Our Legislators Should Be Chosen By The People From The People
“For some time now, when I have been asked why I am voting Yes, my short answer has been, “for a fully-elected parliament”. Crucially, of course, that argument is one which is not about nation, but about governance: it’s not about where you were born, but about where you live.” Historian Mark Nixon contributes to our English for Yes series.
During the summer and autumn of 1884, hundreds of protests took place across Scotland, and the rest of the UK, in favour of extending the franchise to another 2 million or so working men. At least, that was the official line. The demonstrators themselves, however, had far more in their sights. In the words of one banner carried at the Hawick demonstration on 20 September, and now in the collections of the local museum, “Our Legislators Should Be Chosen By The People From The People.” 130 years later, almost to the day, I shall be voting to bring that cry closer to realisation. I shall be voting Yes, for a fully-elected Parliament.
The Westminster Parliament has made it clear it does not believe that the people of Britain should be allowed to elect all of its governors. The White Paper on Independence unequivocally states that the Parliament of an independent Scotland should be fully elected. Moreover, I believe that the vast majority of MSPs across all of the parties support that ideal, and crucially that the Scottish people will demand nothing less.
I have not yet mentioned nation, or nationality, and that is for a simple reason. This is a question of democracy, of our rights as citizens to choose our legislators. It is not an issue of nation, but one of governance. It is not about where we were born, but about where we live. I live in two countries: a UK whose governing class does not trust its citizens to elect the ‘correct’ parliamentarians and whose citizenry does not seem to care; and a Scotland whose governing classes support the right to democracy and whose citizenry, as the independence debate has shown, cares about the part it can play in its governance.
We will continue to choose bad representatives as well as good representatives. Parliamentary democracy is not perfect, but it is better than a parliament in which two-thirds of its members are there because they have been chosen by the governing class to suit its own needs, or because they sit as the remnants of the old feudal system, or because they are bishops in a church which only operates in one of the four constituent countries of the Union, and is becoming vanishingly irrelevant even there.
I regularly give talks to local history societies across Scotland on the movement for democracy in 19th Century Scotland, and I have often been asked by members of the audience, “isn’t it incredible that we still have an unelected upper house?” Local history societies are hardly melting pots of revolutionary fervour, but they are home to members who are intelligent, engaged and knowledgeable, and the incredulity they espouse should be shared by everyone.
It has become unfashionable, it seems to me, to advocate for democracy. The working men and women of 1880s Hawick would be aghast at that. On the 18th of September, those living in Scotland who do believe in democracy have an opportunity to vote for a fully-elected parliament. I will grab that chance, and I implore all friends of democracy, wherever you were born, to join with me in voting Yes.