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Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Reform the Commons and like Scotland give power to the people

Article published in The Scotsman. Click here for the article.

"It's all over. The script has been written. We simply await the author reading the last lines and closing the book. The result of the UK election is as sure as Simon Cowell making another million from this year's X Factor.

So predictable. So dull. The UK's political pendulum swings again. The only hint of electoral excitement, other than the fun of baiting the BNP on Question Time, is predicting whether David Cameron can secure an outright majority. If he does, then, as others before him, he'll have 'won' absolute power on a minority of the vote. We call that democracy.

If he doesn't, my own prediction, then the fun begins. Power would have to be shared, political respect would have to be earned, argument would have to be won. Votes in the House would matter once more.

In Scotland, we're ahead of the game. Since devolution, the people have been the authors of our own political story and we haven't yet trusted any single political party to hold power on its own. Our politicians responded firstly with Executive coalitions, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and now with a minority SNP government that has to fight its corner at every turn.

But this more representative, inclusive, democratic style of politics is a result of the electoral system and not, as would be the case at Westminster, in spite of it.

Our democracy has been strengthened by ensuring that every vote counts – or, at least, when we get the counting process right. If a single party can command majority public support then it deserves an outright majority in any parliament. If not, then the government must seek to reflect the prevailing mood of the nation, as it clearly has done in Scotland since our new century began.

The big policies that have hallmarked Holyrood (eg the smoking ban, free personal care, freezing the council tax) all commanded majority support in the Chamber. This makes for better, longer-lasting legislation that provides political stability across the life-cycles of the policies rather than the much shorter life time of any individual administration.

Imagine, for a moment, a hung UK parliament. No single party with an outright majority. Or no party in receipt of an electoral bonus the scale of which our greedy bankers would recognise; failure to secure a majority of votes rewarded with absolute political power. Our democracy is broken.

As we prepare for the forthcoming UK election we must remember that just like our banking system, our electoral system is in crisis. The crisis in confidence in our political class at Westminster, already heading into the trough, became critical with the expenses scandal. And just as we seek to stimulate our economy back to life with the shock treatment of injecting huge amounts of financial capital, so our democracy would respond to an injection of political capital – the type that would make every vote count.

Here in Scotland, democracy is alive and kicking. Nurtured and nourished by devolution, our elections are exciting, energetic and unpredictable. Why? Simple. We injected our own political capital by making every vote count.

It has led to better legislation. It has also led to a cleaner bill of health for our parliament. MSPs face tough competition all year round. They operate in a political marketplace that hands power back to the people.

Vote for a Change is seeking to get voting reform on the General Election ballot paper. In anybody's book, that's worth voting for.

Ross Martin, Policy Director

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