The peoples of the UK have been cheated out of democratic reform for over a generation. In response, Scotland has worked methodically to create a chance for this to change.
My first memory of “democracy” was the 1979 devolution referendum. I was 8 years old at the time.
Back in those days, when there was an election, every lamppost and railing in the country would be covered in cardboard signs from the opposing sides in the campaign. I wondered what this was all about, and asked my parents. My Mum explained to me that we were very lucky, because we lived in a special kind of country called a democracy, where the people are free, and choose the way the country is run. They did this by going into a polling station and putting a cross on a piece of paper next to the option they liked best, and this was called voting. She told me that many people had died in the two world wars so we could live in a free country like this. Then she explained that this was a special kind of vote called a referendum: because Scotland used to be a separate country, the people here were different, and we needed to decide if we ran more things here ourselves.
Mum explained that one day I would be a grown up, and would have to vote in elections. This was very important, and all the adults took it very seriously, because their parents and grandparents had been prepared to die in wars to give us this right.
The following week when the vote took place, I asked my Mum again what had happened. She told me the YES vote had won the referendum. “So there is going to be a parliament in Scotland, then?”, I asked her. No, she said, looking sad. She explained that there had been a special test in this vote that more than a certain number had to vote YES before it happened, even if most of the people voted YES.
That day at school, all the children were confused and upset. We had been excited that Scotland was becoming more free, and didn’t think it was fair that most people had voted for this, but that it wasn’t going to happen. Our primary 4 teacher had to take time out of lessons to try and explain to us what had happened. By the end of the day most of us thought the people in London sounded like cheats, and they had never really meant to let the Scottish people have what they wanted all along.
Despite the fact that my own parents were working-class One Nation Conservatives, throughout the 1980s I became increasingly appalled at the detachment of the Thatcher government, and the contempt with which the people of Scotland were treated. It seemed that the natural resources of our country were being stolen, to pay for a failed ideological experiment in England, and it didn’t matter that the majority of people in the UK never voted for Thatcher, and despised everything that she stood for.
As a student, I was a signatory to the Charter 88 constitutional reform movement, which demanded (among other things) a fair voting system, an elected House of Lords, federal regional government, and a written constitution. In the run up to the 1997 general election, Tony Blair signed up to this programme, only to later renege on his promises, and cherry pick the parts of the plan which maintained his own power. As a result, the House of Lords remained unelected, and the House of Commons remains chosen on the basis of about 100,000 swing voters in marginal constituencies, mostly in middle England. In addition, assemblies were created in Scotland and Wales, but none in England, leaving a bizarre democratic deficit which causes greatest damage to the people of England outside of London.
The current government have done no better. Despite signing up to a coalition agreement promising reform of the Lords and a modest improvement in the voting system, the Tory part of the government have systematically betrayed their pledges to improve the democracy of the UK. This included conducting personality-based attacks on the leader of their coalition partners during the AV campaign.
The people of Scotland, however, have driven a process for democratic improvement through the Scottish Constitutional Convention, Devolution Referendum, Scottish Parliament, minority and majority SNP governments, and now an agreed and legally recognised referendum on Scottish Independence. If passed, this would make Scotland the first part of the UK to be entitled to call itself a democracy, with a straight face.
But the old habits of the Westminster elites are being played out again. The UK government signed up to the Edinburgh agreement because they were convinced the people of Scotland would vote NO. Now that it seems there is a significant chance we will vote YES, they have sent the Chancellor to Scotland to threaten politically-motivated economic sanctions if we don’t do as we’re told.
I am tired of broken promises, dashed hopes, and being told I live in a democracy, when clearly I do not. Even as 8 year old children, my classmates and I could see that what was going on was unfair and dishonest. Nothing has fundamentally changed in the UK since then, except the slow and steady progress of the Scottish people towards democracy. I want the whole of the UK to be democratic, fair and equal, but when the people of the UK rejected AV in 2011, I became convinced that the only way this will now happen, is if the people of Scotland vote for Independence on the 18th of September.
Over the years I have taken a keen interest in Constitutional Affairs, Politics and History, and how those subjects cut across one another. Recently I have also become increasingly interested in Economics, and in particular how this relates to Politics, and the exercise of power and fairness in society.
This blog is a series of articles and posts on these subjects, as they relate to the Independence debate. I hope in its own small way it will contribute to the unprecedented democratic debate we are having in Scotland, and will convince at least a few of my compatriots out there to embrace the democratic change we want and deserve.
Ian MacDonald 18th February 2014