It is an incontrovertible fact that any nation governed by another nation cannot by definition enjoy real democracy if it does not command the mechanisms and structures required for self-determination, but instead is instructed in the main to serve the interests of the dominant nation.
Whilst a healthy, consistent economy can alleviate stress in a nation’s population, democracy is not a matter of money, or debts, or income, or GDP, but of freedom to make choices. It’s about exercising free will.
You can live in the poorest nation in the world yet enjoy democratic rights that people in a rich nation do not because the wealthy nation’s economic system is in thrall to big business and the power elite who carry most influence.
A common Scottish saying is, when England gets a cold, Scotland catches pneumonia, meaning, we are so dependent on England’s economy, that we’re never free of anxiety. Until the Referendum, no one questioned that aphorism. Those days are long gone.
To begin with a definition
I define democracy as a process by which the people own the resources in their land, and the institutions that administrate, each severally and collectively transparent, and accountable to them through the agency of an elected assembly or government of representatives. Those representatives and their officials are, by dint of being elected, accountable to the people. Ergo, power is invested in the people.
Being half-Sicilian it’s understandable that I take my definition from the Greek – rule by the people. English often base their definition on the Magna Carta, though it’s highly contentious how many of its tenets are respected these days.
For democracy to mean anything it has to mean the ability to exercise free will. Synonyms for ‘free will’ include things like self-determination, independence, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and spontaneity. Nobody forces a choice on you.
We are not alone in questioning what we are given
Here is an observation of the US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in full flow at a rally on America’s malaise, the doctrine of greed. Like Jeremy Corbyn, he’s an elderly, self-proclaimed socialist, but far more radical than Corbyn.
“The top 0.1% have greater wealth than 90% of American people combined. There are twenty – twenty! – who own more than the bottom 50%. A single family, the Waltons, owners of Walmart, own more wealth than the bottom 40%. Indeed, the Waltons are America’s biggest welfare recipients because the low wages they pay their employees have to be topped up with benefits paid by taxpayers, us. The Walton family are down to their last 60 or 70 billion and you’re chipping in to help!”
The situation is little different in the United Kingdom. Tesco exploits the same strategy.
It’s noteworthy the gravest warning Westminster doled out to Scotland in the Referendum was to threaten to make Scotland poor if it chose to regain self-determination.
What kind of friendly union is that? In anybody’s book it’s tyrannical.
Surely we have a kind of democracy already?
I put the question this way:
Does the construction of the United Kingdom, essentially a trading arrangement between Scotland and England, provide a model for democracy that allows both to flourish sufficiently for the population of both nations to achieve equality of opportunity and happiness in their daily lives?
If as unionists claim, in fact, they keep insisting, that we do enjoy full democracy, a hell of a lot of people in Scotland and England do not believe it.
In what way do people think democracy is eroded?
The great mass of English and Scottish have become aware democratic rights are being removed, whittled down to a stump, side-lined, a process that evolved over generations.
Street riots in London; demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow against political powers retained by Westminster; the grass-roots movement for Scottish independence, or the nebulous ‘Devo-Max’; mass dissent over unjust taxation; welfare cuts; student debts; resistance to the privatisation of public assets and tax free corporations; endless illegal wars paid by taxation; aversion to billions spent on weapons of mass destruction; Habeas corpus blocked under successive terrorism laws; a distrust of a predominately right-wing press and media, globalisation that removes workers rights – are a few key issues on which a great many feel democracy is no longer in the hands of the people.
The people, you’ll recall, are supposed to be sovereign.
Democracy is in the hands of the few, and the special interests.
A heartening aspect of the Referendum debate to witness was a wonderful camaraderie of common cause, a shared confidence in ourselves as a nation. One of the most uplifting things that arose was an understanding, a growing awareness among the population of the real meaning of democracy. Everybody could participate, a huge number did.
Democracy at large in the hands of the population was a joy.
The debate helped some hard-line unionists become aware of that too, even if their reactionary prejudices got the better of them, and they scorned the process exercised.
Those who rejected Scotland’s legal claim, a claim to renegotiate the conditions attached to a grossly out-of-date 300 year-old Union, tended to be people who live in a rarefied atmosphere of privilege, and a self-reverential world of absurdity. A great many are multi-millionaires. They are the people to whom Bernie Sanders referred in his rally speeches.
Democracy has lots of different facets.
Preserving good democracy is a life-long cause. Each generation is charged with protection of the common good, ensuring progressive achievement doesn’t regress or get removed. When a unionist says, “It’s over, end of, move on” he could not be more wrong.
Democracy is not confined to a single vote in a referendum, or a local or general election held once every five years, and no further participation. Hard-line unionists wish it was. So do English nationalists keen to see England free of ‘whinging Scots’, foreigners, immigrant workers, and refugees. The press pound us with propaganda in an effort to secure conformity. These people assume all is well, the status quo works.
If we do live in a democracy the critical question is, to what extent are our elected representatives, corporate interests, and power elite accountable to the electorate?
Taking Sanders example of the Walmart dynasty, there is one huge important segment of social and economic life which is simply excluded from public control. It has to do with what we buy, material goods, and the services that attend them.
That’s all in the hands of what amount to huge private tyrannies, about as totalitarian in character as any institution humans have so far concocted. Operating free of unions is essential to Walmart’s business to protect its rock-bottom prices. We buy cheap because we are on low wages. The owners of the store get rich. It’s a vicious circle.
Common rights are an illusion
We come face-to-face with it every day in our domestic lives when we try to complain to some corporate entity or other about shoddy goods, poor service, unwarranted charges, or useless guarantees. We get shifted from one department to another. We cannot take direct court action against them because they are not registered in the UK, under UK laws. Even if we could the costs to go to court are prohibitive.
These corporate systems say they are regulated, but we know they enjoy very little regulation. In effect, they are not really accountable to anybody but themselves. The massive corruption of our banks is one blinding example. Tesco for years hiding a hole in its accounts of over £250 million to fool shareholders is another example. A few top staff have departed the company, but like the banks, no one has gone to jail. That’s one law for them, another for the masses.
We argue that the power elite, the same who own those companies, control the media. Herein lies the misconception. They are the media. They own the television companies, the newspapers and magazines, and the book publishing houses. Whatever is in their interests is whatever they will promote and protect. That’s an enormous, a huge, sector of life lifted out of public influence and control that would have astounded our forefathers.
What about the political arena, the Westminster government?
At higher levels there’s very little way for the public to influence anything that goes on. Westminster pushed through the Bill, English Votes for English Laws, in the wee sma’ hours, wholly negating their invitation to Scotland to stay in the Union.
It did not take long for the Westminster warmongers to create another region of the Middle-East to bomb against public protest. Bombed communities hit back with hit-and-run revenge. That retaliation gives Westminster an excuse to continue with ‘terrorism’ laws, supposedly temporary, now part of daily life, laws that constrain all our freedoms.
When we look the other way while Israel bombs Palestinian towns and cities, we pay for their renewal, having paid for the buildings bombed in the first place through foreign aid, and relief funds. We then subsidise western companies that profit from the rebuild.
Is Scotland not too small a country to govern itself?
There are great benefits to being a small country. It is relatively easy for the public to affect change in a small country, to make representation, because the people we elect live and walk among us. They’re in touch with daily life. And there are few impediments in the way of reaching our elected representatives, unless, that is, the dominant nation owns or runs the institutions that are part and parcel of a democratic state.
When we enact laws we can see the results very quickly, and assess if they really work well for society, or are detrimental.
Scotland’s parliament, indeed Scotland’s sovereignty supposedly enshrined and protected in the Act of Union, is more or less controlled by Westminster. Westminster can threaten to reduce the allowance it gives Scotland, (taken from income Scotland earns) to pressurise Holyrood to stay in line. It can make a Scottish administration it dislikes unpopular by the simple expediency of cutting funds forcing Holyrood to place greater and greater constraints on the lives of its citizens. And it can rely on the unionist press to back its policies to the hilt.
That is not a union. It is a tyranny.
As you move down to the lower levels, when you get to say a local community, the councils and so on, it is true there is much more of an opportunity to influence things.
When it comes to annual budgets the Scottish Parliament sets council expenditure limits, the parliaments spending power controlled by Westminster. Right-wing councillors, of course, are always ready to blame the Scottish Parliament for its alleged parsimony, as if we are in control of all Scotland earns, from taxes, to VAT, to traffic fines.
The domination of corporate interest
We’ve been sold a lie for decades, pure corporate propaganda, that the government is the enemy – we saw it writ large in Westminster’s clamour to dump the European Community.
The ‘Brexit’ campaign is almost wholly led by a business elite, private tyrannies, desperate to protect their profits and privileges from paying decent wages, offering good working conditions, guaranteeing tenure of contract, human rights, and paying their taxes in full. These are things people struggled to achieve for over a hundred years.
The purpose is to remove decision making from the public arena where the public does, in principle, and sometimes even in practice, have ways to participate in it and take part in it.
The power elite are shifting power over to the private arena where it is totally out of public control. So far they are largely successful. In that regard we are losing rights we should protect as a democracy.
So, why bother to vote?
If we don’t vote we toss away the last of our democratic rights.
The poorest in society, the disenfranchised, the disaffected, don’t see a point in voting, or wanting to register a protest vote they vote for Ukip, a party almost wholly promoted by corporate interests. Ukip is the extreme branch of the Conservative party. They share the same motto: Look out for Number One. Our society rejected that ethos in Edwardian times. We sought a more caring society. We thought ourselves higher than wild animals.
Isn’t it all to do with human nature?
The argument for extreme capitalism, the neo-con kind is, life is rough, toughen up. Yes, you can say humans are competitive, but people are anything you like to describe them.
They’re naturally selfish, avaricious, territorial. You can describe them any negative way you want. But why?
Humans are also courageous and honourable and highly talented in many of the things that they do. The whole spectrum is there. Why concentrate on elevating the worst in human nature, depicting it inevitable, and proposing we tap into it to make money – raising greed to a national ethic?
We have spent over a hundred years reorganising society to combat the worst in human behaviour, by institutional structures, by education, by welfare, by collective bargaining rights, by equal opportunity.
So yes, people are naturally competitive, but they are naturally cooperative, eager to give up what they have for the benefit of others. The freedom to co-operate and to live peaceably and productively is a priceless freedom. That is the essence of the European Union.
A leading social philosopher, John Dewy, said it all: “Unless the working people control their own institutions they are simply tools, they’re not people.”
We are undergoing a reversal of all the gains social pioneers made over decades. However, I think there’s an increasing perception we are being manipulated, treated as cattle to be branded, categorised, corralled, and fed stodge.
Does Scottish Law, as distinct from English, protect our rights?
Scottish law has always been separate from English law. It was never devolved.
It was left sacrosanct under the Treaty. But in recent times our system has been undermined by right-wing megaphones taking issues to England’s Supreme Court. There are cases that will, of course, be protected by the Scottish system, but there has been a steady move by London to diminish Scots Law and have it conform to English Law. That has to be resisted. The law as presently constituted cannot be guaranteed to uphold Scotland’s democratic rights. For that we need a written Constitution.
Do we live in a democracy?
My contention is, we think we do, but we don’t.
It’s being eroded every day, freedoms and people empowerment diminished. We can see that in the so-called additional powers handed to Scotland. Powers offered are hobbled, designed to impoverish Scotland, to keep it caught in a bear trap. Both Labour and Tory parties fought against more powers as hard as they could.
The rich are getting richer beyond compare and the rest of us are getting poorer. But there is hope rebellion will triumph. Of what form its takes, I am unsure.
When democracy favours elected representatives, corporate entities, newspapers, the power elite, and special interests, it’s a tyranny.
Nevertheless, the rise of Scotland’s new Enlightenment, and its supporters and adherents in England, is proof-positive people are well aware of being exploited. They know they’re working longer hours than in the past, and with much less security, and for lower wages and dimmer prospects.
It would be nice to think that this considered essay is an antidote to the objectionable condescension that we have become used to from the right-wing press, and third-rate pundits, who deliberately conflate self-determination with authoritarian fascism. I suspect anything that illuminates their dislike of democracy exercised will trigger their insecurity causing them to spout more nonsense, such as a second plebiscite on Scotland’s autonomy is illegal or unwanted. (It isn’t.)
Democracy is getting remodelled under our nose, not for our good, only for the few.
Some of us don’t know it’s happening. If there is to be another independence referendum we had better not flunk it a second time. Time is running out.