Friday, 17 June 2011

"Ism" Me?

It's my pleasure to publish a guest post from Petem130, a regular reader and commenter.

“Ism” me?

There’s been a fair bit of discussion and consideration given to “referism”. Many, who think and consider democracy, or what seems to stand for democracy these days, recognise a need for change. It’s obvious that the dialogue between the elected and the electorate isn’t working. The electorate feels disenfranchised and the elected seem to exist in a bubble, which is self-supporting, feeding and congratulatory. This is no way to run a railway.

Referism has been suggested as a potential way forward and why not? EUreferendum defines it as a “political philosophy, which states that, in the relationship between the British people and their governments, the people should be in control”. Dr. Richard North, through the EUreferendum blog, goes on to define further aspects of the term, which are based around the people taking part in yearly referendums to accept the budget on which all government activities are based.

On the face of it this seems like a reasonable and simple way forward. A simple mechanism, control the purse strings, control how much, where and when funds are spent. Politicians will, of course, take a different view. MPs have been voted for by the electorate to represent them, They are likely to cite “voter apathy”, a “lack of understanding by the voters” and any other number of views which in effect talk down the ability of the electorate to take on such responsibilities. The electorate can and does form opinions and can drive change although the present system is being manipulated to reduce the likelihood of that happening.

Referism could, perhaps, be extended to directly involve the electorate more often and on a larger number of issues. Technology exists today to ensure that greater communication can take place between Parliament and the electorate. It might be unwieldy to require all the electorate to participate all of the time however, and there’s also the specter of 1984 examples, which are less than beneficial. Perhaps a model based on the current system in place for identifying jurors, may provide a working model. This could be expanded and developed to be electronic and be used to identify a number of people from each constituency for each vote, which would be required. These people would then be “referred” to by the government and the local MP/MSP/MEP and their views and electronic vote taken into account during the decision making process. Each issue would require different people chosen at random from each constituency being involved.

Of course changes would be required to achieve this. MPs would ask what their role would be? How about listening and actioning the views of their constituents? Their role would be perhaps be diminished, although it could be argued that their role has moved away from the intended model to the detriment of their constituents. Parliamentary debate and voting would have to take place within reasonable working hours and most importantly the “whip” would have to be removed completely.

Control would necessarily move further towards the electorate with the political parties, civil service and lobbyists having to find new ways of doing things. The media would also have to alter and adapt the way they deliver news.

Revolutionary? Utopian? Naive? Probably, but in Scotland at least, surely we can consider, debate and implement an alternative which may prove to be more inclusive, direct and sustainable for all.



RMcGeddon said...

I doubt if referism would work unless we got out of the EU. We could try out all manner of ideas to improve our democracy but power now lies in Europe so it's all a bit pointless. The political parties take turns at 'leading' us but they all have the same basic ideals - more immigration, more EU laws, more overseas wars, more windmills and more surveillance. Basically the things that cost the most and remove our freedoms.

JRB said...

I’m sorry, but ‘referism’ sounds very much like ‘liberism’ gone mad.

It is the proverbial ‘headless chicken’ scenario - stumbling about without thought, purpose or direction.

A simple example …
The voters of my Highland constituency have voted for the same political party as the voters in a central belt constituency. We all accept that party’s manifesto as an overall strategy for what we all believe.

However …
Under ‘referism’ the issues that concern voters in my Highland constituency are probably vastly different to the issues that concern voters in a central belt constituency.

So …
Under ‘referism’ there is no need for a political party, and consequently there is no need for a party leader. Each and every politician will be doing exactly as he is directed by his constituency. Without leadership and direction we are back to the headless chicken scenario.

And another thing …
Wee Jimmy feels strongly about an issue in the constituency, so he is going round the pubs telling everyone about it. At the same time Lord Fauntleroy feels strongly about an issue in the constituency, so he has taken out a full-page ad in several newspapers and employed a media consultant in order to put his case across.

These examples may be ‘referism’ but are they democracy?

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Referism is as good a point for debate as any other that as a purpose tries to improve democracy. If for no other reason than the irrevocable fact the system we have now isn't working.

I think referism or something like, would have a role on major issues such as war and those which seriously effect the social fabric of a nation.

While the everyday work of an administration could be effectively policed by the representative being subject to re-call by their constituents and if its warranted sacked.

The underlying discontent is, in the main, down to the fact of our democratic process being held in stasis by those who - in too many instances for self serving reasons - administer it.

As a species, unfortunately, that's part of our nature and one that may take aeons before we can comfortably control and remove it as a factor in our administrations and governance. But that's no excuse for our democracy to be held to the "we know best" 19th century paternalism.

petem130 said...

Thanks for your comment RMcGeddon.

The plan for the new independent is to have a relationship with the EU which would still leave us with self determination.

Your model of the parties being similar doesn't fit in Scotland at the moment although it may raise it's head again following independence.

The EU may well have a serious headache on it's hands. It may unravel expensively for us all but perhaps the saved costs of membership may make things a good bit brighter.

Thanks for you views. I follow your responses and find them very useful.

petem130 said...

JRB. Interesting comments. The aim is more libertarian surely rather than tainted liberalism?

Engaging the people of Scotland directly would I suggest be a fabulous way of having a wider understanding of the differing areas or our country. Take the Tram situation in Edinburgh. At the time of the vote to proceed there was an attempt by the SNP I think to suggest that the money could be better spent. They put forward dual-ling the A9 or the Edinburgh trams. If this had been "referred" almost certainly the peoples vote would have been for the A9 solution. Central belters happily voting for the A9 upgrade along with the Highlanders who stand to gain more from it.

I think we do our country and our people an injustice by not at least trying to come up with a better political system. We have a history of innovation and enlightment. Let us see where we go and if we have the courage to be different?

petem130 said...


You don't mind if I refer to you in that manner?

The current system needs to be changed and the election result of a few weeks ago provides a unique platform for us to consider all our options.

Is there a better system out there? Can we hope to invent something if there's not?

I think we have to, but I also think we, as a people need to to believe in ourselves and drive our desire to ensure we get the political system which is right for us. Not for politicians or political parties but for us. I have to believe that we can do this.

Thanks for your time and for your interesting comment.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Petem - I wish I could answer that.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that we constantly strive for that what we aim for. And expect the same measure in our governments.

Ultimately we are responsible for the licence we allow them, and that responsibility extends to our children and grandchildren.

Here's a test you can adopt -ask you local MP where he stands on a fundamental democratic principle as opposed to his or his party's ideology?

Brian said...

Please, please don't base anything on the system for jury service - look what is allowed. I'd rather have politicians;-(.
Edmund Burke's view that MPs aren't delegates of their constituencies and that they are elected for their "industry and judgement" was fair enough at a time of slow communications and limited education, but even that didn't save him from losing his Bristol seat because he visited it so rarely.
The driving force behind Referism is to remind politicians and mandarins that they are the servants of the people and not the other way around as at present.

Jo G said...

Petem, I admire you for seeking to improve the situation as it is right now, which is dire, and there was a time I would have endorsed this idea. I know however that it would probably be unworkable because nothing would really get done very quickly if government had to consult every two minutes with a different panel of people each time. It would be expensive too.

There are those who would say that elections should serve as the only reminder politicians should need about the "power of the people". There are two problems: one is apathy (look at turnout these days, lamentable) and the second leads on from apathy because politicians don't have to really deliver very much. They don't have to be that good either to be honest. That's sad. I don't know what the answer is to engage the masses.

I share your despair. I look around sometimes, say, at work, and none of the things that interest me, alarm me, outrage me seem to even get mentioned. I think those who genuinely do care about having the right kind of democracy are in a minority. That terrifies me. I think it suits politicians tho. We may be passionate about creating something worthwhile but ultimately the apathetic majority lead to us getting the politicians we deserve.

petem130 said...

I hope the answer is clear sooner rather than later. Let's hope.


petem130 said...

The Jury service model. I'd viewed it as one of the only ways the powers that be require random people carry out duties. It's far from ideal but as a basic model it does reach people and people do it.

I've wrestled with the sparseness of our democracy. It's been in place for a long time and whilst it has been tweaked I still feel it serves the purposes of the establishment and the political parties.

It needs changed. I would like to really believe that independence could reason enough to be bold and to adopt something better. Time will tell.

Thanks for your comments. I think this problem should be revisited.

petem130 said...

Jo G,

Thanks for the helpful comments.

Apathy is probably the biggest threat in going forwards. Big issues have to be addressed to overcome this and to try to prove to the electorate as a whole that voting has value, real value.

Lets stay positive. Anything and everything can be achieved if we want it enough and are prepared to put the effort into achieving it.

Jo G said...

Petem, oh what could be achieved if we could motivate people just in our communities alone! Imagine how they would be transformed.

Jo G said...

Petem, a wee story about jury service. The last time I was called I went to the Sheriff Court in Glasgow. I was in a room eventually with those who'd been selected and the general conversation was a real eye opener. I am not a snob incidentally but I was in shock as it was clear to me that many of them didn't understand a lot of what was being said to us. They weren't paying attention to anything we were being told to do. They weren't particularly into listening to the case either (it was a case involving violence) other than to present excuses to justify why the guy in the dock had beaten ten bells out of the other guy. When it was over the guy in the dock got off and then his record was read out. He had a list of previous the length of your arm and he winked his thanks at the jury.

subrosa said...

What an interesting debate and I agree with many, insofar as now going towards independence is the perfect opportunity to create a form of government which is inclusive and not exclusive.

Presently our Parliament is a less formal version of the House of Commons and that place is well beyond its sell-by date.

Only by having the people actively involved and taking some responsibility will we improve our political system.

Switzerland is an example of how I'd like to see Scotland go forward.

petem130 said...

Jo G,

Thanks again. Great story and one I've heard similar examples of.

Education probably plays a part in this. Perhaps we don't educate our children in the importance of voting and of being part of the debate?

We have a long, long way to go.

petem130 said...

A huge thanks to you, Subrosa, for giving me the opportunity to guest post on your very popular and widely recognised and excellent blog.

subrosa said...

Thank you for the compliment but it's contributions like yours and Crinkly, Joe Public and Edward, who give it the variety and create some excellent discussions.

Jo G said...

Subrosa I think it is very good of you to share your blog as you do. There are many bloggers who guard their "space" jealously and wouldn't share it with anyone other than to allow comments. You take that a step further and I think it works very well indeed.

Jo G said...

Petem, I'm about to contradict myself here and say there is one issue I would like the Scottish Government to seek direction on: that is on the issue of a single Police Force for Scotland. I am certain the people would say no.

subrosa said...

Why thank you Jo, very kind of you to say so. I think it's important to have different opinions and ideas rather than me offering my views all the time. Makes it far more interesting for readers, as you've noticed. :)

I'm very lucky to have such eloquent guest writers too Jo.

petem130 said...

Jo G

I absolutely agree. The single Police Force is a perfect example of everyone needing a say but the result reflecting the differing needs of Scotland.

Jo G said...

Subrosa.........ah but its the hostess who has created such a great blog in the first place and made it such an interesting place to be.

subrosa said...

I'm only the catalyst Jo for others who enjoy debate.

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