Monday, September 22, 2014


Like probably most people in T&T, I became very interested in the Scottish referendum for independence which was held on September 18th when a convincing majority (55% to 45%) of Scots voted to stay in the United Kingdom. The story as it unfolded was riveting especially towards the end when opinion polls began to suggest that the result could be very, very close ... so close that it might even have ended up the other way with  a slim majority voting for independence. That this would have led Scotland and the United Kingdom into completely uncharted territory was at once as dangerous as it was at the same time exciting. That in the end the Scots voted for security over everything else, was also probably (with the benefit of hindsight) predictable.

But what caused this movement for independence in the first place? After all, for more than three or four hundred years Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom. There are probably as large a percentage of Scots who served and died in the two great wars of the twentieth century as there are Englishmen. Scotland hasn't done badly in terms of economic "goodies" that it gets from the rest of the United Kingdom. In fact, reports leading up to the vote suggested that Scotland in fact gets more "goodies" on a per capita basis than the other parts of the country. So why would the Scots want to leave such a cozy arrangement from which they were so obviously benefitting? And why would such a large minority (because 45% is a very large minority) want to leave such a cozy arrangement?

It seems that the truth is that the Scots found themselves getting sick and tired of Thatcherite policies being imposed on them from London. It was policies first formed by Mrs. Thatcher that exacerbated a system of inequalities and dumped valuable social programs on the rubbish heap. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 did, through a form of federalism known as "devolution", push through some  reforms which allowed Scotland to keep certain policies such as free higher education and national health care while south of the border  the health care system has been partially privatized and English university students are now having to go into debt like their American cousins in order to pay for their higher education.

In other words, Scotland's value system, which is more socialist than the rest of the Tory dominated UK, was/is at risk so long as Scotland remains or remained part of the UK.  But the referendum campaign has elicited promises to the Scots that will give them greater power to resist the Tory policies ... which is probably better for the Scots than independence. And now, with the leaders of all three main political parties having promised even more powers to the Scots the rest of the UK, especially the regional Parliaments in Wales and Northern Ireland, will begin to demand more internal self-government. In other words, the "old" United Kingdom is now dead and something new is going to emerge; what exactly it will look like when all the dust settles is far too early to tell, but one thing is certain: it ain't gonna be like it was before the 18th September. And all of the changes that are to come were basically started by Maggie Thatcher whose policies over the years have created greater inequities in the system that finally dove the Scots to revolt.

I know I am taking a long time to come to the point of this post, which is not why the "no" campaign succeeded or should have failed nor is it to have a dissertation or discussion on Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies. The point that I want to make is that in the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher never had a popular majority even though she ruled as Prime Minister for 11 years. The most she ever got was 43.9 percent of the vote! The most that David Cameron (the current Prime Minister) has ever got was 36.1 percent of the vote. The point is that Britain's "first past the post" system has allowed the Tory minority to dominate.

The anti-Tory vote gets split between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats were so anxious to get into power the last time around that they formed a coalition with the Tories that effectively reduced their influence to zero. The United Kingdom has had a Tory dominated government for the last 4 years.

So? Where am I going with this? Ask yourself: would history have been different in the UK if instead of a first past the post system as it has now, they had instead a run-off system like the one that T&T is about to get? Would the Tories have been able to govern and impose policies which a majority of British voters do not want if the system had allowed voters a second chance while narrowing their options? Would this have been a bad thing? (And, yes, the majority of British voters do not vote for the Tories in the UK general elections, so I can say with great equanimity that the majority of British voters do not support Tory policies. If they did, they would vote Conservative!)

Speaking only for myself, I was never a great lover of Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies which have been almost slavishly copied in other countries including our own. I argued then (and have been unfortunately proven right) that you cannot run a country like a business and that Thatcherite policies only make the rich richer and the poor poorer. But, again that is not the point that I wish to make here. My point is that despite all the piffle that has been printed about the run-off provisions that we are about to pass into law, the truth is that they can and will go a long way towards making our own little corner of the world a fairer place to live in. And that is important! If the UK had tackled the thorny problem of electoral reform earlier the very obvious looming political problems that it now faces would never have arisen. The first past the post system allows a minority to rule the majority. Imperfect as the run-off might be, it still is a better option.

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