The Holyrood Election: think about how it works in football … it isn’t rocket science

How does Boris Johnson keep his job? How do the Conservatives remain in power? The UK has suffered 127,597 deaths from Covid-19 (John Hopkins University, Covid-19 Dashboard, 22nd April, 2021); and in consequence the second highest cumulative excess death rate in Europe for 2020; second only to Bulgaria (BMJ 2021;372:n799; 23rd March, 2021). Ten years of Conservative government austerity has had a catastrophic impact on the UK’s capacity to respond effectively to a pandemic, in spite of Britain being distinct in Europe as an island (like Taiwan, New Zealand and other island communities that have fared much, much better), naturally gifted with a capacity to control its borders more effectively than continental states. At the same time, Public Health resources in the UK were depleted by long-term austerity, as well as the NHS capacity to respond to an epidemic, in spite of clear warnings to Government that a pandemic was likely, and a clear demonstration in 2016 that the UK was ill-equipped to respond (Operation Cygnus). Instead of good government, there has been a failure to institute rigorous travel restrictions or properly supported quarantine regulations, while lockdowns have been erratically implemented in England; typified by being too slow to begin, or ended too early; and accompanied by confusing public messaging. The government, ‘ex nihilo’ created a new private sector Test and Trace operation (by-passing the highly competent public health services which possessed a long established, effective track record in managing epidemics and pandemics) purely for ideological reasons within Government, and created at a cost of £37Bn, an operation which has failed even to demonstrate it has produced any substantive benefits at all (see ‘COVID-19: Test, track and trace (part 1)’, 10th March, 2021). Even the Conservative Party daily PR journal, the ’Daily Telegraph’ went further in an article by Andrew Orlowski (3rd January, 2021), beginning with this comment: “NHS Test and Trace, with over £40bn spent or committed, is one of the most expensive public schemes ever undertaken, consuming as much money as the annual defence budget. Yet ministers were warned by leading epidemiologists that inefficiencies in the system would render it useless at inhibiting the spread of Covid 19 ….”. The list of gratuitous, self-inflicted failure by this Conservative Government is endless.
We are now seeing unfold a long list of accusations and allegations of Conservative Government cronyism in the award of pandemic related contracts to friends or contacts of Party insiders or ministers for PPE supply (notably including the spectacular failure to provide usable products); or a fast-track system set-up for the ‘chumocracy’ to jump the queue for Government attention and response (this has now been taken to the High Court by the Good Law Project); or the multiple investigations of the disastrous Greensill Corporation, so heavily promoted by the Conservative ex-PM David Cameron. The current PM is now entangled over his alleged offer of tax breaks to Dyson for ventilators (another sorry tale of Government failure to manage procurement adequately, or with appropriate suppliers, that goes far beyond Dyson), that Dominic Grieve, a past Conservative Attorney General has said (BBC Newsnight, 21st April, 2021) that Boris Johnson cannot legally give any assurance that tax will not be paid, as that is a matter for the Inland Revenue Commissioners. Grieve also pointed out that Transparency International’s recent highly critical report on Government contract awards has produced sufficient “doubt” to show that the concerns should be “a serious matter for the government”. This bleak list of controversial issues and accusations of financial sleaze suggests there is a deep problem of decay of standards of governance in our country. In a well regulated, responsible polity, this government should not still be in office. It is both a failure and a disgrace.
Ironically, the most important reason for austerity given by the Conservative Government was the unsustainable nature of the National Debt, in the aftermath of the Financial Crash, 2007-8. Further borrowing could not go on, under any circumstances and the National Debt itself had to be reduced, whatever measure were required. Immediate austerity was not a choice, but a necessity. The budget deficit had to be eliminated, the National Debt significantly reduced. In consequence we had ten years of Conservative austerity. People suffered, poverty and deprivation increased. The Budget deficit, however was not eliminated; the National Debt was not reduced. It increased: enormously. The Government achieved nothing, and austerity seriously damaged economic recovery and living standards. It merely reinforced the gig economy, low wages and the constant, imminent threat of unemployment. What are the facts? The facts are the National Debt in 2010 was £1.2Trillion (ONS). In July 2019, before the effects of Covid-19 struck home, but after nine years of ruthless austerity the National Debt was, £1.82 Trillion (ONS); a very, very large increase – under the Conservatives, who clearly could not even run their own policy. In January, 2021 the National Debt was £2.11 Trillion (an increase of £1 Trillion over 2010). If our world has fallen apart, it is solely because of the pandemic; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the level of the National Debt. The National Debt was not the problem; the Government has proved only that the National Debt, throughout has been the resource that supplies the eternal, vital solution. The real problem over more than ten years, has been the Conservative Government itself, running our finances. In Scotland the Conservatives even had the hypocrisy openly to rely on the National Debt resource to claim Scotland needs the Union; since Scotland may only obtain funding through the intermediation (the gift) of the Conservative Government’s exclusive access to the National Debt resources; which proves only that Scotland requires its own sovereignty to act in its own best interests. 
I propose that one important reason for success of this decadent form of Conservative Government politics may be defined in four words: First Past The Post (FPTP). FPTP does not apply to Holyrood elections, and this makes the dynamics of representative democracy very different in Westminster. Westminster is essentially a very selective form of Party democracy that makes the winning Party – the Party that controls the House of Commons (in Diceyean constitutional terms, with the absolute power of a Czar) – controls everything; ‘Party’ as a danger to democracy itself, is not given sufficient substantive conceptual academic attention for the deep and endemic negative effects Party politics has on the integrity of politics; at least insufficiently since David Hume shrewdly accused ‘Party’ as representing nothing more than “factionalism”, but in current jargon this problem is often rendered as ‘tribalism’ (which does not do its insidious power in modern politics full justice); like Acton’s observation on ‘absolute power’, ‘Party’ corrupts: period.
It isn’t rocket science, therefore the causes of Conservatism’s grip on power are relatively easily explained. In the 2019 General Election, the total registered electorate was 47.6m. The turnout was 67.3%. The Conservative Party won an 80 seat majority with 43.6 % of the vote (just under 14m votes). This means Boris Johnson and the new Conservative Government had total control over Parliament with the support of only 29% of the electorate. This is the essence of FPTP, and why the major political Parties cling to it like limpets; absolute control may be achieved through support of a very narrow constituency; the Conservative constituency is that produced by forty years of neoliberalism, the core vote of ‘Thatcher’s children’; by no means a majority of the population, but organised, purposeful and wholly self-interested. In the case of Conservatives in 2019 a weak Labour Party lost even its ‘Red Wall’ seats in the North of England. Even if the Labour Party was strong (which it isn’t); the Conservatives may calculate that they can safely establish a Conservative majority in Parliament with between 30%-35% electoral support (14m-17m votes), depending on circumstances. This is the price of total control of Parliament. It is noticeable that the Conservatives have recently taken to a form of open ‘pork barrel’ politics, as a result. The Red Wall constituencies are being schooled to understand that the reward for Conservative support will be targeted, highly selective constituent public spending by the Conservative government. The latent corollary is that voting Labour is essentially a vote to be suddenly forgotten by a Conservative government. At least, the dangling, implicit promise is cheap for the Conservatives to make, or break.
Over the last forty years neoliberal ideology has ensured that the values of ‘money’ have become wholly the values of global business. The values of business have moved in to the values of politics, and we can see the results. The values of business and politics have become so arrogant and self-confident that, some years ago, they moved into football. Then, by over-reaching themselves (at the business prospect of replacing a club’s real local fans, with a nebulous franchisable, movable feast of global fans who could be bought and sold, probably increasingly by untouchable surveillance capitalism, wherever the largest Return-On-Capital could be made, endlessly); the movers and shakers inadvertently and unexpectedly awoke the long sleeping fans to what was actually happening to them. It was all over in 72 hours. The fans discovered who they were, what power they had; and what they were really dealing with; a dangerously powerful but essentially fragile ideology. Unfortunately they do not wake up to how far they are already being manipulated by politics, by business, and by surveillance capitalism; on a much, much, much bigger scale – day-in-day-out, both night and day. 

Comments (31)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Spot on John. It’s good to see someone else mention the woeful result of austerity on national debt. The only other time I’ve heard it mentioned was by Phillipa Whitford on Question Time prior to the last election. It’s almost like, with the help of the media, they wear people down with falsehoods such that they become accepted truths. Another one is “the vaccine success is down to Brexit” with no regard to the fact they had self-autonomy over both the PPE and track and trace disasters. Time will also show the death toll has been seriously underreported.

    Totally agree on the football fans as well. Now they’ve had their super-league victory they’ll go back to hoping some gangster oligarch or middle-east dictator will take over their club whilst the Eton toffs continue to shaft them. There’s also talk of a new British super-league just in time for Archie McPherson to tell the Celtic fans that it won’t happen if they vote for independence.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      Just to clarify
      1) The FA have no intention of considering a British super-league. Any hint to the contrary has come at the request of Boris Johnson.
      2) If it was ever going to happen it would be about money and would happen even if they had to call it the four nations league.
      3) If you’re a Celtic fan and fall for Archie’s spiel (again) remember and celebrate with your fascist brethren and their English friends in George Square the day after the referendum should we fail to gain independence.

  2. John Learmonth says:

    I would imagine (its a wild guess) that the Conservatives remain in power because people vote for them.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Aye, but the people are idiots who persist in not voting for all those smarter folk who keep pointing this out to them. Twats!

      1. J Galt says:

        “The people have spoken…..the bastards!”

        1. John S Warren says:

          There is the problem. The Conservatives rely heavily on the fact that around one third of the electerote neither speak nor vote; they hope – never.

          1. John Learmonth says:

            Mr Warren,
            You are making the assumption (based on?) that 30% of the electorate who currently choose not to vote (for whatever reason) wouldn’t vote conservative if they decided to become politically active.

    2. John S Warren says:

      In Conservative-speak people vote “overwhelmingly” for them; in the real world- 29% vote for them, to put a figure on it.

      1. Pub Bore says:

        Where do you get your figure of 29%, John? The Conservatives won the 2019 general election with a 43.6% share of the popular vote; its nearest competitor – Labour – received only a 32.2% share.

        1. Pub Bore says:

          Interestingly, the SNP (which claims a similar mandate in Scotland to that claimed by the Conservatives in the UK ) won the 2016 general election with a fairly comparable 46.5% of the constituency vote, with its nearest competitor – again, Labour – receiving only a paltry 22.6%.

          1. John S Warren says:

            This is 29% of the total electorate. Over 30% did not vote. This is a democracy, they still count. FPTP ensures they do not count and ensures that 29% of the total electorate has (in Diceyean constitutional terms), absolute power. Given the prerogaives of sovereignty that has more teeth than you may believe. This is why the political parties are so desperate to cling on to FPTP. Other systems may actually deliver democratic accountability to the total elevtorate.

            Incidentally the 29% was already fully explained in the article.

          2. John S Warren says:


          3. John S Warren says:

            Incidentally that is why proportional representation is so important; to ensure Parties cannot exercise power beyond their representation in the electorate. Personally in terms of the appropriate proportional voting system, I do not care for the d’Hondt system (Holyrood). Personally, I prefer the Single Transferable Vote (STV), as a fairer system; but I claim no close knowledge and would not wish to suggest that is definitive. I do not consider FPTP as viable any longer as a legitimate democratic system; it is dangerous in its potential consequences, and I think we can see this playing out in the UK now.

          4. Pub Bore says:

            Ah, now that’s interesting, John. It would mean that the abstentionists lost the 2019 general election to the UK parliament despite registering over 30% of the vote. I wonder what the equivalent figure was for the 2016 general election to the Scottish parliament.

            I think we should just allocate seats in our legislative assemblies in straight proportion to the share of the vote each party receives across the whole of their respective jurisdictions. That would mean, in the case of the UK House of Commons, that over 30% of the seats would as of 2019 remain vacant, with their votes counting as refusals. This in turn would mean that the government would need to work harder to win sufficient consensus across the representative assembly as a whole for its legislative proposals; in the case of the present UK parliament, the government would in that case have to negotiate over 60% support for its proposals across all parties in the representative assembly to enact its will. Which in its turn would of political necessity make our public decision-making much less adversarial and much more expressive of a general will.

            (PS I seldom read the articles. I find it more profitable to operate below the line.)

          5. Pub Bore says:

            ‘70%’ even!

          6. John S Warren says:

            Over the last century the turnout in General Elections has been in steady and notable overall decline. The electorate, it is fair to say, is losing confidence in political parties, and Party democracy. This is demonstrable. Politicians, when challenged wring their hands, but – for obvious reasons – the Parties are complacent, and do nothing. FPTP is too important to the political status quo; and as demonstrated here, even among thoughtful electors: nobody notices, or sufficiently cares.

          7. Pub Bore says:

            Alas, you’re right, John! But at least that 30+% cares enough not to participate in the charade.

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Pub Bore, problem of other minds: we cannot know what people think when they do not vote. Perhaps there is voter suppression here, apparently a big issue in the USA:
            Anarchist theory is interested in this phenomenon, but reasons for less-than-full voter turnout remain largely conjectural. Some jurisdictions mandate voting, which at least tends to bring arguments against into the public domain.

          9. John S Warren says:

            Unfortunately, they are wrong. The Parties treat their silence as approval. It is really as simple as that. If an elector wants to avoid the charade the solution is to request to have your name removed from the electoral roll. If that became popular, it would terrify the political parties – strike real fear into them. I tried that when I lived in the South East of England. The local authority refused (I even met the Chief Executive, and his lawyer; we had a lovely discussion). We ended in Court, and I lost.

            I remember ‘The Independent’ actually covered my case (I asked them to respect my anonymity, I was very busy at the time, and did not want to turn it into a circus); they published an article, which headlined me as ‘the Refusenik’. I lost, before a very reasonable English judge (I conducted my own case – it was cheaper; and the local authority waived the costs when I lost, with the judge charmingly approving their response), without thinking in a sufficiently English legal fashion (I am not a lawyer – and as they say someone who represents themself has a fool for a lawyer!). I later discovered that there is a remedy to remove your name under English law – because it worked for someone else. Look for the remedy is the rule. There is often a way to do it.

          10. Pub Bore says:

            I wouldn’t disenfranchise myself, John. I just spoil my ballot paper. Imagine if everyone who didn’t want to endorse any of the parties did this; imagine the message that would be sent when the returning officer announced that the number of spoiled ballot papers amounted to around 30% of the vote, while the ‘winning’ candidate only polled around 29%!

          11. John S Warren says:

            Ineffective. Open to multiple interpretations. Bossts the turnout, which the political parties will use to say the system is very popular. There is no EASY way to defend democracy.

          12. Pub Bore says:

            Less effective than disenfranchising yourself?

            Disenfranchising yourself sends out the message that voting doesn’t count, which seems a queer way of defending democracy.

            Spoiling your ballot paper is at least a way of using the flawed system to make your vote count against it.

          13. John S Warren says:

            You are too both too literal, yet too abstract. The purpose is to use the voting system as a totality to attack the political parties that manipulate the system they have merely inherited and made them what they are (FPTP was not designed, but ‘happened’, serving a world that no longer exists); instead of being used by the Parties, whether you vote or not. They do not care whether you vote, spoil your paper or sit at home; all three serves their interests. You have already proved how well it has served them because you had not thought about the one-third of the electorate who do not vote. In some constituencies it may be over 50% that do not vote. Nobody cares, least of all the political parties, who depend on it. You did not notice that I left some people out, either. I left out those who do not register at all. Nobody noticed. According to the Electoral Commission (November, 2019), 25% of Black and Asian communities in the UK are not even registered to vote.

            Every time you move home you have to register; removal from the roll is not renunciation for life. 10% of the electorate removing their name from the roll (perhaps it could be done as a crowdfunded, social media operation) would scare all the political parties; witless. Suddenly reform would appear, ready made and through Parliament overnight – like magic. Feyerabend would have loved it! You approve the reformed system? You rejoin. That is turning democracy into a human right, demanding of the State the reciprocal duty to ensure every voter counts, before the Parties can exploit the voter.

          14. Pub Bore says:

            No, the trick is rather to disrupt the system, subvert its credibility, embarrass it. Coming together to collectively produce a majority for “‘No!’ to any of it.” effectively embarrasses the system. Removing yourself from the system by disenfranchising yourself is just to… well, remove yourself from the system.

            It’s the difference between simply boycotting a system and actively sabotaging that system.

          15. John S Warren says:

            There is no such extant proposition. Nobody is interested, that is just a fact. This thread demonstrates it; and you hadn’t even read the article that provided some background. You are offering an ‘on-the-hoof,’ transient rabbit from the hat; mere safe, sofa sabotage.

          16. Pub Bore says:

            No, it’s not a fact, John; it’s an interpretation of the fact that a large proportion of the electorate chooses not to vote in elections. No one knows why this is; we can only surmise. It’s also irrelevant.

            Now, you’ve been suggesting that not only should people not vote, but they should also actively seek to disenfranchise themselves by removing themselves from the electoral register in order to make some passive-aggressive point to the politicians; by picking up their ball and going home in the huff, sort of thing.

            As if our politicians would give a tuppenny toss that people not only chose not to vote but also chose to make themselves ineligible to vote! Crikey, in some states in good ole US of A, politicians would actively encourage and connive in the deregistration of folk who are unlikely to vote for them!

            I’ve been suggesting, on the other hand, that people should rather vote in such a way that would make a mockery of the whole damned charade and call into question the whole legitimacy of the politicians’ justificatory claim to having a democratic mandate for their policies.

            A subversive campaign of ballot-spoiling would be far more likely to make the b*gg*rs sit up and take notice. A protest vote is always better – more activist, less passivist – than no vote at all.

            Think of it as voting for an ‘antiparty’ and obliging parties to compete for power, not only amongst themselves, but also with this antiparty.

            Have you read Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s ‘V for Vendetta’? It’s all in there.

          17. John S Warren says:

            I have spent quite a lot of my time discussing an issue with an anonymous commenter who doesn’t bother to read the articles in a thread, but comments on the contents anyway; and relentlessly makes up endless pointless arguments. You have wasted my time on superficial, second-hand, half-digested ideas, on two different threads. That is my brief summary of this tiresome exchange. My fault for persisting. Good-bye.

          18. Pub Bore says:

            Aye, cheerio, John! It’s been fun as always.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Not every part of the British Empire even has elections. And many appointees are still by royal prerogative.

    Anyway, it seems unfair to only include UK figures. I did try to find out what was happening elsewhere in the magical kingdom, and it seems like most have dodged a bullet so far (such as islands banning incoming air travel) but if my calculations are correct, Gibraltar would top this table for deaths per 100,000 at around 276:
    but its small population makes comparison with larger nations unsafe, which is probably why it is excluded from that particular table (maybe they just reasonably excluding any territory with less than 100,000 humans). Anyway, they’ve been saturated with vaccines, so hopefully the worst has already happened.

  4. John S Warren says:

    Fumble fingers! ‘himself/herself’.

  5. Graham Hewitt says:

    Some countries make voting compulsory. I would say there are at least 2 necessary conditions for that to be acceptable. First, we need PR, STV as John suggests; and second we would need “None of the above” as a possible selection on the voting paper.

    FPTP isn’t just unacceptable, it’s undemocratic, in fact anti-democratic. The polling analysers say that because there are so many “safe” seats most elections are decided by a small number of crucial constituencies, whose voters actually decide the outcome, so that the votes of most of us (in the UK elections) are pointless.

    The Electoral Reform Society published a scenario of the result of the 2019 GE using the Additional Member System (d’Hondt) which gives an indication of what could happen in the UK under PR.

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