Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A fair voting system for Westminster - to save the union and end the macho culture of politics

Gerry Hassan recently set out 11 reasons why independence for Scotland would be a good idea. Reading them, I just kept thinking that independence was a bit of a drastic solution. The Scottish Parliament already has powers that would enable it to do something about child poverty and inequality - yet the SNP has slashed the social housing budget.

He also mentioned changes to the NHS in England. I think the phrase "in England" was pretty critical. Are they happening up here? Does anyone want to see them happening up here? No. We don't need independence to insulate ourselves from that - and, frankly, it's not strictly speaking our business. We certainly need to have a proper look at a constitutional settlement which creates a federal UK and deals with the West Lothian question, but we don't need independence.

Hassan also cites the UK being the most centralised country in Western Europe. Indeed it is. Here in Scotland, though, we have three political parties, Labour, the SNP and the Tories to a certain extent who would centralise anything that sat still for long enough. It's not long since the SNP were talking about centralising control of schools. The SNP and Labour are passionate about the appalling idea of a single Scottish Police Force. The Tories were for it and might be against it depending on who they elect as leader in two days' time.

As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, well, actually, moving them from Faslane to Cumbria doesn't do it for me. I want them off my island, thank you very much.

It's his last point that made me think, though. He talked about how Tory Governments at Westminster create a "crisis of legitimacy" because Scotland doesn't vote Tory. Neither does most of the north of England, too. However, the first past the post electoral system doesn't deliver the parliament people ask for. If it did, there would currently be around 140 Liberal Democrat MPs to match our 23% of the vote. There would be more of a balance at Westminster, leading to the likelihood of parties having to work together.

That would deal with both the legitimacy issue and the boorish, macho, misogynistic culture which is much more prevalent in Westminster than it is at Holyrrod. The disgraceful treatment of Eilidh Whiteford, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, by the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the pugnaciously tongued Ian Davidson, which she wrote about eloquently in Scotland on Sunday, is a symptom of a much deeper malaise. Bellegrove Belle wrote about the experience of women in politics and cites Winnie Ewing's experience at Westminster. Alex Salmond doesn't seem to have had such a horrendous time - he was quite happy to stay in Westminster when forced to choose in 2001, so I suspect Ewing's and Whiteford's experiences are more to do with misogyny than unionism. By the way, I had been quite cross with Alan Reid, our representative on the Scottish Affairs Committee for going along with Ian Davidson's apology. I still am, but I was struck by Eilidh describing him as "mild-mannered". He is lovely and it's unsurprising, but good to know that she acknowledges that he's not a bully.

I think most women in  politics will have their stories to tell about occasions when they have encountered sexism of some sort. It might not have set them back, but it's made them feel uncomfortable.  My party is not blameless by any stretch of the imagination as Ruth Bright wrote recently for Liberal Democrat Voice. Even benign comments, like the "ooh, catfight" comment by a senior party figure who actually does know better on hearing of an election being contested by two women, are not an example of good practice.

I came across this paper by Stephanie Jones, Nickie Charles and Charlotte Aull Davies on the difference in culture between Westminster and the Welsh Assembly highlighting a critical mass of women and family friendly practices making a difference.  I certainly think the Scottish Parliament is better than Westminster, although its gender balance is slipping and there are ugly moments like when Labour caused problems with Angela Constance's maternity leave. They said it was cos the SNP were a nightmare in previous sessions of the Parliament. That makes it all right then! I despair. There are plenty ugly aspects to our political culture in Scotland that need to be dealt with, but that's for another day.

Women tend to do better in PR systems of elections and they produce parliamentary arithmetic which requires consensus. So it simply introducing PR at Westminster could have a very healthy effect not only on politics but could deal with some of the things that are wrong with the union. What's not to love?


Angus McLellan said...

But the NHS in Scotland isn't insulated from changes to the NHS in England if those changes have consequences for the level of funding in Scotland. It's true that a greater degree of fiscal autonomy could break - or at least reduce - that linkage, but no "UK" party has a policy of devolving significantly more tax powers.

As for voting reform, the Lib Dems had a chance to put a fairer system to a referendum. And what did Nick do? He offered us AV, the only system which is less proportionate than the present one. The result was that many people - like me - who would have voted for something like STV held our noses and voted to keep FPTP.

On the issue of mysogyny and machismo you've got a point. But if you are right that PR is an essential part of the solution then that means that, thanks to Nick, there is no solution likely at Westminster any time soon.

Anonymous said...

My commitment to Scottish Independence was pretty much sealed by the May 5th referendum result.

First and foremost I want to live in a democracy and that requires, at a bare minimum, not using First Past the Post.

I have an opportunity to persuade my fellow Scots to leave the Union and live in state with proportional representation sooner than I get the opportunity to persuade my fellow Britons to adopt proportional representation.

Unknown said...

Firstly, nice to see a positive post discussing the future.

However, I think last year's AV referendum was the final nail in the coffin for reform.

It is unlikely that Westminster will be "fixed" in my lifetime, nor do I see the corrupt British/London institutions like the City of London ever being repaired or replaced.

I'm lucky that I live in a part of Britain that has a chance to change, unlike northern England who will probably be forever be stuck with that Westminster.

I also now see the LibDems are part of the problem rather than a solution. Yet again you vaguely mentiona Federalism, but that is as likely to happen as a PR voting system.

What I see is LibDem ministers entering into the very system that they claim they want to reform (making small liberal contributions I do admit). Flo Benjamin (lovely as she is) straight into the House of Lords - how democratic is that?

Nick Clegg should have listened to Paddy Ashdown who said that he would never go into a coalition as a small party without getting PR voting system in the bargain.

After Independence, I hope there will come again a strong liberal party in Holyrood. However, me and Douglas might be the only members (and voters) of the Scottish Swiss Liberal Green party.

cynicalHighlander said...

You'll never in a million years change the corruption embedded in the very fabric of Westminster from thye inside.

Well well total hypocrisy LibDem style.

Anonymous said...


This is a thoughtful post but I think you are completely mistaken if you think that the Scottish Government has the power to tackle Child Poverty.

This cuts across all of the big spending portfolios; local govt (education and housing), justice and health.

Under the terms of the devolution settlement to invest more in one area, you have to invest less in one or both the others. In the current climate, it is a bloody miracle there is any increased investment in any portfolio.

And the real power to alleviate the symptoms are all in the tax and benefits system that is reserved.

Until we can spend all our wealth on our priorities things will never change. You can delude yourself about PR all you like but the fact is that, under PR today, we would still have a Tory/LibDem coalition pursuing a regressive economic agenda.


Related Posts with Thumbnails