Full Fiscal Autonomy – It’s time to turn the tables

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by Hazel Lewry

Is Full Fiscal Autonomy possible in the near term for Scotland?  On the surface it would appear the first reaction is no, not with all three Unionist, London controlled parties having a very significant vested interest against it.  It presently appears the best Scots can hope for is some type of modified Scotland Bill with ‘inherent damage control’.  This is mainly because the individual party members of the Labour, Tory or Lib Dem political organisations have a tendency to place service to the electorate a very distant second to personal advancement.

The order of preference has been clearly demonstrated by many in these parties to be Westminster, then Holyrood and only last, if at all, the interests of their constituents, as most recently demonstrated by Mr Devine.

Let’s put the Scots voters and their wishes back at the heart of our electoral system, rather than the callousness and self-interest of puppet political parties.

The issue becomes how to get the will of the people (who in Scotland are categorically sovereign) to be internationally recognized when even its own London-centric Parliament will not permit legitimate questions to be asked of its constituent populace.  Certainly this cannot be a sign of a parliament representative of a sovereign people, when poll after poll demonstrates the wish for greater autonomy.  Despite this, the elected representatives refuse to allow such proposals to be put to the very people who elected them.  A London-centric media with an almost universally acknowledged bias is certainly no assistance to the rights and political engagement of the average Scot.  But it is possible to overcome entrenched dogma, as demonstrated when the current SNP administration was elected.  We can do it again.

It’s time to use the ballot box in May 2011, but not as London dictates.

It’s possible that there may well be a way to stop the Scotland Bill in its tracks and expand the current proposals that are being shamefully ramrodded through Holyrood by tactics including the intimidation, railroading and ambush of committee witnesses.  What’s being proposed here is an approach that has no guarantee of success, nor is it likely be a simple process, but at a minimum the brief sub-campaign outlined below would certainly cause consternation in Westminster and may even go a long way help stopping the ConDem [dis]respect agenda.

It is time to turn the tables

So – FFA, is it possible in the almost immediate future?  Yes it most certainly is.  Scotland has been gifted an opportunity to express her collective will.  Due to the recent election results in Westminster and the forced merger of parties [however temporary or fluid] there will be a referendum on Alternative Voting.  That referendum has been set [the respect agenda issue again] for the same day as the Scottish elections.  In effect this means that there is an opportunity for Scottish self-awareness, with no obvious potential downside.  Instead of complaining about the disrespect, its time Scots started using it for their own benefit.

We should be examining whether to hold a referendum within the referendum.

The first obvious question is how this is achieved without spoiling the paper itself, and to answer that we first need to look at what constitutes a ‘spoiled’ paper.  Simply put a paper is spoiled by not marking it in a way which makes the voter’s wishes clear, as stated by Presiding Officer Alex Ferguson in Parliament after the 2007 debacle, “My key message is that the voters themselves should be at the heart of our electoral system.  In 2007, we got it wrong because the complex ballots and time-saving counting methods were there to make things easier for those of us involved in the political process, not necessarily for the voters.”

It’s significant to note that electronically rejected or ‘spoiled’ papers were hand counted in an effort to understand the wishes of the voter.  It’s therefore reasonable to infer that no matter what one puts on the paper is largely irrelevant as long as the line item is marked in the correct way and that line item remains unaltered – it’s a valid vote.  One can even mark the ballot paper on the reverse side, completely voiding any accusation of it being spoiled or defaced.

Should this thought gain popular support, what type of media spin would be placed upon this act?  One thing governments fear, and this is no weak statement, is the unified voice of the people.  What may be even more intriguing, or entertaining depending up your point of view, would be the reaction of Westminster and the London-centric media as word of this grass roots campaign spreads.

The next stage is implementation, and that’s where an opportunity arises.  All the main parties will have activists at almost every household in the country, and a good cross-section of these people in any political party will think FFA is a good thing.  As activists go door-to-door they can promote the campaign.  Emphasize though that the vote need not be spoiled, and their voice will still count – but twice over.  The only foreseeable advantage to ‘spoiled’ papers is an almost instant count.

Of much greater importance is that these papers are in an official referendum – that count will be an official count, even if slightly delayed.  The ballot papers will be preserved.  The Government must act or be guilty of a failed democracy.

A recount (sanctioned and engineered by whatever means) could be required in Scotland to include the FFA statements, and the results would be interesting news at the very least.  It would certainly appear more productive than simply spoiling a paper or refusing to vote. In an ideal world there would be a simple small sticker available to be placed on the reverse of the ballot paper – they’d all be the same and indicate uniformity of action, which would be fundamental.  Even writing FFA could suffice.

FFA would probably satisfy the average Scots voter, after all no one is arguing for independence.  They’ll not be breaking any laws per-se, but what they will be doing is expressing their own sovereignty by expressly saying they want something.  The fundamental question could be as simple indeed as “Do you believe your family should be shielded to the maximum extent possible from the austerity cuts?”  If so mark FFA somewhere, anywhere on the AV paper.  Any opposing factions would then have to provide a constructive believable argument as to why Scots should suffer cuts when our country is in surplus.

At the very least if the above campaign is enhanced by social media such as Facebook and Twitter, email etc, it will give our voters who have entrenched voting styles an opportunity to think, consider and reflect.  Most will probably not alter their parliamentary vote, after all there’s no need to do that here.  Even if the main election result is unchanged, it certainly serves notice to Westminster that politics in Scotland will no longer be ‘business as usual’.

Can it be done?  This question can only be answered by the Scots ourselves.  Estimating there’s about twenty thousand confirmed Scots who would support this and work for it as a viable next step, a concerted underground campaign should mean that if each person contacted just a few dozen, and each activist who believes this (of whichever party) spread this message during campaign season, there’s no doubt the message will be heard.  After the message is delivered, democracy is most certainly in play.

The only certainty – if we don’t try, we’ll never succeed.