Is Our Society Democratic?

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.


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 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.

Catch 22.

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.

I repeat:

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.

In summation

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.


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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. Grouse Beater says:

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

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

    • 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!

  8. 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.

    • 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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