I am all for the Acts of Union as long as they are practised consensually. If Ms Sturgeon really wants Scotland out of the UK but in the EU, we can help. At the time of the Scottish referendum, the EU Commission legal advisers confirmed that, had Scotland left the UK, it would have also left the EU as the UK is the Member State. Just as when the DDR (East Germany) merged with West Germany, it became part of a Member State and therefore the EU. So why don't England, Wales and (if it wishes) Northern Ireland now leave the UK? The Remaining UK (aka Scotland) can then ignore the referendum and continue as a Member State. Job done? You can thank me in whisky ma'am. A lifetime supply of Talisker please.
Guthrum comments on the fact that Gordon Brown is talking of a new written constitution for the United Kingdom. That is something we certainly need. Under New Labour's iron party discipline, Parliament has become the obedient instrument of the Executive and the "separation of powers" has collapsed.
If we could simply adopt the US Constitution, doing a "search and replace" to change "United States of America" to "United Kingdom" I would be happy. I could even accept (reluctantly) the deletion of the right to bear arms. However, I guarantee that a Brownian constitution will neither restrain the powers of the State nor protect individual rights. Brown is the last man on Earth to promote our right to pursue happiness in our own way. His draft will be laden with false "rights" which merely amount to imposing obligations on others.
We desperately need a new Constitution to protect us from the State, but this hugely authoritarian Government is the last one that should be trusted with the job. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The growing English desire for a Parliament is entirely a reaction to the West Lothian Question. Englishmen have never before shown any desire for more layers of government. Were it not for devolution, we would be quite content to be governed from our historic parliament at Westminster.
Personally I love Scotland. It's a beautiful place and I have friends there. I really wish the Scots could get along with us in the UK, but then I love Ireland too. I see no reason why all of us in these islands can't live together as one nation.
People who share the same language, teach their children the same nursery rhymes, love the same drama, music and literature and cherish common values should be in the same nation. That the tribal hatreds of prehistoric times have outlasted the long-miscegenated tribes is sad. That modern nations should define themselves by long-dead tribes of a lost race is pathetic. Sad, pathetic or not, the right to self-determination is inalienable and it's not for me to question the reasoning behind any given exercise of that right.
The Scots seem cautiously to be gearing up to go the way of the Irish, no doubt encouraged by their recent example. The SNP is cleverly making it "safe" for voters to elect them, by promising a referendum on full independence in 2010. It will have three years, and the resources of the well-funded Scottish government, to make its case. I think it will succeed. The sight of a nationalist government running the country (and under the leadership of the most impressive politician in these islands it can scarcely do less well than the current lot) will stoke the fires lit by Labour with the establishment of what Billy Connolly calls "the wee pretendy Parliament".
Though we will shed a tear, it is not all bad news. They have never, shall we say, fully embraced the United Kingdom. Only 163,000 of them currently make a net contribution to the UK Treasury. Most Scots are unreconstructed Socialists. An election-deciding proportion of them work for (or are kept in idleness by) the State. I do not say they are no loss, but I am a polite Englishman. Economically, it would not be far wrong. Of course, they will take their share of North Sea oil, but it's not as great as the SNP thinks and becomes less important with every day of delay.
We need to get our act together for the negotiations which may begin in 2010. Few people seem to have thought the consequences through - on either side of the border.
Since Scotland will be leaving the UK, which is the Member State of the EU, an independent Scotland will need to apply to join. It would be irrational for a new nation, with no recent track record of
political and economic stability, to walk immediately into membership.
The nations of New Europe, very sensibly, had to prove that they were stable
democracies with viable economies before they could join.
They were made to jump many hoops of the kind now being held
up before Turkey. Scotland should jump them too.
These days we accept democracy, unthinkingly, as a good thing. I have not heard a serious word against it since University, when some young men of my acquaintance affected to think it “a brave experiment that failed.” I begin to wonder if they were right, at least as to its British incarnation.
Something is clearly very wrong with British democracy. Our low election turnouts prove that. Our voters do not face bombs and bullets on their way to the polling station, but they show less enthusiasm to vote than the Iraqis who do. Perhaps we should arrange to stain British voters’ fingers with purple ink and have men armed by Iran take pot-shots at them? I am sure President Ahmadinejad would oblige.
One might expect the constant meddling, the authoritarianism, the sheer bloody priggishness of New Labour to drive people back to the polls. They were elected by a minority and they are imposing the views of part of that minority on the rest of us. Yet British non-voters I speak to are way beyond mere disinterest. They are militantly apathetic. They have enthusiastic contempt for the process. Once every little boy and girl born into the world alive, was “either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative.” Yet now, we hear the fatal words, “they’re all the same.” So, indeed, they are. Perhaps it is not that our democracy is failing, but that it is working too well? Politicians have views as diverse as ever. There is no view too absurd to be represented in the House of Commons, as George Galloway sufficiently proves. To get and keep power, however, now involves concealing ones opinions. Men and women go into politics to pursue their agenda, but soon the peoples’ agenda is pursuing them.
The only effective “check and balance” in our Parliamentary democracy was the way in which, for centuries, the British divided neatly, sportingly, into two roughly equal political "sides". Whigs vs. Tories, Conservatives vs. Liberals, Labour vs. Conservatives, etc. Our dangerous three word constitution (“Parliament is sovereign”) was not a problem. We could always rely on the swing of the political pendulum to keep government honest.
We still have two major parties, but few feel any allegiance to them. Their memberships are derisory, smaller than a hotel loyalty scheme, larger than a decent-sized fishing club. Both are led by slimy, unprincipled populists. “I’ll tell you what I think” they seem to say, “as soon as I have worked out what I think you want me to think.” All of which means that we ourselves, dear readers, have become the problem. Constitutions protect people from each other, as much as they protect people from the State. In the shambles of our modern democracy, we are each other’s prey.
Alexander Tytler (1747–1813) famously observed that:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits ... with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship.
He had it almost right. In truth, the masses can accept occasional fiscal discipline, but only if first brought to beggary by their own idleness and greed.
When Labour last wrecked the economy, the Tories under Thatcher won their reputation as “the Nasty Party". They made a sick nation take its bitter medicine. It had to be done, but no-one enjoyed it. Many who lived through it are bitter that our lives were thus blighted by the greed of previous generations who voted themselves unfunded benefits; so inflated the currency as to repay their debts in base coin and then left it to us to straighten things out. We are even more bitter now that New Labour has made all our efforts vain.
Our generation has paid for everything - twice - only to be told there is nothing for us. Our taxes, our pensions, have been diverted to bribe an army of Government “workers” and the mass of idlers on permanent benefits which now passes for “the working class”. Anyone who does work in Britain, if not for the State, is for much of the year in forced labour to feed the Government's hordes.
As has been sagely observed, “Labour always spends its way out of power eventually.” Cameron may pout, preen and posture now, but the Tories will be called into service as the Nasty Party again.
But enough of economics. What of politics? What, in particular, of liberty? Labour has opened our eyes to our constitutional danger. Though we were joyously ignorant of it, it seems that we were always at the mercy of an over-mighty State. All it took for habeas corpus to be repealed in Britain, was for the political balance to shift, so that one Party could do it without the other crying foul.
Focus groups and opinion polls have had the same effect on political thinking, as wind tunnels and CAD had on car design. They are a more scientific, but also a more soulless, way to do the job. They have led to less choice as politicians adapt their offer to comply with the "scientific" data. Had Jefferson and Washington had focus groups, there would have been no American Revolution. Most colonists favoured the Crown. A majority moved to Canada to remain subjects of King George. But the founding fathers were not followers, but leaders. They built a democracy from undemocratic beginnings.
How safe is a parliamentary democracy to live in when most voters fail to understand that powers given to our rulers for one reason may be used for others? All civil liberties objections crumble today in the face of the word "suspect;" which means no more than someone thought, by a fallible someone else, to have done something bad.
A democracy that works properly, will broadly give the people what they want. We have been remarkably tolerant of that in the past. More than 50 years on from the start of Communism in Central Europe, families whose businesses were stolen still lobby for restitution. Yet my grandfather’s business was stolen in 1946, and - while he did not like it (to say the least) - he accepted it calmly as the “will of the people.”
That my grandfather’s life work should be stolen was bad enough. But worse things than that can happen (and have happened) in a democracy.
What if what the people want is Hitler, as the German people did in the 1930’s? Given the clarity with which he stated his views in “Mein Kampf”, it could be argued that he had a democratic mandate for genocide. Perhaps that’s why our German friends are so keen to suppress his book? It is no worse (and after the Holocaust, is far less dangerous) than many classics of Communism, but it embarrassingly reveals they voted for Hitler in full knowledge of his intentions. Hitler, then, had a democratic mandate for violent use of State power. When he used that power, effectively, to demolish German democracy was that valid? Can one generation democratically deny democracy to the next?
Had Hitler been less mad, his regime might prosper yet. Listen to those who think President Ahmadinejad must be left in peace within his borders. People in the 1930’s said the same of Mr Hitler.
Had Hitler killed only those Jews within his reach; had he sought lebensraum only in the East, the Manchester Guardian readers of the day would have spoken movingly of “international law” and referred the matter to the impotent League of Nations. Hitler could have begun the Shoah under the same indulgent gaze they now bestow on his successor in Tehran, as he prepares to finish it. And all of this as democratic as you please.
What of Palestinian democracy? The world's most successful professional victims freely chose terrorist killers to lead them. While only a complete idiot believes the Cubans love Castro, it seems no-one seriously questions Palestinian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. No-one who saw their street celebrations after 9/11 would doubt it. Once again, if they confine themselves to killing only those Jews conveniently at hand, they may count on the affectionate indulgence of the Guardianistas.
Are there then then no limits to democracy? In Britain there are not. Our democracy is defective, because we have never clearly defined what power individuals have delegated to the State. Potentially, our lives, our freedoms and our worldly goods can be taken at any moment at the State's whim. That the State is under loose democratic control is of little comfort. Am I any less a serf if enslaved by a majority of my neighbours? Am I any less dead for being slain with their approval?
The State should enjoy only those powers delegated by individuals. Would any of us freely give the right of life and death? Would any of us freely give the right to tax us until we work most of the year for others, like indentured slaves? Democracy is a valuable, but not a sufficient component of a free society. We also need individual rights, which outrank those of the State, because it serves us, not vice versa. It is those rights that make us free, not the way in which members of the government are chosen.
Churchill said (and he was right) that:
democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.
It is a mere human construct. If we do not question it and worry about its political and economic outputs, we condemn it ultimately to fail.
Guthrum blogged here recently about the need for constitutional reform. It has never been more necessary. If the Tories would like to stand out from the crowd and propose something to energise the masses, here is their opportunity. Sadly, that would require skilful, principled leadership and persuasive, powerful oratory, rather than cheap shots, sound bites and new hairdos.
Don't hold your breath, and keep your passport up to date.
Here is a piece from our guest blogger today, Guthrum. He wrote this while I was in Cannes earlier in the week, but it provides convenient "cover" for me today, while I get steadily sozzled on my birthday. Over to you, G.
As Tom is enjoying the south of France, he has been kind enough to allow me to share some of my thoughts on the constitutional challenges we all face.
It has been nearly one hundred and seventy years since the great Reform Act of 1832. This Act was passed as a rational attempt to reorganise political life and to head off the revolutionary undercurrents of the 1820's and 1830's, in the post Napoleonic period.
Rotten boroughs like Old Sarum that had eleven houses and could return two MP's in the gift of the local land owning aristocracy, were swept away. Once passed the defects in the Act were apparent - the vote was based on a property qualification, for example. However, the fact that the reasons and conditions that caused it to be passed are barely remembered is evidence of the Act's success. The stability that it engendered spared Britain the convulsions of the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848.
In modern business parlance the Management of Change had been effective. Looking at the modern political landscape, I can see no sign of even of a willingness to even acknowledge that change is happening, let alone needs to be managed.
The Whitehall village is happy and secure in its two/three party system. Yet voters are voting with their feet away from the current system, therefore depriving the political system of its legitimacy. The House of Lords has been tainted as a house of "experts" and turned into a place full of appointees who owe their place to the patronage of the Prime Minister of the day. The PM enjoys the rights of the Royal Prerogative, and can safely ignore the wishes of both Parliament and Country.
The Monarchy is to be passed to a man, who appears to think that his constitutional position is a soap box to influence public policy. Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Battenburg is not an elected politician and his views may be of interest to the readers of Hello magazine, but should have no more bearing on an elected government than those of any other citizen.
This Government has fought a war on the whim of one man, and is betraying the freedoms that have been fought for.
The political landscape needs to be managed. There needs to be an acknowledgement of our fundamental freedoms in the form of a written constitution with arrangements to strike down attempts to collect our personal data, correspondence and break into our homes.
Political power should be returned to the towns and cities of this country, with any position of real power being an elected one; police chiefs, Mayors etc. Unelected quangos should be declared unconstitutional if they handle public funds. Tax raising should be on a local level, with funds for national defence passed upwards, not taxation collected centrally then distributed downwards. Education should be on the basis of excellence and need. We need as many superb engineers as we need lawyers. This can only be done at local level. Education must stop being a political football.
The House of Commons should be reduced by about half, and instead of involving themselves like over paid social workers in the minutiae of our lives, MP's should restrict themselves to matters of state, foreign affairs and defence.
Personally I see no constitutional role for a hereditary Monarchy.
Unless the management of this constitutional crisis is addressed, the State will assume more and more power over our lives, simply to protect itself. It will be the end of any pretence of this country being a representative democracy, let alone a participatory democracy.