The Broken House

Just how buggered is the United States Senate? George Packer in the New Yorker offers up some depressing reading on an institution utterly ruined by its own labyrinthian structures – both the physical building and the arcane rules and customs – and the increasing ways Senators, rather than doing their actual job of representing the interest of the citizens, spend little time on actual legislation and more on fund raising, publicity or goodness knows what else in their various cubby holes secreted around the building. And when they do troop into the chamber they spend inordinate amounts of time and effort to utilise obscure rules to ruin their opponents’ bills. Democratic choice said your party doesn’t have the majority? No problem, just use arcane old rules to wreck possible legislation by procedural means. Meanwhile important matters simply do not get discussed and dealt with. And they wonder why so many people don’t bother to vote?

And before you think hey, you’re not American, what does it matter to you that they can’t actually deliver the Great Democracy that they like to tell us all they do better than everyone else? Because some of those possible acts that get screwed up affect other nations – financial reform, foreign policy and aide, environmental protection. And because this sort of nonsense goes on in pretty much every parliament and senate in the democratic world to a lesser extent – and there’s that old worry that it will only get worse both here and there. And it doesn’t help anyone who believe in democracy if the institutions meant to serve it turn out to be full of self serving arseholes with no interest in representing the people and doing a good job. And you thought Mr Smith had a hard time when he went to Washington? (via Nick Smale)

Democracy in action

Hurrah! The people of Iraq are now officially free! No more occupation!!!! Well, except for 160,000 foreign troops and who knows how many foreign fundamentalist fighters. And behold, you who scoffed at Saint Tony and his cowboy pal, Sheriff George – now the cute little people of Iraq have a democratically elected government which truly represents them. Just like in America, where they have a government which was properly elected by the people and fore the people… Oh, hang on a minute… Oh, yes… Er… Hmmmm.

Labour shows its anti-democratic side

So, Labour have made a humiliating climb down in the Scottish election campaign. They have been playing the independence bogey man card in their fight against the Scottish National Party, their main rivals. The SNP have promised to hold a referendum to allow the Scottish people to decide if they wish to move from a devolved parliament to full independence. Labour said that constitutional matters were a reserved power to Westminster and the Holyrood parliament could not even mount such a referendum.

Now you will notice this is London saying not only that the Edinburgh parliament does not have final say over independence, but on simply holding a referendum. Now obviously constitutional change would have to include all of the UK legislative bodies. But to threaten to block a possible referendum being held by a possible SNP government in Edinburgh? That is something else – that is effectively saying that London will not even allow the Scottish people to register their opinion. Does democracy so frighten these people?

For starters that is immoral and profoundly undemocratic. It is an action which is also very ill-considered, as this kind of thing will infuriate most Scots and drive them towards the nationalist camp and increase an anti-Westminster and possibly anti-English sentiment, neither of which are productive. Today Labour backtracked to say they would never block a referendum, but the damage is done. Labour have once more shown themselves to be a centrally-driven party who think nothing of over-riding Scottish concerns when it suits their London office. Im not making any pitch here for or against possible independence, but the right for Scottish citizens to have their say on the matter is utterly paramount. It is a matter of simple democracy and of the right of self-determination for all nations that is guaranteed under international law.