|DIRECT DEMOCRACY :
Government of the People, by the People, for the People
This article by Alistair McConnachie appeared in the March 2000 issue of Sovereignty.
A useful political philosophy is four-fold. Firstly, there are the fundamental principles which represent what we believe. Secondly, our aims represent what we want to achieve. Thirdly, our arguments reflect what we believe in and promote what we want to achieve. Fourthly, our rebuttals counter the opposing principles, aims and arguments. Every political movement must constantly sharpen these 4 points.
One of our fundamental principles is democracy. However, the word is an abstraction which attains meaning only if defined specifically.
Fundamental principles must be defined clearly and concisely. Therefore, let's be clear what we mean by "democracy".
For some people, "democracy" is what we used to have before we joined the EU. These people want to leave the EU so we can be "democratic" again. For others, "democracy" is something we do not yet have but is something we can get by "reforming" the British constitution sufficiently.
For Marx and Engels, ".... the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy." (The Communist Manifesto)
Therefore, the word has no definite meaning but can be co-opted to suggest anything from traditional nostalgic memory to leftist revolution. Trouble happens when people understand words in different ways.
It is basic revolutionary policy to ensure that you control the definition of terms. For example, someone who wants to control the definition of the term "democracy" will describe a political movement he disapproves of as "a threat to democracy". The presence of a group he disapproves of is "an insult to democracy." If a group he opposes takes a substantial number of votes then that is "a failure of democracy."
If we are led to believe an idea is "a threat to democracy" then we're likely to oppose it, without realising that the word is possibly being used in a sense different to what we may understand. We are unwittingly co-opted onto his agenda. For example, a Traditionalist who believed in the Monarchy, could be persuaded by a Marxist to abolish it in order to make Britain "more democratic."
WHAT IS TRUE DEMOCRACY?
It's possible to list a few general indicators.
Democracy requires Commonality
It is more than simply "one-man, one-vote." True democracy presupposes that the general outlook on life, the sense of identity, and the interests of the individuals acting in co-operation are similar enough for a community, and a nation, to be formed. This sense of sameness allows a political consensus to be maintained. Those who have been out-voted by the majority will still feel sufficiently part of the overall electorate in order to agree to the majority decision. Where a consensus is lacking, the out-voted will feel a sense of oppression and "one-man, one-vote democracy" will become the tyranny of the majority.
The European Union is an example of a state without a naturally occurring commonality. There is no sense of common European nationhood. A federal Europe would enjoy true democratic legitimacy only if the peoples of Europe were to shift their identity from nation-states, and their political allegiances from the parliaments of nation-states, and shift them to "Europe" and the supra-national "European Parliament."
However, the results of voter participation in European elections suggest that this will be a long time coming. Furthermore, in every country, the Euro-elections are fought on a domestic agenda and there is little evidence that voters are motivated by wider EU issues.
The advocates of the EU are concerned at this lack of true democratic legitimacy. Those who oppose the EU because it is un-democratic, need to ask themselves whether they would support the EU if it became more democratic. As Noel Malcolm has written: "Anti-federalists who complain about the 'democratic deficit' of the Strasbourg Assembly, or about the generally 'undemocratic' nature of the EEC, are cutting the ground from under their own feet: to judge the EEC as a democracy is to concede that it is, or ought to be, a state. If enough people think this, it will become one." (Noel Malcolm, "Sense on Sovereignty", in Martin Holmes, ed., The Eurosceptical Reader, [London: MacMillan Press, 1996], p. 363)
Democracy is Empowering
Given that commonality exists, true Democracy enables the individual to exercise control over his individual life, and acting together with others, it enables the community, and the nation, to exercise control over the direction of its collective life.
Our present system does not fully reflect this ideal. Once a Party is elected, the ability of the individual to exercise democratic choice ends. The new Government's agenda dictates what happens for the next 5 years. This has been called an elected dictatorship. Such a system can justify its expansion of power better than any other political system. If it claims to be derived from the authority of the people it can claim to be authorised to do anything.
Democracy requires Accountability
The politician must be accountable to his electorate. People must know the voting record of their MPs. These must be published in an accessible manner on a regular basis. This would make the member directly accountable to the electorate and provide the voter with the information necessary to monitor his representative. It may help counter the Whip system which enforces Party Policy rather than Voter Policy.
Democracy requires Effective Representation
The true purpose of a Member of Parliament is to represent the collective will of his electorate and to represent their concerns in the corridors of power. It is not simply to be a delegate for the Party, slavishly following its policy. C.H. Douglas, in his book Credit Power and Democracy (1920) said that democracy is the expression of the policy of the majority. The ability of the individual member to properly represent the will of his electorate in the corridors of power has been corrupted by the Party system, and the necessity to follow the Whip line. Today, our elected candidate represents the Party not the Voter. We have Party Representation, not Voter Representation.
The function of representing the will of the electorate has also been diminished because the electorate has no opportunity to express its will between elections. Once elected, the government decides everything. The voter doesn't get a look-in! To a large extent, the Government can get away with almost anything. This can lead to policies being imposed from above which destroy centuries of tradition and culture.
Moreover, the Parties set the policies. If the Parties decide an issue is off the agenda, then there is no political mechanism for the public to impose its will. If Parties exclude an issue from their manifestos, the voter is left with no means of indicating his concerns. He is left with a sense of helplessness and the feeling that the people have lost effective control of Parliament and the direction of the country. As someone said, "You can't belong to the country, if the country doesn't belong to you."
Is there a system which would address the failures of our democratic system, and reflect the ideals of democracy? Yes!
This is the name of a system where the people are empowered to call a referendum either to initiate, or to block, legislation. This operates in Switzerland and in some States of the USA. Since the 1850s there have been almost 500 national referendums in Switzerland. If a petition signed by 1% of the electorate is submitted calling for a referendum on an issue under consideration by government then a referendum must be held. The signatures of 2% of voters are enough to call a referendum on an issue not under government consideration.
Direct Democracy puts the steering wheel of government in the hands of the people, and it takes it out of the hands of an unresponsive elite with its own agenda.
THE SPECIFIC ADVANTAGES FOR A POLITICAL PARTY
Direct Democracy is an original, exciting and inspiring policy to present to the electorate.
WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?
The alternative is the continuation of national political parties deliberately suppressing and avoiding policies which the public want and which are essential if the nation is to survive as a nation at all. The alternative is the continued disenfranchisement of the public on issues vital to the future of our country.
The beginning of a new century calls for new ideas. As we look back on the past century, and especially the past few years, a dominant theme is of a country being misdirected by elites in government, in the name of a "democracy" that never was. Of huge constitutional change for which there was often little, and in some cases - witness the House of Lords - no public pressure whatsoever.
Direct Democracy offers we the people a way to take control of the steering wheel.