Republicanism

#YesBecause

The following is a status update I posted to facebook earlier this evening. There are a lot of reasons we’re being asked to vote one way or another but there’s one that I feel to be most important.

Before we get started, this is going to be a long one but as the referendum draws nearer and nearer and we come closer to making the biggest decision of our lives I feel that I should present my reasoning behind voting Yes. I’d ask that whether you’re voting Yes or No or if your completely undecided, please feel free to give this a read.

There have been a lot of reasons put down on the table for voting one way or another; from equality and prosperity vs. power and security, right down to “fuck it, it’ll be a laugh” vs. “no, dear, I like things the way they are.”

We’ve heard talk of currency, resources, NATO, the EU, North Sea Oil and Gas, Trident, the Queen, debt sharing, the Vienna Convention, companies telling us they’ll move south, companies telling us they’ll stay up here,… the list goes on and on.

Some of these reasons are monumentally confusing or beyond the understanding of normal folks, for example, the finer points of a currency union aren’t going to be readily apparent to those of us who aren’t economists and the finer points of debt sharing, EU membership, etc. generally require a lawyer of some description to hand.

At many points down the line it’s even turned into a battle of the politicians, “Oh Alex Salmond’s referendum!” Let’s face it, none of us really like the current crop of politicians on either side of the border, or anywhere for that matter. But, despite what the media might spout out every now and again, it isn’t about them – it’s about us.

This referendum seems to be about a lot of things, but the one thing it boils down to is democracy.

Within the United Kingdom, Scotland is represented by roughly 8.5% of the MPs in the House of Commons, which is, admittedly, a fair representation of the population share. However, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom , for all of their similarities, are quite different entities; we tend to vote differently and we tend towards different policy areas. In Scotland, for example, a majority of people see the EU as a beneficial organisation and would opt to continue membership. However, if we go down south, a majority of voters would say that they want out of the EU.

This basically means that even if Scottish voters want to go one way, if the English electorate decide to go the other, Scotland is simply forced to do as the rUK wants. So let’s now turn to the matter of the EU: if there was a No vote but Scottish voters decided they wanted to stay in the EU and the rUK said they wanted out, Scots would be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the EU despite wanting to stay.

I only use the EU as an example because it’s been in the news quite a bit recently, but the point remains the same for any other issue, Scotland 8.5% share of any vote (parliamentary or popular) can always be negated by England’s 88% share of such a vote. This, for two countries who are so culturally and politically different, is a situation that never ends too well.

However, in the interests of getting my point across I am going to make it worse… Remember how I said we Scots had 8.5% political representation in the commons? That should boil down to being able to hold 8.5% of our politicians directly accountable to the electorate, yes? Nope.

You see, the United Kingdom is a fundamentally undemocratic country, under current guidelines the United Kingdom, as a non-EU member state, would be refused entry to the EU because it’s so undemocratic. I am talking, of course, about the House of Lords. Half of our legislative body (the Upper House) is made up of wholly unelected members, most of whom are quite incredibly removed from normal society.

Many of the members are appointed by the party in power in the House of Commons, which effectively allows the party controlling the Lower House to gain control of the Upper House. There are also a number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords – various Dukes, Earls, Counts, etc., who gained their seat in parliament by inheritance… How wonderful it is to live in a modern democracy!

Add to this the fact that there are over twenty Church of England bishops in the Lords. This means that every time a law is voted on, a single religious group (and not one with a huge following in Scotland) is getting preference over all others to input and vote on that law.

So, once we account for the Lords, the proportion of our Westminster politicians that Scots can hold accountable at the ballot box is roughly 3%.

Yeah, you read that correctly, we can hold about 3% of our politicians directly accountable. For a country that claims to be a beacon of freedom and democracy, that’s a pretty damned poor show. Not really democracy at all then…

But we do have a means by which we can change this. On September 18th, I will be voting Yes for one reason; to make sure that 100% of our country’s politicians can be held directly accountable to the electorate. This is a state of affairs that so many people in so many different countries would take for granted, but in Scotland we have been robbed of it.

A Yes vote means that every time we Scots vote in a general election, we get the governments we vote for. It means that when we don’t like a government we can chuck them out via the ballot box. It means that when we, as a nation, make a decision to move in one direction we will be able to do so.

In short, we will, for the first time in the history of our country, have the power to shape our future in the hands of the people who live here instead of in the hands of the privileged few or those in another country.

That’s why I am voting Yes, for democracy.

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Letter To Ed Miliband

The following is a letter I have sent to Ed Miliband through the “Unlock Democracy” Campaign that seeks to see an elected Upper Chamber in the United Kingdom’s parliament.

Mr Miliband,

I am writing to you today regarding your promise on Lords Reform. I am saddened that this government has not been able to reform the House of Lords, but I have faith in the Labour Party to be the ones who strike a blow for democracy. The General Election is nearing and it is my firm belief that Labour, if it truly holds its traditional values dear, should include a reform of our country’s upper house in its election manifesto.

Labour have traditionally been the party that have fought for the representation of the working classes, the ordinary folks of this country, and they have done a spectacular job in many regards, but one has been left out. More than half of our legislature is wholly unelected and out of touch with the common people of this country. The House of Lords is made up of appointed members, many of whom have vested interests, be they party political, financial, or otherwise. What’s more, they have absolutely no popular accountability.

In our day and age, to have an entire house of our legislature made up of unelected peers is quite unacceptable. Our country considers itself a beacon of democracy to the world, yet how can this be when those who propose, amend, and vote on our laws are either appointed to suit the interests of those in power or simply assume their seats by birth-right or having chosen the “correct” religion?

Mr. Miliband, I am sure you know and feel, as I and many others up and down this nation do, that there is something inherently wrong with our upper house. As the leader of the party of the working classes it should surely be within your best interests to make sure that we have an upper house that can be truly representative of and accountable to the electorate. It is, after all, the very basis of a democratic society that the people as a whole, not the privileged few, who decide who is and is not fit to write our laws.

It is my sincere belief that the people of this country have had their fill of Tory policies that benefit only those in established wealth and power; I believe that the public will give Labour its mandate to take Britain forward in 2015. Public support for an elected upper house is at an all-time high and still growing. By pledging to reform this country’s upper house, Labour would be striking a very real blow in the name of those it seeks to represent.

That is why I am asking you, as an ordinary person with a real desire to see change for the better, to make a referendum on a reformed upper house a manifesto pledge for the upcoming election. Please, help us make our country a real democracy – one that we can be proud of.

Yours Respectfully,

James Howard Whittle

If you want to get involved, you can go to http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/pages/1517 and write to the leaders of the three main parties. But don’t stop there, publish your letters, send them to a paper, send them to your local MP.

Sorry for the absolute silence from me recently, I promise, more posts on their way in the next week!

Studying, Holidays and Parties.

Hello once again, everyone. So yes, it’s definitely been a while, and I’m not really happy about it either. Frankly there has been too much going on over the past few months and I haven’t been able to simply sit down and write an entry. My course has gone from challenging to “how far can we push these kids before they break?”, curling has seemingly taken over much of my life that was left, and the holidays consisted of chasing around after family and friends going from one thing to another.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had a good few months in general, and seeing friends and family, some after quite a wee while, others for the first time, was a great way to spend the festive period. Curling so much has been great fun, it’s also been great for my game in general and I have got a greater wealth of experience in these past number of weeks that in any other season to date. But pile it all on top of my university course and then everything else that happens in between, and you have a pretty full diary.

However, I am not here to natter on about my holidays or make excuses for the long period of silence, rather I am wanting to talk about parties. No, not those parties, the holidays saw quite enough of those, I can tell you. I am talking of political parties, because regarding them, there has been quite a bit going on in the past few months. For those of you who are clued in, I was a member of the Contemporary Marxist Party until quite recently, I use the past tense because it is no longer a party; a near unanimous decision at the last meeting saw the party dissolved and reformed into a “think tank” or discussion group to be known as the “Contemporary Left”.

I was also a member of the Scottish Socialist Party for a number of months, however I chose to leave as I felt that some of the party’s ideas were perhaps not entirely sound and well enough thought through. Whilst the SSP has many good ideas, it is perhaps not the party for me, however I wish them all the best in the future and I do hope to see them do well at the next Holyrood elections.

I have spent quite a while wondering whether a political party is really the way I want to go, and if so, what do I do with that party? Work in admin and PR as I did with the CMP? Take a more front-line role such as a candidate? Or do I simply step back and move into the mire of political commentary? The latter would require me to write fairly regularly, and we’ve seen what happens when I try that. So the question now remains, what do I do, where do I go?

Well, as it happens I found another group; young, new to the political scene, still a little unsure of exactly where they need to be going, but with a real burning passion to change things for the better. It was a group that caught my eye quite quickly, a party that had one goal – to redistribute the wealth of this country and help those who need it most. Fair Equity is a very new party with a view to fielding candidates in the 2015 General Election. The main goals are to introduce a truly proportionate income tax, to nationalise key industries privatised under Thatcher and now Cameron and to end huge inheritances. One key point that sparked my interest was that all candidates would be standing for a reduced salary of £40’000 pa plus basic expenses to run a constituency office.

Whilst it is a very new party, roughly seven months old, it already has fifty members agreed to stand as candidates with well over a thousand followers on facebook. The policies may not be well developed yet, but the parties aims are good and the members simply want to make things better. So, I know find myself in the Fair Equity party, over the next wee while, I will be working with other members to help focus on some key policy areas and hopefully be a part of a real movement for change.

Well that’s about all for now, I think. I shall try and write some more stuff this year, maybe even get on top of that vlog, however having lost the cable for my camera, I may now have to use my webcam, still we’ll see how that goes. Twitter should also be a bit more lively… I really do need to get on top of this, thank god I don’t have to worry about facebook.

Anyway, as usual thanks for reading. Oh, and I’ll leave a Fair Equity poster below for you.

Fair Equity Party

The Undemocratic “Defender of Democracy”

Hello again, friends, readers and followers. Over the next couple of weeks, there will likely be a lack in posts with “meaty content”, i.e., discussing big issues in depth, as I am going to be in university doing studying and also making the preparations for starting the long rambled about video blog (namely, how the hell do I work my camera?). As I said before, I have a couple of topics lined up, such as the importance of promoting secularism within the state, the series on the currency of an independent Scotland and a couple of other things. However, before I begin my epic quest of Multi-variate Calculus and Linear Algebra, I thought I’d make a post about something that has really been niggling at me for the past couple of weeks.

Yes, you may have guessed it, climb aboard ladies und gentlemen, Jim’s hopping on the Royal Baby Train! Toot toot, peasants!

“Worship me, peasants!” Image credit – ‘Shrine of Dreams’ blog

As a Brit, you sort of become used to the Royal Family appearing in the news everyday for some new convoluted reason, “Harry flies a thing!”, “Phillip offends the entire Southern Hemisphere.”, “Charles cleans a hedge.” This list goes on, but it’s one wee story and we move on, drink some tea, complain about the weather and then tomorrow starts. However, once in a while, we get some huge thing that the entire country is obliged to celebrate and we are all informed that we are happy about; the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and, most recently, the Royal Baby.

Even whilst I was away on holiday, in the land of no computers, no broadband and no television, the Royal Baby news flooded everywhere. The radio airwaves were full of it, I even began to miss the fucking cricket! The newspapers were covered with the stories and interviews and pictures and letters and pointless points of view from people who don’t seem to matter but do simply because they’re waving a Union flag and jumping for joy. My twitter feed via my phone, my only source of real news and way of keeping followers up to speed, was swamped with the BBC’s ludicrous coverage, the Guardian’s wall to wall spreading of it and the Americans who seem fixated with our damned royals. You know what? You can have them! It’s all too much, damn it!

Because every time one of these things comes up, either celebrating sixty years of having the same head of state or being told again which one we’re getting next, we are reminded more and more just how fundamentally undemocratic our system actually is. We are reminded more and more about how happy we should be to have such wonderful people at the top of our social system. The fact is that the United Kingdom prides itself on being a beacon of democracy in the world, yet the ultimate powers of our head of state are vested in those who attain it not by merit or by popular support, but by birthright and nothing more.

Many people step in to defend the monarchy, but the fact is that in this day and age, there really is no real defence for the monarchy retaining its position in British politics. There seem to be three arguments, all of which in one way or another end up contradicting themselves, but here we go.

I – The Monarchy is a Symbol of Stability

Bullshit. If history teaches us anything it is that monarchies are anything but stable, with countless different monarchs and houses claiming power through means of assassinations, wars, succession disputes, etc. Monarchies are not stable and ours is no exception, British history is really quite a bloody one where the monarchs are concerned. They also lead to heads of state whom the people often don’t trust or who are simply incapable. George III and George IV for example were both mad and utterly incapable, yet because there were monarchs, the people didn’t have a choice and were stuck with them in charge.

If you want stability as an argument, I suppose it can be used in one fashion, tradition. And by tradition I do not simply mean manners and customs, but this ludicrous desire to hold on to a past which exists no longer. The monarchy is a symbol of our inability to move on and progress as a modern nation in a modern world.

II – The Monarchy has no Real Power

This is a favourite line of the pro-monarchists when they seek to calm a frustrated republican, but fundamentally it is a false statement. The unfortunate thing about British politics is that it hasn’t got a constitution in the sense that most modern countries do; rather, it’s constitution is made up of bills and acts of parliament. The fact that there is no single document outlining British constitutional powers, makes deducing the exact laws and powers of various aspects of the state legislature a little difficult. However, it also leaves a few loopholes for our “powerless monarchs” to flex their muscles a little.

By British law, all power for law making is derived from the crown, i.e., the ability to make and pass laws happens solely at the discretion of the reigning monarch (after all, they were put there by God…) and the monarch alone. This can be seen every time a bill is passed by parliament, it must be granted “Royal Assent”, being approved and enacted by the monarch. The monarch also has power to dissolve parliament, which she does before every general election, however which can be done legally whenever the monarch wishes. It is also the monarch that Invites the leaders of political parties to form governments, and this does not even have to be the winning party. There have been instances where the Queen has refused to allow politicians in countries of which she is head of state to form governments.

In effect, she can dissolve parliament, select whomever she wishes to form her government, or choose not to form a government at all. Whilst these powers are rarely overtly exercised, as there would be merry hell if so done, they do exist and they are very real and quite legal.

III – I Don’t want a Politician in Charge Though!

Okay, yes, politicians are inherently untrustworthy people for the most part, however you forget two vital facts when using this argument. Number one is that unlike monarchs, politicians are democratically elected and are hence accountable to the people. The means that if you don’t like them, you can vote them out. Monarchs, and this is quite a big part of the principle of monarchy, are not democratically elected, cannot be held accountable and hence cannot be voted out when you don’t like them. When people say, “Oh, I don’t particularly like William, I’d much prefer Harry as King.” I find myself flabbergasted, that is not how a monarchy works! You don’t get a say, the clue’s in the name; Hereditary Rule!

The second point is, and this somewhat contradicts the previous argument of “she has no real power” as well, the politicians are already in charge. The Prime Minister, largely and at the discretion of our reigning monarch, is democratically elected and his government makes the laws. We already have the vast majority of our power in the politicians, it seems stupid to reserve other such powers as those held by the monarch for the monarchy.

The simple fact of the matter is, that until we can evolve beyond the monarchy, and indeed the non-elected upper house of our legislature that comes with that particular package, we shall not have that democracy that we preach to others about. We shall remain a fundamentally nondemocratic nation. But it isn’t just about the undemocratic nature of it, but about the class of it too. It creates another class as well, one that we are told we must look up to, we must worship and love and that, above all, we must accept as our natural superiors, even when they are quite clearly, as in the case of the two Georges (III and IV), they are quite clearly not.

But the class aspect of this argument is, I sense, a rant for another day. However, until then, please feel free to keep the debate going in the comments; ask questions, agree with me, disagree with me or perhaps touch upon something I missed out. Thanks for reading.