Is Our Society Democratic?

It’s an incontrovertible fact a nation governed by another nation cannot by definition enjoy full and open democracy if it doesn’t command the mechanisms and structures required for self-determination, but instead is instructed to serve the interests of the dominant nation.


Greece, the seat of democracy


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’re so dependent on England’s economy that we’re never free of anxiety. Until the 2014 Referendum no one questioned that aphorism. If there was any truth in it nobody seemed to want to do anything about it. Fatalism was the order of the day.

To begin with a definition

I define democracy as: the nation owns the resources and the land, and the institutions that administrate society, all accountable to the population through the agency of  an elected assembly, or government of representatives. Those representatives and their officials are accountable to the people. Ergo, power is invested in the people.

Being half-Sicilian it’s understandable that I take my definition of democracy 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 self-determination, independence, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and spontaneity. Nobody forces a choice on you.

Always question what we are given

Here is an observation of the former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in full flow at a rally on America’s malaise, the doctrine of greed.

“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.

Surely we have a kind of democracy already?

Among many threats, it’s noteworthy the gravest Westminster doled out to Scotland in the 2014 Referendum was to threaten to make us poor if we chose to reinstate self-determination. What kind of friendly union is that? In anybody’s book it’s tyrannical.

Therefore, 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 the population of both nations to achieve equality of opportunity and happiness in their daily lives?

If as unionists claim in answer to Scotland’s complaints 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.

It isn’t as if this perception is anything new. Street riots in London; demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow against political powers retained by Westminster; the grass-roots movement for Scottish independence; cuts to welfare-social security; student debts accrued from expensive courses; resistance to privatisation of public assets and legal tax havens; endless war 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 but a few key issues on which a great many feel democracy is no longer in the hands of the people – us.

Democracy is in the hands of the few, and the special interests.

A heartening aspect to witness of Scotland’s debate for reinstatement of full self-determination  was the 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, almost 90%.

Democracy at large in the hands of the population was a joy.

The debate helped some authoritarian unionists become aware of a new wave of assertiveness, even if their reactionary prejudices got the better of them, and they scorned the process.

Those who reject Scotland’s legal claim, a claim to renegotiate the conditions attached to a grossly out-of-date 300 year-old Treaty, tend 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 sort of people to whom Bernie Sanders referred in his rally speeches, and those who told Scotland to remain docile and compliant.

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. The right-wing press pound us with propaganda to secure consent. These people assume all is well, or at least wish us to believe the status quo works. Well, it works for them.

If we live in a democracy the question is, to what extent are our elected representatives, corporate interests, and power elite accountable to the electorate? In Sanders example the Walmart dynasty makes clear there is one huge important segment of social and economic life which is simply excluded from public control.

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 corporate empires to decide who keeps wealth – namely themselves.

However, we come face-to-face with a loss of civil rights in our domestic lives when we try to complain to some corporate entity 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. The UK has allowed them to register their company in a tax haven. Even if we could the cost to go to court is 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. We argue that the power elite, the same who own those companies, control the media.

Herein lies the misconception. They are the media.

The corporations 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.

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.

As for our government, 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. And it can rely on the right-wing press to back its status quo policies to the hilt.

I repeat: That is not a union. It’s a tyranny.

Who benefits from dumping the EU?

The ‘Brexit’ campaign was almost wholly led by a business elite, private tyrannies, desperate to protect their profits and privileges from paying decent wages, from offering good working conditions, or 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.

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. Humans are also courageous and honourable and highly talented in many of the things that they do. 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.

Do we live in a democracy?

My contention is, we think we do, but we don’t.

Given time people get used to fewer freedoms; they confuse the ability to buy goods as freedom. In reality we’re passive consumers, exactly as the power elite wish us to be.

Liberty is 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.

In summation

Democracy is remodelled under our nose, not for our good, only for the few.

Scottish law as presently constituted cannot guarantee to protect and uphold Scotland’s democratic rights. For that we need real autonomy and a written Constitution. Scotland can only survive and prosper if free to make its own decisions once again.

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15 Responses to Is Our Society Democratic?

  1. says:

    Good article GB. Their institutions are beginning to fail. The Independent has stated that after March it will no longer publish a newspaper, though it will still have an online presence.

    There are other papers that are staring oblivion in the face too, that will at least spare us looking at their misleading headlines on the News stands.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    It was a strange feeling to see newspapers I’d read regularly, and contributed to, counselling against Scotland’s rights. I can’t recall one compromising even a little by suggesting Scotland should be given extensive powers while remaining part of the UK. We got the odd columnist suggesting federalism, such as Macwhirter, never an editorial. The rest ranted and insulted.

    Nor did any except the Guardian remind their readers both Labour and the Liberal party had once advocated Home Rule. They simply pushed the establishment line, a mixture of stay or we punish you – a rerun of the 1707 arguments, right down to Scots as ‘foreigners’. They close their ears to what people want or need to lead better lives.

  3. And look what happened; we were forced to stay by the faint hearted.
    And they punished us anyway.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    As each day passes I have an uncontrollable urge to tell cod-historian Dan Snow to go to hell.

  5. hettyforindy says:

    Great article.

    I have a book called, ‘The Collapse of Democracy’ by Robert Moss, but haven’t read it yet. I have too much on, if anyone wants it let me know. It is happening now and has been for some time.

    I visited family and long standing friends in NE England, last Oct, first time since the referendum. I I was shocked. The first thing was, ‘and what do you think of J Corbyn then, will he save us? I said he was not at all very significant in Scotland.

    The types of comments, like ‘ aye, yous let the tories in again’ and ‘Av lost All respect for the Scots now yous voted no’. It got worse, close Guardian reading, lefty friends went on the attack. Scotland’s got no culture or language of its own’, and, ‘yous will be like Syria’ and, ‘The Nationalists will have Scotland like a fascist country’. And, ‘well EVEL is right we should have a say’.

    The ridicule towards me for supporting Indy, and particularly supporting the SNP government, was shocking, the contempt towards the whole of Scotland and the people was dreadful. Oh and also, friends with v close Irish connections, very angry, ‘aye, your Scottish lot supported Westminster lot when they attacked Ireland’. 18, or 1900s?

    When I said that Scotland was oppressed, they laughed and said, ‘why not move back here then!’

    No thanks, I ditched that sort of ignorant, blinded, narrow attitude quite some time back.

    So the divide and rule tactics, and the propaganda via state and corporate run media, did an excellent job of demonising Scotland and her people. It worried me because such ignorance can instil such fear, say of a mythical enemy, that an attack of some kind on that neighbour may be condoned by the frightened, brain washed people. It is what my friends seemed fearful of violence in their neighbouring country.

    In fact, I was told in no uncertain terms that we were making our decisions only on an ’emotional’ basis, and that we were all ‘brain washed’ by the SNP!

    So, to me much of the lies and fear were also aimed at the ignorant frightened in England. They had never heard of UKOK, and were quite insulted when I called the yookay that.

    The thing is, it is of course not just what the people are fed, via state run media, but also what they are not told and most cannot be bothered to look a bit deeper, but even with facts and figures laid out, and alternative news sources, they are still taken in, scary stuff.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Thanks, Hetty

    Depressing to read so many think dissent a heinous crime. One day, independence restored, most will think it a natural state of affairs.

    Spotted this today in the New Statesman from the former columnist and newspaper editor Peregrine Worsthorne: “The Scots no longer think it’s worthwhile belonging to England.”

    Once a colonial, always a colonial.

  7. Wonderfully well written. You’ve described my feelings and beliefs perfectly. Thank you.

    Scotland needs to be free. Free to make it’s own decisions. Free to make mistakes. Free to prosper. Free. Full stop.

    Slightly off topic – Although it did nothing for Scotland, I’m sorry to see the Independent is soon going to be available online only. Not everyone has online access and bothers with online news. Soon the only newspapers being printed will the the RedTops. Then the news people get from the BBC will become the only source of “unbiased” professional news. That’s not good. And I predict this will happen long before the next WM elections. Again, not good.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you, Andrew, for the kind things you have had to say about my work.

    I shun publicity, and always assume my essays are below par. Regulars will have noted my strange habit of making corrections and fine tuning after publication, a habit born out of reading screenplays in hard copy. I need to see what I’ve written in concrete form, so to speak, in order to make changes. And unlike others who write in praiseworthy direct speech my brain strains for the poetic, which often accounts for too long sentences, and long words where short will do.

    I agree with you, and am still deeply depressed Scotland threw away such a wonderful chance to be a mature nation. Once more we are in the hands of forces we cannot control, or see for that matter.

    As for our newspapers, I wrote some criticism of them, in my recent movie review ‘Spotlight’, and in a much earlier essay, ‘The Shame of the Press.’ Please have a read, and feel free to pass essays to friends and foe alike if you think it will challenge set ideas.

  9. Ian Brotherhood says:

    Great stuff.

    You speak for many of us who feel similarly but cannot address the sheer scale of the challenges. It all feels so overwhelming at times, but your essays provide a valuable overview which help us view the situation in a broader landscape.

    Hoots mon!

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Hoots mon, right back at you! 🙂

  11. Lisa says:

    Thanks Grouse Beater – excellent work as usual, conveying what so many of us are thinking and feeling – and aspiring to for Scotland’s future

    Lang may yer lum reek!….and your pen have ink!

  12. Grouse Beater says:

    You’re welcome, Lisa. 🙂
    Writing things down helps me understand the issues. You know, to get my argument fuelled and straight. If readers get the same intellectual stimulation, that’s great. Please, do pass my work on to anybody you feel might benefit. It’s good motivation to ink my Montblanc pen!

  13. Steve B says:

    I’m sure he’ll pipe down once he inherits half the country…..

    (Kill me now!!)

  14. TheItalianJob says:

    Great read and so many highlights and strong points with in many cases good historical references. Good bit of research.

    Read on the tram to Haymarket then onto Fife to see my elderly mother. I’m going to get her to show me how to make fresh gnocchi.

  15. Grouse Beater says:

    You read it on Embra’s tram? Must be a peaceful journey.
    Gnocchi is delicious mixed with spinach … and the right kind of pasta sauce.

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