Posted tagged ‘Alex Salmond’

Democracy – time for a change

10/09/2014

I have to confess the Scottish independence vote has crept up on me.  Whether I have been dazzled in the bonhomie of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games or distracted by the various Edinburgh fringes; I haven’t given it a lot of thought.  But, forgive me if I am mistaken, neither have most of the non Scottish electorate and neither have our political leaders given the incredible panic that seems to have gripped them since an opinion poll flashed a ‘red light.’

The lack of certainty and unknowns around a simple binary decision of yes or no are quite astonishing.  Not just for Scotland, but those of us that live south of ‘passport control’ – what is going to happen? ‘Democracy’ and its processes and institutions are never going to be quite the same.

I agree with Adam Lent and Matthew Taylor at the RSA in their recent blogs that Westminster is creaking and indeed democracy generally is taking a bashing.  In truth the Westminster demise has been coming for a long time. 

Matthew Taylor’s RSA Blog

In 1997 ‘things could only get better’ rallied us behind a set of time served apprentice ministers such as Brown, Mowlam, Straw, Blunkett and of course Dewar who marched out of No 10 into the sunshine with shiny portfolios.  Within hours Brown was announcing fundamental changes of policy with the Bank of England, Mowlam was heading to Stormont on a journey towards a monumental Good Friday a year later AND Dewar was on the train to Edinburgh to set in progress the process that leads to next week.  I was actually walking down Whitehall outside the Scottish Office when Donald shook hands with his Civil Servants and witnessed this great moment.  In fact it was such a time of hope – what happened?  I’m reading Peter Osborne’s telling account – ‘The Rise of Political Lying’ published in 2005 and quite frankly his account has me burying my head in my hands.

The slippery slope of the noughties leads us to 2010 and I think ‘coalition’ has been fatal for political leadership.  Out went manifestos, the idea you know what you are voting for, in came blame (we have inherited the worse deficit ever etc) and a complete disaster of ‘corporate governance’ which is predicated on the fact that responsibility and accountability is somewhat the cornerstone of good leadership.  I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with three out of four of the great offices of state over the last two years and all are in their own way impressive but scratch beneath the surface to the ministries and it is like exposing a ‘rabbit in the headlights.’

We are in trouble and one can’t help that our 2015 election will be driven by shallow personality battles – all that will be missing from the leader debates will be a celebrity panel led by Simon Cowell passing judgement before handing it over to the public vote.  We may as well replace Dimbleby with Ant and Dec.

This malaise is being replicated worldwide.  President Obama’s recent ‘we haven’t got a strategy’ on Islamic State, and worse comparing them to a Varsity football team beggars belief in terms of leadership.

Perhaps we need to reconnect and there is hope.  An organisation I admire, Club de Madrid  will focus on a discussion of the state and the future of democracy, marking the launch of the two-year, Next Generation Democracy (NGD) Project.  

They will pose the question ‘Is the crisis in democracy perception or reality?’  There is a growing sense that democratic governments are not delivering, and that people’s expectations are not being met.  They will lead a Call for Action, organised by them and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.  The dialogue, to be held in Italy, will offer a unique opportunity to engage in a comprehensive analysis of regional dynamics and potential threats to democracy, with nearly 100 democratic former heads of state and government and a variety of political and social actors.  Hopefully they will deliver some real leading thinking and solutions.

Closer to home, I will be in Wigan on Saturday at the fourth annual ‘Diggers’ festival.  This little know event is growing in stature and commemorates the life of Gerrard Winstanley who was born in the town.  Winstanley was part of the radical movements, like the Levellers, in the 17th century and published his ‘A declaration from the Poor oppressed People of England’ (1649).  His occupation of St George’s Hill in Surrey was a real social action that brought about change and on Saturday Wigan will remember their little known son; and bring together social and political activists, poets, musicians, artists and academics for connect us with the idea of true democracy, social action and radical activism.  I’ll be alongtaking heart that democracy is not owned by some failing elite in Westminster but is owned by us all.

In the words of Gerrard Winstanley:

“we are resolved to be cheated no longer, nor be held under the slavish fear of you no longer, seeing the Earth was made for us, as well as for you: And if the common land belongs to us who are the poor and oppressed, surely the woods that grow on the Commons belong to us likewise: Therefore we are resolved to try the uttermost in the light of reason, to know whether we shall be free men, or slaves…And if we strive for freedom, and your murdering governing laws destroy us, we can but perish.”

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