Posted on November 21st, 2021
By Rab Bruce’s Spider
Sir Kenneth Clarke, former Tory MP and Government Minister, has recently denounced the lack of democratic accountability in the UK and warned that Boris Johnson is on the brink of turning the UK into an elected dictatorship. It’s hard to disagree with that assessment, but reading an account of his warnings in The Guardian, I was struck by how far Sir Kenneth Clarke did not go.
It is important to remember that Sir Kenneth Clarke is a Knight of the Realm and very much part of the Establishment. He may bemoan the fact that the Party he is a member of has moved away from what he sees as Tory core values and lurched to the extreme Right, but his solution is sadly lacking in focus. He says the UK needs a written Constitution, and again I don’t think many people would disagree, but he made no mention of some other changes which would be essential. To be fair, it may be that a proper Constitution would set these issues out, although Sir Kenneth Clarke glossed over that aspect. Perhaps he did that because he knows full well that there is no way the current UK parliament would approve a Constitution which actually addressed the fundamental problems with UK democracy. Because, among the many things wrong with the way democracy works in the UK, the two real big issues are the archaic and inherently unfair First Past The Post electoral system which is designed to ensure that one of the two Establishment Parties retains power, and the impending boundary changes will deliver the Tories a massive advantage there. If they can be elected with an absolute majority by less than 40% of the electorate voting for them, they are never going to want to change that. But FPTP is one of the major obstacles to a fairer democracy. It is out of kilter with the way most modern democracies work, and it really needs to be changed to a more proportionate system. However, as said above, that will never happen in the UK because both Establishment Parties are content to stick with FPTP. Quite why Labour aren’t against it is a bit of a mystery, but their leader is, after all, a Knight of the Realm.
The second major reform the UK needs is to replace the House of Lords with a properly elected second chamber with defined powers when it comes to passing laws. Some countries, notably the Scandinavian countries, operate a single chamber Parliament, but since they are elected proportionately, that’s less of an issue since Proportional Representation generally requires Parties to form alliances in order to pass laws. However, most democracies have a second chamber which is elected rather than manipulated by the Government, and most second chambers have genuine powers which extend far beyond the ability to merely delay Bills passed by the lower chamber as is the case with the House of Lords.
Without these two fundamental reforms, Sir Kenneth Clarke’s hopes for a written Constitution are nothing more than the wishes of a toothless tiger.
But, once again, we must not lose sight of the fact that these changes will never come about in the UK unless there is some sort of revolution which completely overthrows the Establishment. That’s so unlikely as to be of no concern. But within the current political landscape, neither of the main Westminster Parties is going to advocate Proportional Representation, nor will they abolish the House of Lords. That’s because the system is geared towards preserving power in the hands of the elite, and most MPs belonging to these Parties have the principal aim of attaining a place in the House of Lords. Everyone plays by the Westminster rules, and those rules are designed to maintain the status quo.
So, while I applaud Sir Kenneth Clarke’s words as far as they go, they don’t go far enough, and until the weight of opinion is in favour of fundamental change, he may as well be talking to the wind.
As for that public opinion, it is not going to shift because the media will ensure that any discussion of change is either kept very low key or ignored completely. That’s because the media also has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Yet again, we see that Scotland’s only chance of escaping the madness is to become a normal, self-governing country, preferably one with a written Constitution and a Parliament of two chambers, both of which are elected by the people.
That naturally leads on to the other thing Sir Kenneth Clarke did not mention; the role of the Head of State. The current political Establishment is thirled to the monarchy, and we have seen how the monarchy behaves. Whether it is protecting Prince Andrew or refusing permission for renewable energy projects on their land, they serve only themselves. The image the media provides them is very far from the truth. So, while majority public opinion in Scotland – opinion which is shaped by the media – is still in favour of the monarchy, I believe that becoming a normal country would give us the opportunity to become a Republic with an elected Head of State. I’m not in favour of the US system which has too many things in common with the UK system, but other countries are able to operate systems which put power in the hands of the electorate rather than deferring to the inherited rights of the wealthy elite.
As we see all too often, Sir Kenneth Clarke’s aspirations are limited by his acceptance that the UK system should be largely preserved. That is no good for an independent Scotland, and we should aim much higher. That’s not to say we will rid ourselves of individuals who seek to use a political career to further their own personal interests, but at least it would allow us the opportunity to get rid of them; an opportunity which is currently denied us. And, as I’ve said before, the current Tory corruption under Boris Johnson is not the problem; it is merely a symptom of the underlying problem. Without radical change, the UK is doomed to be regularly governed by self-serving charlatans.