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Before I aim one day (when I can a. be arsed and b. become somewhat more knowledgable on such matters, which I probably never will be enough) to write some long treatise on what would make the ideal democracy, perhaps it might be beneficial to share one or two thoughts.

And here is one. There are always some banging on about how this or that party or candidate is bad because they do not “listen to the people” or put into practice “the will of the people”, and conversely, some others are better because, finally, they are in fact doing that very thing. Of course, this is what is supposed to happen in a democracy, right? The actual people are more in touch with what their own needs are, and the realities on the ground, than a bunch of over-expensed career politicians who have spent very little time in the “real world”, you think, or even the would-be experts in their ivory towers. Right?

Except, as many critics point out, many people are not always as intelligent or well-informed on many issues, they may form views and make decisions based on blind ideology and received wisdom rather than actual rationality and facts, and so on. For some, this is a reason to either abandon or limit democracy in some way, or an argument for representative democracy so that those best able to make decisions and have the time to become informed will be able to do so. As long as, it is assumed, they are in some vague way generally following “the will of the people”.

It is my thought that sometimes, these detractors are true in their diagnosis, but not always in their cure. Representative “democracy” often ends up turning into nothing more than choosing once every four or five years who exactly we want to rule over us and do politics on our behalf, and so to avoid becoming well-informed or engage our critical thinking faculties, to become involved in the debate to the point that we have to question and analyse our well worn ideas. At least if the elected politicians screw up, we can claim it is their fault for being corrupt imbeciles who took us along for a ride, or at least we voted for the other guy, or moreover, none of them ever listen to “the people” so why bother being engaged? It’s never our fault.

Another thing that certain people banging on about “the will of the people” fail to realise is that “The People” does not necessarily mean them and their mates, to the extent others should not be trying to form a contrary view. Even if their viewpoint is the majority (or at least the dominant viewpoint of those who are not the middle-to-upper class, well-educated elites) that does not mean it cannot be challenged, or that it might not be, well, wrong. People not agreeing with you doesn’t mean you are being ignored or sidelined. Especially when it’s by those who think that your views or actions are genuinely reprehensible.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except those others that have been tried from time to time. No, it’s not a perfect system, but just maybe, the solution is not less democracy but more and better democracy. Democracy I think should not mean mob rule, or tyranny of the majority in the sense that majority opinion should silence or shout down minority opinion. This is why I think that legitimate freedom of speech and expression is of paramount importance. The relevant information must be available. Radical or novel ideas which might be right should not be ignored in favour of comforting old myths and the standard way of doing things. (If people want to argue for open borders, little to no interference in the operation of the free market, abolishing capitalism altogether, then let them.) Of course, note I said legitimate freedom of speech and expression. It is my contention, that freedom of speech is about the freedom of ideas and information, not an excuse to attack, insult, or ridicule, to threaten, or act in ways that might actually cause harm for particular people. Of course I can see there are times where one would want to limit that, such as those who advocate hate-speech laws or no-platforming agendas. But I would hope that such people (and their detractors) consider that it is best served when those speaking or expressing their thoughts do directly threaten others in so doing, or step outside the bounds of reasonable discourse. Marginalizing ideas or shutting them down does, I think, not remove them, simply creates resentment and allows those who hold them the opportunity or find other ways to organize and come back with a vengeance. Those seeking to remove fascism or other intolerant or hateful ideologies might need to consider not simply making these views unacceptable in that way, but rather dismantling them, exposing their flaws, and above all, be better able to communicate with those disaffected people who turn to such when things are not going well – and offer something better, which I hope they have.

But I digress. In short, democracy can work – but it will only work if all the people have the opportunity to participate on an equal and open basis, are able to have their views and decisions have weight, are willing to debate in a calm, rational manner and listen to each other, critiquing and adjusting our views as necessary, and are willing to make rational, well-informed decisions as best possible. It may not always work, but there you go.

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Last night I began with what must seem like a somewhat desperate plea for the Scots to think of the rest of the UK when voting in the referendum today. I promised I would go into more detail about why I believe this is important. As I have left it too late in the day to affect the polls, which have now closed, and given that realistically an obscure blog with a handful of readers, written by an Englishman, is going to do much to change the outcome of the vote anyway, I wonder if it is worth it. But, a promise ought to be honoured; given my poor track record in previous years of posting what I wanted to post, this most definitely needs to change.

I am far from an expert on the situation and this is not an academic blog, rather meant for personal observations on life, the universe and everything so what follows here is only my understanding based on what I have picked up on the news. So, without further ado:

 

1. The economic uncertainty.

The Yes campaign of course claim they will be able to continue to use the pound in a formal currency union with the Bank of England continuing to be lender of last resort, etc., but as pointed out that will require the approval of the continuing UK. And given the whole debacle with the Eurozone crisis of the past few years, naturally there is some reluctance to enter into that. And given some reports that some of the alleged mainstays like oil reserves, access to ready markets in the EU if Scotland is denied immediate membership and so on (though whether a free trade agreement, like I’d hope for an exiting UK, could at least be negotiated I don’t know) and the fact of probable lack of investment due to all the uncertainty, will Scotland’s economy really be in the right shape to not drag us down?

Of course there is always the possibility that EU membership for an independent Scotland would mean them joining the Euro, and if not, they could use the pound anyway, as Salmond forced Darling to concede in the debates. Or even use the US dollar, or probably even the Turkish Lira or Bitcoin or come to that. There are threats that without the currency union, Scotland might not agree to take its share of the UK’s current national debt, which will further place a burden on the much smaller rump-UK tax base. I doubt we down here would care much for that.

Of course, all the tax revenue that comes from Scotland, and the probably dwindling oil revenue, cannot be passed to the rest of the UK, which is for Scots certainly a good thing, and probably seeing so much of that money going to further enrich the London elite won’t make us in poor old North-East England cry. But, a less than open border might well affect trade too, especially for those businesses close to it.

And all this uncertainty is probably going to deter investment even further, if we find out by tomorrow Scotland has voted Yes.

2. The political spectrum.

This BBC article suggests that without Scotland in the 2010 elections, the Tories would have a majority in the House of Commons, and would not even need to form a coalition in order to force through so many of the unpopular policies the Yes campaign claims to want rid of in Scotland (some of which won’t even affect Scotland anyway, like NHS privatization)

Or take a look at the election map from Wikipedia. Note that in England there are a few chunks of red in a sea of blue. Much more red and yellow in Scotland than the measly little bit of blue you can see. Also note where those chunks of red are-no doubt the old industrial heartlands that have been eroding over the years, and certainly hate the Tories every bit as much as your typical Scot. Yet none of us ae able to become independent.

Of course it is hardly like Labour has had a much better track record with popular policy decisions, and the Lib-Dems are in fact in coalition with the Tories which says enough. But certainly what we will see (if whoever it was that said that it might refocus the efforts of the English left-wing to appeal more strongly to English concerns and head off the current shift to the right) a shift in the near-term political spectrum of Britain which could mean the Tories are more likely to dominate, than it would otherwise have been. Not being firmly either on the left or right, and even being kind of a reluctant UKIP voter (not that I like all their policies and ideas, least of all on climate change, and am in two minds about others- simply on the EU question and one or two of their more social-conservative, if not economic-conservative viewpoints), this might not seem like a bad thing you might think, but I think a change in the corridors of power now and then might be good even if they all are as bad as each other in the long run.

3. Trident.

Of course, many English people I know don’t really want the questionable use of funds to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent we cannot under normal circumstances use and probably would never need to, let alone have terrible destructive potential if we did. But if Scotland becomes independent, then eventually we Sassenachs are probably going to have to go to all the trouble and expense of relocating the base of operations for it. I’d certainly not want to see it in my back yard either, thanks.

4. Effect on the North East of England?

There have been fears, right since suggestions the SNP might lower corporation tax might mean investment that would have gone to my area would instead go to Scotland. Already we have seen, for example in my hometown, a certain major business locating an office in Scotland it might have here. But with the economic uncertainty mentioned above, this might be a bit of a non-starter.  There have also been fears that a new international border might cause problems for businesses and workers on either side of the border.

There are, also on the other hand, moves by local authorities in the region to work more closely with Scotland to forge new links which might be in our economic interest, then perhaps independence might not be such a bad thing.

5. Good old Auntie?

Yes, there are many people who hate the BBC as biased, on both sides of both the border and the political spectrum. Or they hate the way it handled the whole Jimmy Saville thing, or the payouts to its executives, or the fact its current funding model is essentially a TV tax in all but name, irrespective of whether you want to watch the Beeb. But if plans to split off BBC Scotland to form a new Scottish Broadcasting Service, what does this mean for the funding of what is left? If the SBS does exchange programming, will it be forced to stump up the cost (and vice versa) commercially, and will that cover the shortfall?

6. But what about a No vote?

I have heard from certain people I’ve been talking to that as part of a sweetener to tempt undecided Scots to vote “No”, then even more funding could be diverted to Scotland than is currently delivered by the Barnett Formula. I certainly don’t think that will be too popular in the rest of the UK, if taxpayers have to foot the bill. And what of “devo max” type sweeteners, in the absence of a truly federal UK? Hardly think this is fair either but then, perhaps we might get stronger calls for an English Parliament, stronger powers for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies (unless reunification looks more promising after all), and a reduced Westminster in other words, a truly federal UK? I’d like to hope so, but it remains to be seen.

I leave you with two BBC articles on the issue, which probably will explain it much better than I can. Just to annoy all the anti-Beebists (as distinct from the Auntie Beebists 😉 )

I also invite comments, ideas, constructive criticism and especially corrections.