Free and fair elections

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by Hazel Lewry

Fair and free elections, will they ever be possible for us? Political party donations have come into the spotlight recently, and are likely to come in for more scrutiny as we approach the election itself.

Recently I wrote about the donations of the large supermarket chains to political parties who voted against the so-called ‘Tesco tax’.  Developments since, including Mr Souter’s offer to the SNP, simply serve to re-inforce public perception of a political culture where “pounds buy laws”.

The issue of donations affects all parties across the political spectrum.  When we examine this intrusion into our democratic process what becomes obvious is that Scotland is looking to tread the path of England, which is demonstrably scurrying along behind America as quickly as its Parliament can manage.

Perhaps this is not a course we’d want to follow.  In America corporations are legally persons although in many cases they appear to have far more rights than real people. America is a land that cherishes the corporation and corporate wealth more than individual liberty.  Abraham Lincoln voiced his concerns as the Civil War was drawing to a close,

… As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed …

Interestingly his words bear the mark of prophecy, one which has come to pass in the last decade through the stock market bubble, the real estate bubble and the credit bubble, the costs which were borne by the average individual.  The process looks set to continue with future bubbles in food and energy now looming on the horizon, and no concerted political will is being applied to stop this cancer on humanity.  A cancer which allows the large corporations and financial institutions get even wealthier and to uncover more methods of bleeding the taxpayer to cover any paper losses.  Yet how is this possible?

Why do we, who are supposed to be in control in a democracy, let it happen?

One need look no deeper than the fundamentals of how politics are played in Westminster and Washington to uncover the grim truth.  Industry bodies, like the chemical manufacturers’ association, typically have a few dominant players.  Each dominant player will back at least one party.  Often they will allocate the political war chest to more than one party with the most funds going to the likely victor.  Big players in the chemical field include Bayer, whose products are allegedly implicated in Bee Colony Collapse disorder, and Monsanto, a company whose genetic engineering and sales of seed that can’t reproduce has provoked widespread concern.

An article on the Natural News website details the chemical giant’s strategic plan:

At a biotech industry conference in January 1999, a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP explained how they had helped Monsanto design their strategic plan.  First, his team asked Monsanto executives what their ideal future looked like in 15 to 20 years.  The executives described a world with 100 percent of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson consultants then worked backwards from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it.  They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct.

Others in the industry such as Exxon have like-seeming agendas.  How are these companies permitted to do this and why aren’t they stopped?  And yet it appears they are politically protected.  How can it be that the same organization which manufactures chemicals noted to be a prime cause of asthma also manufactures asthma medication?

The foremost thought for the average person should now be how can this happen?  It’s relatively simple when the electoral process demands that one must have money to get any message out.  The situation is simple, anyone pursuing a career in politics requires money.  In Washington and Westminster that money often comes from corporate donors or the City or Wall St, each afterwards getting for the most part what they bought and paid for with their donations.

This is certainly not ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people’, which is a democracy.  It is an illusion.  It is essentially government of the corporation, for the corporation, by the corporation.  The individual casts the vote, yet the corporations with their money can easily influence both the message and the result.  As the Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour parties so ably demonstrated recently in their opposition to the ‘Tesco tax’ in the Scottish budget, the corporations also tend to get what they pay for.

Then we have our paid politicians themselves.  What qualifications do they have to have in our democracy?  Apparently none at all.  Just get yourself ensconced in the party political machine, prove you’ve got the gift o the gab and march your way to fame and fortune as a political apparatchik.  
Shouldn’t we in Scotland set the bar at least a little bit higher and say, for example that anyone considering to be a member of the Scottish Parliament has to have served at least five years in a non-political job so that they can figure out, at least in part, how the real world works away from the insular existence of politics?

A major area of public dissatisfaction with politicians is their jobs for life culture.  Even after their time in office politicians often get very lucrative positions for nominal input with those same companies they ‘assisted’ during their time in office.  Perhaps we require a one or two term ban after leaving politics on working for or receiving funding from any organization they were materially associated with during their time in office?

Imagine a different world, a world that the next Scottish Government could so easily legislate, one where individual party members can only contribute, say £50 in a month of their own income, where it’s illegal to gift third party donations to your party, and where any donation of £50.01 or more goes to a communal government election chest, and where that election chest is distributed pound for pound against the private donations received either by a candidate or an independent. The most popular party will naturally get the greatest amount of donations, and directly by the will of the people the greatest state subsidy.  As to that “election chest”, just as an example, any candidate with more than 250 signatures on a petition could be entitled to a share before Holyrood elections, disbursed perhaps 60 days before election day.  The parties get their support, the independents get a voice and opportunity for change.

It would also be quite simple to codify and entrench the salaries of MSPs and ministers, making certain we get value for money and hopefully a better nation.  Imagine what would happen if all politician’s salaries were tied to the median wage in Scotland, with the First Minister getting 3 times, the deputy 2.75 times, the ministers getting 2.25 times, the rank and file MSP’s getting 1.5 times.  If they perform well, the median salary increases as do their salaries, however should the economy suffer and the median drop, we all share in the pain and discomfort.

As to the biggest prize of all, airtime in the broadcast media, perhaps each electoral party contesting more than 20% of the country’s seats should be entitled to a place in live debate, and that debate must be carried by all channels, unedited.  There could be four debates, one in each of the weeks leading up to an election.  One could be on the economy, one on the sitting party manifesto, and two open for the most current affairs of the time.

Lastly, perhaps above all else, we require two things.  The first is to ban corporate lobbying which by and of itself does only one thing, it serves the corporate interest.  Secondly legislation is required that returns power to the people of Scotland.  It would be a wonderful democracy indeed where the Scots people could petition their Parliament for an Act, with a set threshold of perhaps 25,000 signatures of registered voters, and Parliament must act upon it.  In cases where Parliament does not act, or acts inappropriately, any citizen would have right to garner four times the base quantity of signatures and force a referendum on the issue presented within, perhaps, 2 years, and a set period before any repeat referendum could be held, possibly 10 years.  This could also apply to repealing any laws or acts already passed.  Oddly this small adjustment alone really adds teeth to “government of the people, for the people, by the people”.

Any party proposing the simple measures above I’d see as advancing democracy.  It would get my vote.

Then we would truly have an opportunity for democracy, a democracy that could fire the imagination, when our representatives act in our true interest rather than those of their real present paymasters, a democracy that might again fire the imagination of the world and echo through future history as a certain other declaration has since 1320.  Will it happen?  Probably not.  After all, it’s not really in the corporate, or the Union’s interest.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful?