Tuesday 12 June 2018

"We can't vote them out"

One of the core beliefs of Anglo-British nationalists is that the UK is somehow the font of democracy.  If there’s a phrase that they love, it’s the idea that England (and the term really was coined in relation to England not the UK) possesses the ‘mother of parliaments’.  It’s one example of the way in which the Anglo-British nationalist perspective differs significantly from both a more European perspective and the facts of the matter.
The English parliament is far from being the oldest in the world – that honour belongs elsewhere – but more importantly there is often a conflation of two very different concepts; having a parliament is not at all the same thing as being a democracy.  The fact that a monarch at some point convened a council of barons to advise him does not amount to the establishment of democracy.
Democracy is not a UK invention; it is very much a foreign one, later imported to the UK.  Indeed, from an objective rather than jingoistic perspective the UK looks to be a recent and reluctant convert to the principle of democracy, only introducing universal suffrage theoretically in 1928 whilst not doing so in practice until the right of some people to vote twice or even three times in the same election was abolished in 1948; and still refusing to abolish the role of hereditary peers, appointees and bishops of the official state religion.  ‘Democracy’ in the UK is a work in progress rather than a fully implemented concept, and that progress remains painfully slow leaving a version of ‘democracy’ which looks antiquated and arcane from the perspective of astonished Europeans.
It’s true, of course, that the Westminster system has been the model for many other countries, but these are countries which used to be part of the British Empire and for which their system was designed, unsurprisingly, by the colonial power in Westminster.  Those who think their own system perfect are hardly likely to suggest a better one for anyone else, and the copying process invariably included the retention of the hereditary head of state and a role for the completely unelected Privy Council until such time as the countries ‘granted’ their independence got around to changing it.
Yet despite the obvious and plentiful evidence of the UK’s own incomplete transition to democracy, the Anglo-British nationalists lecture the rest of Europe and the world about democracy and complain that the European Union is somehow ‘undemocratic’, just because the people of one member state, the UK, can’t unilaterally vote out the president, commissioners and civil servants appointed by the governments of 28 member states, completely overlooking the fact that the people of the UK can’t even vote out their own head of state, or even the members of one of the two houses of parliament.  The astounding part is that so many people fall for this false commitment to ‘democracy’.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

All true. And a look at history, much of which the Brits are never taught, makes this clearer.
From about 1688 to say 1760 England (as the UK was called) DID lead the world in having a Bill of Rights etc, but also in having a fantastic economy because of the Empire. No wonder they sang "Rule, Britannia". (A great song for any singer if you ignore the words). Remember that all the other great powers, France, Spain and "Germans" etc were absolutist. Call this Democracy 0.1
Americans specifically said that they did not like the way in which the supposedly free England/UK was turning absolutist. Which it was. The "Divine Right of Kings" was bubbling up again. And Britain was nowhere near as it had been.
So the Americans were the ones who started with England/UK common law, and classical history which the Brits also read, and came up with a form of "English" democracy which was (a) written and (b) carefully thought out and (c) anti-absolutist.
It was the American model which was exported to Europe. To France in the 1780s, to Central Europe after WW1 and to the big one Germany after WW2. Call this Democracy 0.2
But the Brexiteers problem now is that they do not recognise European Democracy. Why? I think it is difficult for Brits to face the fact that the UK got an Industrial Revolution, power and money and Democracy 0.1. But it did not get Democracy 0.2 ie the American model. And if Democracy.3 comes along (digital elections etc) the UK will be two versions of Democracy behind.
What can Wales do?
Getting Democracy 0.2 is easy if you have the willpower, because it is so well tested.
One of the problems Welsh Nats face is that they hanker after Democracy.3 with all its possibilities. Yet they haven't exerted their will against London yet, and don't understand the basic processes of Democracy 0.2, so its all dreaming. And with Plaid as it is, we have the blind leading the blind.