Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thing 12 - There's Nothing Like Democracy

It's not quite the divine right of kings but we're a long way from democracy.

The UK government collect taxes from everyone who can afford it. Oh, except from those wealthy individuals and big corporations who don't feel obliged to contribute, only to gain.

The UK government then, like kings in days of old, give parcels of money to our devolved Scottish Government as if they were some minor noble who did the king a good turn on the battlefield.

The Scottish Government in turn, like some minor noble pretending to be king, doles out chunks of cash to the misnamed "local" authorities. These authorities can only collect around 20% of their income from council tax so are obliged to bow before the largesse of the Scottish Government.

So the feudal system still exists portrayed as a form of democracy. You might argue that we live in a system of representative democracy. I can think of two definitions of representative. One is based on re-presenting, where the elected member hears what his electorate want done and he re-presents this at parliament or in the local authority. There's not much evidence that this form of representative democracy happens much, unless one includes major business lobbyists as part of the electorate, in which case there are endless examples of elected member re-presenting lobbyists' views.

The second definition of representative is that the elected members are like us. That is, they live locally, have the same kind of upbringing, have done similar jobs. In fact most elected members are distinctive because they are so unlike us, and the higher one looks up the pyramid of power the less ordinary our masters become. This doesn't mean they aren't competent leaders but it certainly means they don't represent the ordinary man or woman on the street. Nor do they think or act like them.

Back to local democracy. My "local" authority covers the major towns of East Kilbride, Hamilton, Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Blantyre, Larkhall, Lanark, Strathaven, Bothwell and other communities. We live in an era where over forty percent of the population go to university, and we have record numbers going on to masters or doctorates. Of course university degrees and academic success are not necessarily predictors of good decision-making or even common sense but they are the most readily-available statistic on how potentially competent our local population is.

So allowing for age differences we could estimate that perhaps around a fifth to a quarter of the population in towns and villages across Scotland are in historic terms very highly educated. Certainly of a population of 60,000 the residents of Hamilton would have large numbers of people educated at the highest level in economics, health, medicine, education itself, nutrition, civil engineering, architecture. You name it, we'll have it. There will be several lawyers, doctors, accountants, managers, I.T. specialist on hand.

So why in our "democracy" does Hamilton not have its own town council, elected from its own people to work with the local people to determine what's best for our community? The same of course applies to the people of nearby Bothwell, Larkhall, and so on.

This is not about parochialism. It is about real democracy. People care about their own community and should feel part of the decision-making process. Moreover local people should be entrusted with raising most of their own income tax and other forms of revenue generation. Indeed I'd argue that all taxation should be locally raised then ceded as negotiated with the upper levels of government.

Until you treat people as adults and give them adult responsibilities they will be unaccountable on the one hand and feel marginalised on the other. The centralisation of power both at UK and Scottish Government levels is a disgrace to the word democracy and a huge impediment to practical progress in our society as a whole.