Opinion piece by Jonathan Southerington
Where now for democracy in the nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? The unseemly haste of the Smith Commission which excluded the populace from having any input, and delivered a miserly and mean spirited outcome.
English Votes For English Laws (how will the Tories handle that in relation to needing Scottish Tory and Ulster DUP votes?).
An EU referendum delivered by a cack handed, gambling addict Prime Minister who ran away as soon as his Roulette spin backfired.
Judicial defeat on the need for Parliament to vote on Brexit. A last Clown standing prime Minister who climbed a mountain, heard the voice of God, reached for the stars and fell flat on her face.
The dodgiest of deals with the DUP, which leaves the Good Friday Agreement hanging by a shoogly peg. The Brexit ministers who make the Chuckle Brothers seem competent.
The totally avoidable horror of Grenfell Tower and its shoddy and shameful aftermath.
This disunity of nations is to use the modern phrase “Not fit for purpose” and requires a root and branch review.
I am an English born Scottish independence supporting Green Party member, and If there was a vote tomorrow I would again vote for Scottish independence. But this does not mean that I think the democratic set up now in place in Scotland is or would be fit for an Independent nation. And my first concern is for the place that has been my home for the past 12 years.
Even if the politicians at Westminster and Holyrood were all selfless angels whose only regard was the health and well being of their constituents (imagine that!), what was best for people in a corner of Orkney would still be low on their collective agenda.
I am increasingly convinced that we need to reverse the polarity of devolution. This would mean that all democratic power starts at the smallest democratic level of community or parish councils. The electorate would then decide which powers and responsibilities to keep locally and which to sub-contract to District, County, National or International governance, with the golden rule being that local communities always have the right to revisit and amend the point at which powers are actioned.
As things stand Politicians at Westminster, Holyrood and regional council level all act as if they can dispense democracy to the electorate as they see fit. For the democratic and social health of our Nation this must end. To make this work, all elections would have to be by proportional representation to preclude domination by single parties or interest groups. The House of Lords would be abolished and replaced by an elected body and an end to the hereditary monarchy. Also councils like the Orkney Islands Council would have to end their “Secret Service” business model.
The tragic events at Grenfell Tower show how badly wrong things can go when the justifiable needs and queries of local communities are ignored. The aftermath of this disaster also highlights the total failure of central and local government to respond adequately to such a disaster.
The centralised UK state came in to being as a consequence of having to survive 2 world wars (we survived them, we didn’t win them as is often portrayed). But since 1945 we have somehow managed to lose the ability to respond as a nation to major events and harness our abilities to repair as best we can the damage done.
If as I have described power did truly start at local level then the train of events that led to the Grenfell tragedy would be more likely to be stopped in their tracks. Since the early 80’s deregulation has been the mantra of choice, and over the last 7 years central government has placed regulatory responsibility with local government and various quangos but starved them of the powers and resources to actually regulate, with disastrous consequences.
Examples of how truly local democracy could work are that Orkney could possibly decide to end exams for school students under the age of 17, with the emphasis on course work, and a broader curriculum to suit all talents. An Orkney Sustainable Investment Bank invested in by the local councils and private individuals to help develop the Orkney economy in order to regrow the local population by making it a place to return to for young people and invest of themselves. A locally owned energy grid to make full use of our renewable energy potential, reduce our carbon emissions, reduce our carbon imports and most importantly end fuel poverty.
If we sit around waiting for central governments to lend a hand places like Orkney will wither on the vine, like so many places have. And if anyone doubts our potential, are the Faroe Islands any more able and talented than the Orkney Islands, I certainly think not.
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