It’s time for the people to challenge politicians


By Alex Robertson
It is a modish thing to do, for political leaders to throw out challenges; usually to the thing they call Society, which means us, you and me.
What it usually means is that they have thought up some new policy wheeze and want to frame it in the context of a ‘demand’ from the people, now invited to supply the ‘demand’.  The challenge is to set off their whizzy new policy and make it look, well, whizzy.

Either that or they are faced with some problem which they really have not the slightest idea how to tackle and want to shift the responsibility somehow onto the people.  Think of appeals to the “Dunkirk Spirit” which is not meant to mean to withdraw providentially from some unmitigated shambles and defeat, and then call it a victory.  John F Kennedy challenged the American people to “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask rather what you can do for your country”

In Singapore they do things a little differently.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of the great Lee Kwan Yew, asked his fellow Singaporeans a few days ago to challenge their government.  That is an interesting idea, and it set me wondering how Scots would react to a similar invitation here.

After all, Singapore has a similar sized population to Scotland, and although only an island about the size of Arran, Singapore has built itself into a formidable country which ranks very highly in any measure of wealth or success.  Scotland could do a lot worse than borrow some Singaporean policies and attitudes.

But the idea of getting the population to set its own targets, goals and aspirations is not so very outlandish in the internet age.  For example, Mr Lee asked Singaporeans to judge whether Singapore was a better place to hand on to their children than they had inherited from their parents.

How would that work here? Well, we might set a target of increasing the proportion of our young people in a job and comparing it with the corresponding figure at the beginning of their term of office. Or we might measure the miles of roadways built, or the number of hospital beds provided for the sick, or maybe just the amount of recidivist crime.

Not so difficult to set the targets, and not too difficult either to make the targets public so think tanks and other external bodies can evaluate the performance in some quantitative way, hopefully independently and objectively. 

A new independent country of Scotland will want to have plenty aspirations and ambitions, and whilst Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the Scotland of our dreams, we can at least provide some kind of measure of how we are progressing towards Mr. Lee’s goal of making steady progress in terms of handing on a better country than we inherited.

For too long we Scots have allowed the politicians to set the goals and keep the score, which often involved the moving of the goalposts. But if some independent body were to construct a ‘basket’ of parameters which affect the everyday lives of all of us, and then they and other think tanks were to keep the score, the people would have a good guide of just how well those we elect to govern us have done, or even are doing.

Now who can argue with that?