Democracy Max

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As the Edinburgh festivals celebration of artistic endeavour and creativity drew to a close ERS Scotland shared the results of 13 months of political endeavour and creativity with the launch of the Democracy Max vision for a good Scottish democracy.

I hesitate to call it ‘our’ vision, because this document isn’t ours to own. It belongs to the hundreds of individuals who gave up their time to share, discuss and deliberate on ideas for improving Scotland’s democracy.

From the very beginning Democracy Max has been a participative process. It began when 80 people gathered for a day long facilitated conversation stimulated by the proposition “It’s 2030, and Scotland is admired as a shining example of democracy and democratic participation. What three aspects of this future society please you most?”

This long-term vision has been a vital aspect of the inquiry. Democracy Max is not just about the next 12 months, it’s not just about September 18th 2014, it’s about re-thinking Scotland’s democracy regardless of the result of the referendum.

Excitingly, our participants really embraced this freedom to imagine the future of Scotland, and some of their suggestions present a real challenge to decision makers and those with power. Because inevitably power will have to be relocated if many of the suggestions are to be implemented, and giving up power once you hold it is not easy.

That said, many of the suggestions are not radical, or particularly innovative. Indeed, much of the discussion throughout the inquiry was around why some of the seemingly obviously useful ideas had not yet come to fruition. Perhaps the power dynamic mentioned above is to blame? Perhaps our leaders lack the long-term vision necessary to make changes the impact of which may not be felt immediately?

Regardless, the optimists amongst us will observe that this period of debate in Scotland opens up opportunities to think differently about how we do politics.

At the nub of Democracy Max is an urgent desire to return power to the people, to give effect to the Claim of Right and ensure participation in politics is accessible, rewarding and universal.

Ideas to make that happen include citizens’ assemblies, both in the form of mini-publics at a local level where citizens debate and discuss decisions affecting their own towns and villages, and also perhaps a nationwide assembly to hold the Scottish Parliament to account.

Understanding the power and influence of the media and corporate interests was also seen as vital, with transparency across the board coming through as a strong recommendation.

And in thinking about what kind of structures we might need to make this happen and avoid corruption, it was acknowledged that clarifying the constitution would be helpful, as would some kind of standing review of Parliament and Government in order to provide adequate checks and balances in the system.

So what now? We are attracted to the idea, suggested by our participants, of a charter of democratic rights for Scotland. But we can’t draw it up alone. So we’re looking to hold a convention on modern Scottish democracy which will consider what might be included in such a charter – a charter that all our political representatives could be encouraged to sign up to.

The Democracy Max vision for a good Scottish democracy is therefore not a conclusion, but rather an opportunity to join the conversation. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to accept that opportunity.

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  1. Albalha says:

    I suppose I’m just not quite getting this, possibly above my intellect. I read it on the Guardian yesterday. Is it like a middle way type of thinking ……regardless of outcome next year let’s have a detailed think about how we’d like things to be regardless of its future context?
    The Common Weal makes a lot of sense to me, they talk about our choices and their context after a YES vote. Undoubtedly even after a YES vote there will be a lot of unkowns but this so called Democracy Max leaves me confused to be honest.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I share some of your confusion. There’s little to disagree with but somehow it seems to not be able to locate power. I think that some of what’s being referred to needs to emerge from a new constitution, from the White Paper – all of it seems a bit context-less if you don’t factor in the independence debate, and working to reform the British States archaic institutions seems completely redundant as they appear un-reformable. Maybe we’ve missed something?

      1. Albalha says:

        Possibly something is being missed. But you know at this stage it seems like an odd distraction to me. Time will of course tell, I suppose.

      2. Juliet Swann says:

        Thanks for these comments. I suppose it is a middle way, though we would prefer to say it’s a challenge to all sides to think about Scotland’s democracy. The way we do politics has to be reformed, regardless of the result of the referendum. This is our contribution to that debate, which goes beyond Sept 2014.

        At root, we believe Scotland needs and deserves a better democracy, and we would like all sides of the debate to find commit to serious reforms. Many of which could be achieved with the current devolution settlement. But… Which we would also want to see if that settlement changes!

        It’s also a non-partisan space for everyone to discuss democracy and our political future, without getting caught up in yay or nay.

      3. Albalha says:

        (I am hoping this goes under Juliet’s post, apologies if not.)

        Juliet I believe you believe in the merit of what you’re doing but let’s just take media and broadcasting, you cite above. Without independence how likely do you think it is Scotland could negotiate the devolving of broadcasting? And as you say it’s one of the top issues you’ve heard raised.

      4. Juliet Swann says:

        Ditto re appearance of post!

        Admittedly not ALL of EVERY issue raised could be addressed in Scotland by the current devolution settlement. But on media etc the solution of more transparency could see some improvements with, for example, FoI being extended to all contractors working for public bodies.

        Equally, funding reform of media and providing a base for future proof projects could be undertaken at the mo if the political will was there.

      5. Albalha says:

        Juliet, I admit I haven’t a clue what that really means when it comes to meaningful media reform. How do you get round the 2003 Communications Act?

      6. Juliet Swann says:

        Conversation in roundtables tended to focus on how to re-invigorate local media – with online news hubs as a suggestion – and certainly a recognition that online is the future. Wider public broadcast issues would of course need legal changes.

      7. Albalha says:

        I’ve spent a good few years working in broadcasting from the early years of HeartlandFM to the heady heights of R4’s World At One stable of programmes …. ownership and resources are vital for the changes thrown up by your discussion.

        Undoubtedly local volunteers, with local business support, grants here and there, can go some way but even community radio stations use pan UK commercial ‘newsmakers’.

        Anway whatever the outcome next year, I’m a confident YES (lest there was any doubt!), I look forward to all views on how we make Scotland more democratic. The deficit is not in doubt.

        Alison Balharry

  2. Good start or good continuation of human progress to a more democratic Scotland and in generations to come the world.There will be ideas out there and all worth learning about them.An ambition of fairness and justice is worth talking about thanks for making me think a bit more.

  3. John Green says:

    The Ancient Greeks recognised “demokratia”, rule by the people, as opposed to “aristocratia” rule by an elite. In my opinion, our politicians (MPs especially), once elected, tend to forget the true meaning of democracy and become a political aristocracy. We need to reverse this situation, and I think that Democracy Max is an excellent movement in starting the ball rolling. I applaud your efforts.

    As an example, innovations in IT have changed the way we all live and work, except in politics. There is no reason whatsoever why MPs and MSPs should not vote using an electronic system that identifies them as well as records the way they have voted, and this information could be published on the Internet in an instant. Although we have facility to contact our own MP or MSP, there is no system set up by politicians by which we can collectively record our opinion on matters they are voting on. The forthcoming debate on intervention in Syria is a fine example – would it not be satisfying, and democratic, for us to have facility to let the government and our MPs know what we think in a central electronic forum, and be able to see how our MPs have voted on the matter as individuals? Technologically this is a piece of cake, and probably not that expensive, to set up, but it’s a step too far for the politicians.

    Democracy Max could, and should, help to change the situation for the better. We must support it.

  4. barakabeb says:

    Democracy is the peoples ( demo) governance (cracy) and so for democracy to prosper we need power devolved to the people at a direct local level, as well as greater accountability on a national level. Ideally, democracy, in its truest sense, ought to dispense with elected representation completely, as this only produces another political class, above the will of the people. Unfortunately such an ideal is improbable in a modern highly urbanized world. Ancient Athena, with its ideals of prosperity and peace, is of course the birthplace of Western democracy, but it was far from perfect- at its height the Athenian citizenry numbered some 30-40000 men, whilst the other 90% made up the rest of the city’s population. Eligibility to meet and vote in the Ecclesia ( assembly) was a fairly straightforward and simple matter, with such a small population, consensus no doubt was easy to manufacture. The complex problems come when more people want political freedom and a wider demographic begins to participate in the democratic process ( sociological ramifications Athena didn’t have to deal with in a fairly mono-cultured ancient world). True democracy would look more like some form of anarchism than it does today. But I do think non-representation may be possible at a local level, even in cities and large towns, if people fully understood the importance of direct participation in the democratic process- assembly could be devolved at a local level so that major decisions were made directly by an active citizenship. What we really need to augment the flow of democracy in our communities is wider direct participation within a politics of engagement, greater systemic flexibility, and a system that fully realises the potential for technology to transform politics ( ie greater use of internet voting, web connectivity and linkup to parliament so that people can vote in major decisions made at national level)- this employment of technology in the service of democracy combined with the fluid transaction of information ( making the old power politics somewhat antiquated) may one day make politics as we know it completely obsolete.
    We in Scotland have to start somewhere and Demo Max as well as the Common Weal give us plenty to chew on as we debate the meaning, purpose and value of democracy.

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