Monday, March 14, 2011

Why is less democracy always the solution?

Interesting to learn from Subrosa that Their Man In Edinburgh, the esteemed Michael Moore, is touting the idea that the one-off planned five-year term for the next Scottish parliament should be made a permanent arrangement. Subrosa poses this question -

"The cynic in me ponders the benefits to unionist Westminster; there must be some or the idea would never have been mooted, although there is evidence from Germany that when Bundestag and state elections (which are conducted by Länder rules) are the same year, the state elections were completely overshadowed. Yet what are the benefits to Westminster?"

I actually don't think there's any great mystery about what's going on here - it must have finally occurred to some bright spark in the Lib Dems that the 'solution' of putting the 2015 Holyrood election back a year doesn't even begin to address the problem thrown up by five-year fixed term parliaments at Westminster. If the Holyrood parliament starting in 2016 runs its natural course, there will again be a scheduled election that would clash with a Westminster contest in 2020 - presumably necessitating a further 'one-off' extension, and the whole process will continue on into perpetuity, leaving everyone (not least London Lib Dems) looking extremely stupid. Of course, this snag could have been deferred for quite a while if only the 2015 election had been brought forward by a year, rather than put back. Three-year parliaments work perfectly well in Australia without the sun falling out of the sky - but it seems giving the public more democracy rather than less is an option that would never even occur to our masters.

But my own question is this - what happens if (as is perfectly possible) the Westminster coalition collapses in a heap well before 2015, rendering all these shenanigans totally redundant? Can we have our own election back then, please?

Subrosa also makes this observation -

"All these constitutional changes we're hearing about at present favour the libdems. No matter how badly they do in future voting, if the AV result is a yes, then they will be the king-makers."

That's not really true. As a majoritarian system, AV will for the most part continue to produce majority Tory or Labour governments, which for the avoidance of doubt is a bad thing not a good thing. Because of the specific circumstances of UK politics, though, with a medium-sized third party that is ideologically somewhere between the two larger ones (and thus well-placed to attract second preferences) it will give the Lib Dems more seats than the current system would, and therefore make future balanced parliaments very slightly more likely. The Lib Dem-sceptics among us shouldn't be squeamish about that, because without balanced parliaments there's simply no hope of achieving more meaningful electoral reform at a later date. The idea that a majority Labour government would ever voluntarily introduce PR is in the realms of fantasy.

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