The powerful are always seeking ways to limit and constrain the democratic voice of the people.
It is a source of constant frustration to the ‘great and the good’ and the professional and managerial classes that they either have to run for office, or remain at the mercy of the votes of ordinary people. It goes without saying that those who claim hereditary privileges are always uneasy about democracy.
The Scottish Parliament has not worked out as these people – and their political lackeys in the UK parties – had intended. Devolution and the d’Hondt method of proportional voting was specifically designed to stop any Scottish party, and especially the SNP, from having an overall majority and real power. but to their horror it hasn’t worked out that way.
Today in the Scotsman – where else – Allan Massie joins the fray – We need to take a second look at Holyrood
Allan Massie is worried about “politics gradually becoming a full-time professional activity”. I have a few worries on that score myself, mainly relating to direct entry to politics as a career by people who have never done anything else, and never will until they exit through the revolving door to consultancies, PR and the influence and access peddling known euphemistically as either lobbying or non-executive directorships, and Massie shares some of these concerns.
Massie, however, is no friend of the SNP or of Scotland’s independence, and his concerns unsurprisingly proved to be to limit the power of elected representatives whom the people – rightly in my view – expect to “devote all their time to their political work”. Massie’s answer is a second chamber, like the UK House of Lords.
Massie then tries to draw the teeth of critics and of pejorative perceptions of this institution – It is “strange and anomalous”, it is “not democratic”, it has a “small hereditary element”, and “most of its members have been appointed, not elected”.
But nonetheless, he wants a second chamber to display “an independence of mind, to revise legislation and hold the government to account”. In a sentence that is surprisingly badly constructed from a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he justifies the need for it -
“A second chamber is necessary because legislation needs revised, government held to account and the political class made subject to scrutiny and restraint. ”
Why should legislation, properly drafted and scrutinised by professional civil servants and the Parliament need revision?
Because somebody – political minority or unelected interest group – doesn’t like it and wants to neuter it.
The political class – i.e the elected representatives of the people – can be subject to scrutiny by their constituents, by the public at large and by a free press and media. It wasn’t the House of Lords that exposed the expenses scandal, or shone a spotlight on the crime that was the Iraq War – it was a free media. The House of Lords was the bolthole for the disgraced Speaker of the Commons after his resignation.
And what unelected apparatchiks are going to place restraints on elected representatives and the Parliament?
Allan Massie’s answer is a three element body -
“ …members appointed ex-officio – university principals, representatives of the churches, business organisations, the STUC, NFU, and arts bodies, for instance; members appointed by an independent commission because of their distinction in various walks of life; and an elected element with the requirement those who stand for election free from party affiliation.”
In other words, the usual suspects – the unelected, the ‘great and the good’ – anybody but the democratic choice of the people. A second chamber that contained the CBI, a trade union baron, a cardinal archbishop, a failed and clapped out former politician or two, a couple of retired military men, maybe a director or two from the booze and nuclear industries, a token figure from the Arts, and sundry gandy dancers and railroad men would chill my blood, and Scottish democracy would fly oot the windae.
The New Club and religious, trades union, military and commercial interests would be in the saddle, and would have the ability to paralyse the Parliament and frustrate the democratic mandate of the people.
You can shove the second chamber back in yer sporran, Allan Massie – or better still, right up the back o’ yer kilt …
(I blogged on this way back in 2010 The Establishment versus Scotland's Independence and I recently had this to say about the UK second chamber, The House of Lords.)
Here’s what www.parliament.uk says about the House of Lords -
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons. Members of the Lords play a vital role making laws and keeping a check on government.
Here’s what I say about the House of Lords – it is historical relic maintained to limit the power of elected democracy in the House of Commons – the choice of the people. It is comprised of the Lords Spiritual, who are there simply because they are unelected bishops of the Church of England, founded by Henry VIIIth to legitimise his dubious marital arrangements, by hereditary peers who are there because an ancestor either fought or bought his way into the favour of the ruling monarch of the time, and by life peers, who are unelected political appointment by one or other of the London parties, usually political hacks who once were MPs but for one reason or another were booted upstairs into the sinecure of the ermine, or former generals, admirals, etc. with a fair number of businessmen who have contributed a substantial amount to ??? - and a few figures from the arts and entertainment world.
As of 21 December 2011, this gang of gandy dancers and railroad men – and women – numbers 788, plus another 21 who are on leave of absence or otherwise unable to collect their generous attendance allowance. The elected representatives of the people in The House of Commons numbers 650 MPs. Endless rubbish is talked about reforming this pernicious, faintly ridiculous and undemocratic institution, but in the main, nothing happens because the system suits the London parties and the Establishment. (Something has been done about the hereditary peers, who never mattered much anyway, but it will be a cold day in August before the London political parties let go of their right to create new Lords.)
The Labour Party, the party of social equality, the party of the people, simply loves the House of Lords, and former horny handed Labour sons of toil can’t wait to get as far away as possible from the sordid realities of their crumbling constituencies and into the ermine and on to the red benches. Lord Martin of Springburn, the disgraced former Speaker of the House of Commons, forced to resign over the expenses scandal, was relieved to find the pain of his ignominious exit from the Commons effectively and speedily ameliorated in this way.