Representative Democracy Impossible in UK Feudal System

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By Mark McNaught
 
A few months ago, I was reading about the palace intrigue surrounding London Mayor Boris Johnson’s purported ambitions to depose David Cameron as Prime Minister.  I wondered, “Wait, how is this possible if he is not even a member of the House of Commons?”
 
The author helpfully suggested that the Conservative party could easily find him some safe seat somewhere to run for and win, even if he never lived or even visited there, so that he could be eligible to become Prime Minister. 

By Mark McNaught
 
A few months ago, I was reading about the palace intrigue surrounding London Mayor Boris Johnson’s purported ambitions to depose David Cameron as Prime Minister.  I wondered, “Wait, how is this possible if he is not even a member of the House of Commons?”
 
The author helpfully suggested that the Conservative party could easily find him some safe seat somewhere to run for and win, even if he never lived or even visited there, so that he could be eligible to become Prime Minister.  This obviously begs the question of whether there are any residency requirements for an MP to be eligible to run for a seat, to guarantee that the MP actually comes from the community he or she represents.

Obviously, there are no enforceable residency requirements binding on parties to choose candidates who even know any of the people they are to represent.  This raises the fundamental question: has the UK system ever been a representative democracy?

Given that the legitimacy of the UK state has always been based on the improbable combination of divine right, aristocratic privilege, and parliamentary supremacy, it stands to reason that the Westminster system has never adopted representative democracy even as a component of its legitimacy.

This is all the more glaring in the wake of the Falkirk imbroglio, in which the neoliberal Blairite wing of the ‘Labour’ hierarchy has clashed with people who actually labour for a living and want a bit of a say in how they are governed.  Apparently, there were vote shenanigans both for those supporting toff-backed Gregor Poynton and Unite-backed Karie Murphy, although Labour does not appear eager to release the internal report.

I have no idea what relation either Murphy or Poynton have to the people living in Falkirk, but what little information I could find indicates that they are both London-based insiders.

I suppose most UK residents are so inured to this corrupt selection process that it just seems as natural as the sun rising to have some party apparatchik parachute into a safe seat in a constituency he or she has never heard of, purporting to represent its people.

Once elected to Westminster, in addition to going to the ‘meet-and-greets’ and ‘grip-and-grins’ with the corporate lobbyists and hedge fund managers they will actually represent, one hopes they take time to find about those they are supposed to represent.  Maybe they take crash courses on where the constituency actually is and who lives there.  Maybe they even go to visit.  Maybe not.

This is consistent with the UK nobility system, where the ‘Prince’ of Wales is as Welsh as a Polynesian.  How could the ‘Duke’ and ‘Duchess’ of Cambridge, who were neither born nor ever lived there, effectively represent the people of Cambridge?  The conclusion is inescapable: the UK system is so mired in decayed feudal institutions that UK citizens do not live in a representative democracy.

Given the utter incapacity of the UK government and the Westminster parties to provide a democracy that represents and is worthy of its citizens, independence is the only way for Scots to provide one for themselves.

What can true representative democracy look like in an independent Scotland? 

A written constitution can provide for residency requirements for holding public office, so that MSPs must actually be members of the community they represent.

There can be an independent non-partisan boundary commission, so that electoral maps are adjusted impartially and carefully to reflect demographic changes, rather than having the party in power cynically redraw boundaries to maximize their electoral advantages and eliminate opposition seats.

Parties and campaigns can be publicly funded, with total spending transparency and strict limits on contributions.

There can be mandatory voting with automatic registration for all legal residents over 16, which will not only create an indissoluble link between the officeholders and their constituents, but also confer on them a democratic legitimacy unheard of in the history of the UK.

MSPs will only be allowed to have one job: representing their constituents – no more being members of corporate boards.

All contributions to MSPs or any other government officials and workers must be banned, and the laws surrounding this must have foresight and adaptability as new methods of corruption are being developed by the global corporate lobbying octopus.  Anti-corruption law must be proactive, rather than reactive.

A well-structured Scottish constitution can help assure that decent people go into politics for the right reasons.  It can help end the nightmare of greed, ego, and political acrimony that Westminster politics has become.

We are currently witnessing the implosion of the Labour party; the endemic corruption in party funding as well as the rest of Westminster being laid bare.

Any Scot who still believes Scotland is better off in the Westminster system needs to ask this question: Should Scotland vote ‘yes’ and construct an honest representative democracy, or vote ‘no’ and remain bogged down in the corrupt feudal Westminster mire forever?

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.