Sunday, 3 January 2016


The next head of state

We've talked before about the lack of democracy in the UK.

Despite being lectured at school about the Great British democracy, better and more democratic than foreigners could ever imagine, only a fool could imagine that what exists at Westminster is anything other than a travesty of democracy.

We start off with a non-elected, non appointed head of state, who apparently cannot be removed even if she is certified mad. We were told at school that she had no real powers, but of course we discovered recently that that is far from true. Not only does she have powers but she, and her son, use them. On a regular basis.

She has a Privy Council. A body of the "great and the good" of hundreds and hundreds of members, for which the quorum is 3. It's a body which in principle only ever dictates matters as mundane as English public holidays, but which in fact has the power to pass (and does on occasion, pass) legislation that no one wants scrutinised, without it ever being scrutinised.

Then there's a House of Peers, populated by a mixture of proper aristocrats, pretendy aristocrats that have bought their way into power, and churchmen from one of the dozens of religions that operate in the country. Because the UK state religion is Church of England.

Then we have a lower house that is actually elected. However, because it is elected by a first past the post system, it is generally unrepresentative of the populace.

The present UK Tory government was elected by around 38% of those who voted, and 28 % of the possible voting population. 62% of those who bothered to vote didn't want the government we now have. That is a reasonably substantial majority against the government.

So, in what way is this democracy?

But, even that isn't sufficient for David Cameron, who appears to me to be a man who wants to have everything his own way. Or, at least, the way of his friends. His rich and powerful, and frequently titled friends.

He has systematically set about reducing the power of anyone who might oppose him.

He is introducing draconian Trades Union legislation that will make it much more difficult for unions to take any legitimate action against employers. 

In the light of the Lords delaying his assault on working tax credits, he intends to curb that chamber's power to act on what is called "secondary" legislation. 

He has introduced powers to the House of Commons to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on legislation that the Speaker decides mainly concerns England or England and Wales. (Strangely he has not offered the same for "Welsh only" legislation, which will continue to be voted on by English MPs. Nor has he insisted that only Scottish MPs can serve on the Scottish Grand Committee.)

According to some people's reading of it, this is a way of ensuring that, while Labour may win a UK election in the future, it will not be able to effectively govern England (the bulk of its job) unless it gets a majority IN ENGLAND (under the FPTP system). The law may effectively lock Labour out of power in their so-called "United" kingdom. A Labour UK majority, with a Tory English majority would effectively be unable to pass legislation for England.

The redrawing of ward boundaries throughout the union will also have an effect upon democracy. Firstly the Tories want to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, which, of course, is no bad idea on its own. But the new boundaries will be drawn up using a voting registration system not used anywhere else in the world. This article explains it, and suggests that it may benefit the Tories by 15-20 seats. Once again the likely gains are in England, making it even more difficult for Labour to form an effective government.

Additionally Cameron's chancellor has reduced what is known as Short money. Named after the man who first proposed it, Short money is the finance that is made available to opposition parties to fund their staffing, researchers, lawyers, etc. The government itself has the Civil Service to do this work for it. This reduction will mean that all opposition parties will be less well funded to provide an opposition to the UK government.

Taken one by one none of these moves might give rise to concern, but taken together they seem to me to be eroding what little democratic voice the population has.

In the meantime we should remember that Cameron has removed the royals from FoI legislation. He wants to remove both Scotland and the rest of the UK from European Human Rights legislation, possibly from the Council of Europe and the EU. And inquiries into anything that goes wrong are often either drawn out for so long that people forget about them, or simply terminated

We are now on the third attempt to inquire into child abuse in the upper classes. Previous ones having failed becasue of the government's incredibly inept appointing of friends of the establishment to the chair.

The opposition and press in Scotland are fond of accusing Scotland of being a one party state. Presumably this is based on the fact that, using a voting system preferred by the Tories, and not by the SNP,  the National Party won the majority of Scottish seats in the UK parliament back in May last year on only 50% of the vote.

These are of course farcical and low level arguments from people who clearly have never visited a one party state, where you can be imprisoned, executed, some places boiled in oil, for opposing the leader. And neglecting the facts and figures of Scottish democracy: the number of opposition members in the councils, parliament and EU parliament; the fact that the BBC and press clearly support unionist parties, and that in the up coming election, at least 7 parties are proposing candidates. 

Still, it resonates with people who don't really know what is happening, and to whom it sounds like Todor Zhivkof's Bulgaria in the 80s, or Kim Jong Un's current regime in North Korea.

Isn't it, in light of all these changes, a more realistic description of the way that Cameron is taking the UK than of Scotland?

I don't think we are moving in the right direction. Do you?


  1. Great article, and rather a long reply I'm afraid, but the above got me thinking. A few ideas.

    Under Cameron, the Tories are far worse than they ever were under Thatcher. There is far too much influence by business and the banks, and only in recent years have things come to light, such as expenses scandals and cover ups.

    But let's balance things a little. The SNP is not squeaky clean by any means when it comes to business. They are influenced by Soutar and Murdoch. Trump too was once a welcome friend. And the STV seem to be a little bit too close to Sturgeon, given that frankly god awful hogmany show. On a par of awfulness with Jackie Bird behaving like a teenager with the "BYC".

    But let me return to the Conservatives. What we are seeing is an attempt to consolidate their power forever. Their proposals for union reform is a step even Thatcher would not dare cross, and I still believe that if the policy is implemented, then the unions may simply ignore them and call a general strike. The junior doctors managed to get the Government to back down, despite all the propaganda about "patient safety".

    We are not helped by a Labour opposition that is more opposed to itself than the Government. Corbyn may be popular and have some - and I stress some - good ideas. But the guy is not a leader and his history of opposing previous Labour leaders has not bit him hard on the arse.

    Royal family? Personally I have no issue with them provided there is some serious reform. Keep the senior royals but get rid of the limpets. Princess Anne for example works her arse off; unlike a couple of her nieces.

    House of Lords? Seriously in need of reform. Most of the seats should be elected. As for the remaining seats, I've already proposed a system where there are lay positions for the general public from all walks of life, based on a voluntary system.

    Expenses & Subsidies. Let's remove all subsidies from all Parliaments. There is absolutely no need for cheap restaurants and bars. Expenses to be limited to essential travel and accommodation. Buy a hotel in London and use that. Also better for security.

    Gifts - a policy of politicians being unable to accept gifts. All must be reported and any gifts donated to a charity unrelated to the politician concerned.

    Finally - anyone who holds the post of Chancellor MUST, MUST have an accountancy / finance degree. Not effing history!


    1. Yes, I can agree with most of what you say there Zog.

      I may sometimes give the impression that I think the SNP can do no wrong. I don't think there is a party anywhere from Albania to Zambia that can do no wrong. So no, the SNP is not perfect by a long way.

      They are made up of people and people are faulty. Politicians are perhaps no more or less faulty that other people, but the bigger the party, the more faulty items you are likely to have.

      I don't by and large criticise the SNP because I think there are plenty of other "media" doing that. But it doesn't mean I'm blind to faults.

      I'll vote for them because they are our best chance of getting out of this uneven unfair union.

      Cameron has gone far further than Thatcher would have dared. Of that there is no doubt. But of course it is easier for him after 18 years of her and Major, and a further 13 years of Blair and Brown all going in the same direction. Cameron couldn't have done what he is doing now, the other four hadn't gone before him paving the way.

      I too think that unions will be pushed to strike illegally. Then we will see what Cameron will do. Will he face them down? Or will he fold his tent?

      I agree about Corbyn. He needs to get a grip on his party. They need to know soon what they stand for. (We are still waiting to find out what Labour in Scotland stands for at the next election. All we know so far is that the SNP are at fault for everything.)

      Either on purpose or by accident, the Tories have got rid of the Liberals; their EVEL will effectively remove Labour as a possible English government; they want to neuter the unions, not allow us to know what the top people are doing; and deny us the kind of rights that other people in Europe have. They are effectively the UK government for the next 10 maybe 20 years.

      As for the royals, I'm an avowed republican, and although I appreciate that some of the royals bring a deal of pleasure to people, and, as you say Anne works her butt off, I want to see them gone as a ruling family.

      That one family can live in 6 palaces filled with priceless art treasures while people a mile away live in a cardboard box is ridiculous. That it is entirely up to them whether they work hard, like Anne, or go on holiday 17 times in a year is a scandal. Anne should stand for president. Andrew and his blood princesses should go get a proper job.

      As for the expenses thing, I totally agree.

      I read the other day that in the palace of Westminster there are 12 bars and restaurants which we subsidise to the tune of £4m+ a year. No wonder Bercow will not let us know about the alcohol problems that are apparently rife in that building. But equally there should be no subsidies in Cardiff, Belfast or Edinburgh. The rest of us don't get cheap food and booze at work.

      Gifts too should all be donated to charity for sale, or to be used for the people. Nothing should be kept. Salmond gets top marks for doing that when he stood down as FM.

      I can see the chancellor argument, but I wonder then if the health ministers should be qualified in some branch of medicine, the educations ones in some pedagogical trade... John Swinney is a solicitor, and I think he makes a fair hand of finance. Not saying I disagree, just not sure.

    2. Zog

      Re business influence.

      Mr Soutar for his faults, helps finance the SNP. Murdoch and Trump look after their own interests. I do not think I ever heard of either Murdoch or Trump giving money - or Jabba would have surely told us.

      Parties need money. Leaflets are not donated by printers, billboards are not free. The public are none too keen on state funds for politics. And I don't think we are anywhere near as corrupt as politics is in say Eastern Europe nor as "bought" as it appears to be in the US.

      I donated for a few years before I joined. Now I am a member. The only influence I want is to see my country independent. Until that happens I don't particularly care where the money comes from. But from what I can see, much of it comes from selling badges and holding raffles. The contributions of Lotto winners, Thespians and business owners are to be welcomed. They lighten the burden on the rest of us.

      S A

    3. Funding is another matter of concern.

      Again regardless of party, but it's hard to see how you can stop people giving to a cause they wish to give to.

      I suppose the answer is to watch who gives what and who gets what.

      It's no secret now that many of the people who gave large sums to the tories ended up with seats in teh lords.

      Now the other things, the OBEs and MBEs and K/DBEs are just silly baubles that those who like that kind of thing, like. They are actually worth nothing. Sirs and Dames may get better seats in top restaurants, but that's about it.

      But seats in parliament are another thing altogether. Likewise so are massive contracts.

  2. I would probably encourage smoking, fracking and Private Health care if I was being paid those amounts of money to advocate them. It is for that reason that elected MP's and their advisors and anyone else with influence should be squeeky clean. It should be an offence against democracy for any elected representative or party political hack to receive largesse from anyone, apart from through annual membership subscriptions.

    We are moving towards an American system where the triad of Military, Industrial and Financial insitutions treat our democracy as a convenient facade for doing whatever the hell they like.

    1. I don;t think we'll e er get squeeky clean 100%, but once upon a time, but we should be looking at proper punishments for people who are corrupt. More than just denying them the K or the seat in the Lords....

    2. Tris,

      Thanks for the reply and a Happy New Year to you! You run a fascinating web-site.


      Agreed, there will always be back door deals. But the front door should expect all politicians to be arms length from lobbyists, especially those with parachute positions for MP's and the rest who bend to their will, either with cash up front or through future largesse.

      The ones that do back door deals, if and when caught, should be debarred from public life for evermore.

      I quite like the nominal Scottish position that it is the electorate that is sovereign, not any-one else. We ought to investigate how that could be made to happen without allowing spurious assaults on our elected representatives, as we have seen recently.

    3. Thank you Douglas.

      I appreciate your support.

      I too like the "people sovereign" Scottish position. It's a pity that currently on most stuff it is overridden by the English position that the Queen and parliament are sovereign.

  3. Tris

    You and I have occasionally had brief online chats about fracking. Here are links to the report to the SNP government about fracking. The report deals systematically with the concerns raised about fracking. I think that fracking would be beneficial for Scotland. It can be done safely and without a huge "footprint". Communities should be consulted. If fracking is to go ahead ( the report identifies the likely regions that may be most prospective) it will provide significant employment for those areas. If, as Shetland has done, the communities involved receive a tax /percentage of the profits from fracking they may become very prosperous. If an independent Scotland retains a controlling interest in fracking it can add substantial amounts to an oil/gas fund to rival Norway.

    Here is the link:

    and here is a link to Younger writing about the report and fracking.

    Best wishes - happy New Year.


    1. Hi Sam. Nice to 'see' you again.

      I'll have a read. Like climate change, I know too little about fracking to express a knowledgeable or intelligent opinion.

      I tend to err, therefore on the side of caution. I'm not saying that it will happen , but it's too late to worry about it when the damage has been done sort of thing.

      Happy to listen to arguments on both sides and if it IS safe, then I have no problems with adding it to our basket of power sources.

  4. We campaigned to change this for Scotland with Independence, Labour in Scotland campaigned to keep us tied to this system. Labour in England failed, after 5 years of Tory government, to win England.
    They deserve now to be removed from the political landscape in Scotland.
    It's a very sad thought that in the 70s it was said if the SNP had a majority of Scottish MPs in Westminster Independence would be declared. SNP have majority in Holyrood and all but 3 Scottish MPs in Westminster, and we waver!

    1. Actually Mrs Thatcher once said, the Scots don;t need a referendum on independence. All they need to do is elect a majority of pro independence MPs.

      I dare say she would worm her miserable way out of that if she were still here instead of wherever she is.

    2. WOW....I just can't pass up that comment from Maggie. So allow me to take this opportunity to once again get back up on an old familiar "American" high horse.

      I would like to give the witch Thatcher the benefit of the doubt here, and suggest that maybe she was (perhaps inadvertently) instructing the citizenry of Britain about their system of governance, (which it seems to me that a lot of them don't seem to comprehend.) As long as they don't have a written constitution that defines in absolute terms the fundamental nature of the nation, then under the system of parliamentary sovereignty, they are never safe from the day-to-day democratic will of the rabble in Parliament assembled. Without a written constitution from which all political sovereignty flows, absolutely anything can happen. Scotland didn't have a constitution in 1707, and so it only took a simple majority vote of two parliaments, formed by whatever happened in the previous elections, to cede the sovereignty of Scotland to the United Kingdom.

      And that just involves the sovereignty of a nation. There are no human rights in Britain either that a majority vote in Parliament cannot take away tomorrow.

    3. PS: Let me be clear that I was not suggesting praiseworthy selfless behavior on Thatcher's part. Just pointing out the irony of a Tory politician stumbling upon the unvarnished truth in service of their own self-interest. Happens with the occasional Republican politician in America from time to time too.

    4. Yes, Danny.... but of course at the time when she said it it was about as likely as the USA voting for Kim Jong Il as its next president.

      Out of the then 72 (I think) MPs, pro independence made only 3 or 4 representatives.

    5. @ Tris: Yes....I can imagine Maggie's smugness when she uttered the Parliamentary fact. that you mention it. Mulling over the possibility of a Donald Trump Presidency, I'm now giving some thought to backing Kim Jong Il next November. ;-))

    6. It's an idea!!!!!

      I mean he's just as batshit mad, but his hair is a lot better.

  5. "Princess Anne works her butt off", sorry zog, but you and I must have different interpretation of hard work! The Royals have never done a days graft in their entire life! They think that manual labour is a Spaniard.
    P.S tris, worth waiting for...........regards, Ronnie.

    1. Thanks Ronnie.

      I guess it depends what you call work. For some of us being driven in a posh limo to a place where everyone fawns over you, being fed, cutting a ribbon and feigning interest, is a day's work.

      For others a day's work is lifting and carrying for an unappreciative boss.

      That said, some royals do virtuially nothing for their keep and some, like Anne do take on a lot of engagements.

      I'd bin the lot of them tomorrow, but I did, until very recently, have a very elderly friend who got so much pleasure out of a visit from princess Alexandra, it was unbelievable. She made an elderly lady and her sister so incredibly happy.

      You have to take that into account, I think.

      It is however, high time that we stopped all the ghastly hangers on who seem to do nothing by party and holiday, at our expense.

  6. We must do all in our power to prevent that ecolunatic from getting anywhere near the throne , maybe a campaign of ridicule would be a good start !

    1. I have high hopes that Charlie will do for himself fairly rapidly after his mother's death.

      My first expectation is a confrontation with the Archbishop of Canterbury about the status of Queen Mrs Parker Bowles.

      To be followed with all sorts of contretemps with the government.

  7. Tris

    Great post and I agree with virtually all of it and many of the comments made by posters. As we have both agree with in the past, as I have hammered home in my own blog, and on twitter, we do not and never have lived in a democracy. We might have a vote but it comes with conditions laid down by the Conservatives and Labour over the years and weakened more and more over the years.

    I agree with zog above, Thatcher would not have dared try to do what Cameron is doing to our limited democracy, not because she was not smarter than pig boy but because I do think she would have seen what he is doing as a step too far, plus Westminster at that time was filled with far smarter people and in Labour you still had many of the old guard from the 70's so the results would have been very different.

    The Windsor's are a disgusting family and I hate everything they stand for, they are undemocratic and have no place in the modern world. I might have more time for them if they had as much to say about poverty and the attacks on their poorest and most vulnerable subjects than they do for buildings. They have far more influence over decision making than most people realise and I could not give a shit if they give pleasure to anyone. This awful family don't even pay the minimum wage, they are as much scumbags than Mike Ashley at Sports Direct but less honest.

    The HoL needs reform but it won't be reformed, Cameron will weaken it but not make any major changes to it's numbers or what it does. Labour and the Liberals will do nothing to push for reform as it will soon be the only place they actually have any power in. While I remain a committed Liberal the party is a huge disappointment and in many ways is lost. It has some more falling to do before any real change happens. Corbyn does need to get a grip of his party, he was naïve to think for one minute that scumbag Tories like Hilary Benn would fall into line, he needs to weed them out. He has been given a mandate like no leader before him and if that means many break away then so be it. It is time for the members to control that party and rebuild it, sadly we do need a Labour movement and a strong one, but one that actually represents poor and working people in England and one that offers real opposition to the SNP in Scotland.

    The SNP are in real danger of becoming complacent, while they have handled the bridge situation really well the budget, although limited in what they could do because of fiscal traps, the budget was virtually a mirror of Osbourne's and by passing on billions of cuts to local authorities avoided the wider issues to a degree on how we pay for public services. Like you I tend to not have a go at the SNP that often as they have done a decent job but they still need to exercise care.

    In fact I will turn this reply into a blog as it has got me motivated after my fat arse has been stuck to the sofa for the last two weeks.


    1. He he Bruce, Glad you got motivated.

      It's hard to get into it after a break...


  8. Munguin has produced quite a comprehensive demolition of Westminster UK democracy. I hope that I will be forgiven for pointing out though that the role of churchmen in the House of Lords is surely not quite right.

    There are indeed dozens of religions that operate in UK but because the UK state religion is Church of England the only religion represented there, as a religion, is the Church of England. That "Christian" church supplies Bishops to make up the entire body of the "Lords Spiritual" . No other religion is represented there, not Catholic, not Church of Scotland, not Muslim etc. There are Catholics, Jews and Muslims etc in the House but they are not there to provide spiritual guidance. This is the monopoly of the Church of England, the brainchild of Henry the Eighth. The presence of any other religion is accidental.

    1. HI Jock.

      That was really what I meant. There are a very wide range of religious beliefs rep[resented in the Lords. But none other than the bishops and archbishops of the CofE is there specifically because of his/her religion.

      Although, it has, I believe, become the custom in recent years to offer a seat to the Chief Rabbi of England.

      I believe the only other house of parliament that makes space for religious leaders is the one in Iran.