Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Democracy is not the same as 'eating your greens'

If I have one perspective that I seem to press more than anyone else, it's the view that even a good idea becomes a bad one if it needs a referendum to legitimise it.

 I can't think of anything worse than a debate that is designed to polarise the electorate and then impose a hated result on up to 49.99% of the franchise. (I've done this one before)

A democracy that guarantees the greatest unhappiness for the greatest number is a travesty and I can't understand why it's not a deal-breaker for all concerned. A good democratic process would give us ample opportunity to put the question in a way that a good decision would result.

The deal on the currency's and Scotland's place in the EU, NATO and Eurovision should have been nailed down before the question was even asked so that people would know what they are voting on.

If I were a Scottish Nationalist I'd be very unhappy about achieving my goals in this way because it promises only a Pyrrhic victory. Scottish politics is a bitter affair at the best of times and it's the last place that would benefit from the decades of trench warfare that are likely to follow either outcome.

Yet, with all of this said, I think there are sections of the 'No' camp who see this as a great big Caledonian brain-burp. A messy decision to stick two fingers up to the English in general, southerners in particular, and very specifically David Cameron (who badly owes us all a dozen 'Portillo moments') rather than a real enthusiasm for independence.

There appears to be a view that the Scottish people may be sleepwalking out of misplaced skittish spite rather than a sober decision about the real question in hand. I think this is a serious mistake, and a misunderstanding of what a good democracy involves.

Though so many of the clever, good people that I know are, by a significant majority, urging a 'No' vote, it may be the case that a large slice of the Scottish people may reply: "We've heard your arguments and we've made our decision anyway."  

If they do decide to ignore the sober council that they are offered, we need to be clear: People aren't stupid. They've not been deprived of the opportunity to hear all of the arguments. That's democracy.

Democracy is not about ordinary people accepting the advice of the kind of people that technocrats would put in charge of everything. If we were to improve our democracy to the point that every pointyhead at Democratic Audit were to say that they were happy with it, the public would often stick two fingers up when they're told to 'eat their greens'.

As it happens, as far as predictions go, I'm with the bookies on this one. I think the vote will go with the 'No' camp - and probably with a larger margin than expected.

I could be wrong though...