the number of MEPs to the European Parliament, this will “improve” our democracy. Let us listen to Officer’s “improved” democracy as it sings. If our representatives, in our parliament, dare to make a decision that contradicts EU law, then the unelected and spectacularly corrupt European Commission will exert its parental authority to correct us. But we will still have a few extra members in the EU’s revising chamber and the squeak of our democratic spirit might be possibly heard issuing feebly from this sort of democratic decoration in the background. EU democracy is flatly an oxymoron and as I think Mark Twain once commented, “If voting in European elections made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
4. Decentralisation for the economy across UK. What bearing the structure of our economy has upon our democracy is never explained. Officer appears to think that redistributing wealth from our few productive industries to a motley ragbag of supply regions will somehow make Scotland more democratic, which carries the unfortunate implication that political sophistication can be achieved only with a successful bourgeoisie. He insists that, “A democracy with all the economic, democratic and social power held within one geographic area is no real democracy.” Apart from, er, the city-states where democracy was born.
5. Possibility of forming closer political links with northern Europe and arctic nations. If Officer believes that it’s more democratic to form political links with Denmark than with Spain, then this seems to be due to some mystical, presumably (whisper it) ethnic sympathy between Northern nations.
6. Scotland would get the government it votes for, every time. This is a roundly undemocratic assertion. Scotland, and the Scottish Left, have contributed fulsomely to previous UK general elections. Indeed, a far higher percentage of Scottish voters turn out for UK elections than Scottish ones: more Scots, in other words, took part in the election of David Cameron than of Alex Salmond. But the fact that the Scottish Left did not convince enough of the UK electorate to side with its interests is here presented as a justification for running away from democracy on a large scale. It’s as ludicrous as arguing that, after losing the 2005 election, the Liberal Democrats should have set up their own state.
7. Increased local democracy. The inevitable refuge for somebody who cannot cope with a large powerful democracy. A load of bores and nimbys forming committees to debate whether to install air conditioning in their community centre. There is no better way of deglamorising democracy and heaping irrelevance on top of it. I’m afraid that the only reason why local democracy becomes ever more unpopular on its great journey through history is that it’s dull. When it comes to local democracy, everybody votes with their feet.
8. A chance to create a modern democratic system almost from scratch. “Few countries,” apparently, “get this amazing opportunity for reform.” Aside from, that is, every nation which had broken away from the British Empire or the Soviet Union. This is rather like maintaining that the Walkman will revolutionise music.
9. Scotland will no longer have policies imposed on it which its people and politicians oppose. This is basically the same as #6 and it is only added to bring Officer’s list up to the round number of 11.
10. Policies that take into account Scotland’s geographic and social issues. But these can be achieved within one democracy or the other. Both the Union and Scotland are representative democracies in which the progressive Left have to convince a majority to endorse their policies. Both systems are, in this fundamental respect, equally democratic.
11. We will no longer be tied to the tradition, pomp and ceremony of the British State. Officer ends by focusing on one of the few features of the British system which is actually quite likeable. I’m happy for the Queen to keep the palaces and banquets and horses – it’s just her status as my unelected representative that I want to see gone with the wind. Officer, on the other hand, desires to be rid of the customs and antiquity but, er, not the actual Queen. He tantalises us with the prospect that “We might one day even hold a vote on an elected head of state…” No doubt “one day” in the next forty thousand millennia.