Yesterday we in Scotland had an important referendum. Those of you who read my previous post will know that I am not an enthusiast for referendums. Some of you will know that I got run over (my fault) soon after writing it, so maybe that was a judgement. Be that as it may. This recent referendum in Scotland has had some excellent consequences. There has been a widespread, thoughtful and committed involvement in serious politics by an overwhelming majority of the electorate, including some young people new to voting. The YES campaign developed a vision for the future which included many inspiring social and political reforms. The NO campaign was drawn into trying to match these, and so the whole country has been enthused by the need do more, soon, to make Scotland and the UK a better place.
This does not pretend to be an academic paper, and is woefully short of necessary detail. I like to hope that it will contribute to debate and to thinking and to progress of a modern sort.
To my way of thinking there are three mighty issues which we should tackle, perpetuating the energy generated by the referendum.
One is that the widespread cynicism about politics and politicians must be eliminated. There are two things that must be done to achieve this. The first is that politicians must stop behaving in ways that invite cynicism. All politicians in our democracy are concerned with winning the next election. All politicians are concerned with wealth creation. All leading politicians are a bit ambitious (thank goodness, or there would be no one to do the job). As a result some politicians (not all) behave in ways which invite cynicism. I'll mention expenses scandals and spin-doctoring – but, as I said, this is not a detailed paper. We must use our energy to support those who want to outlaw dishonest, selfish, arrogant behaviour.
The second way of combating cynicism is for the many politicians who are honest and able and unselfishly dedicated to the common good to do more to project their correct image to voters. The media have a heavy responsibility here. If you watch or listen to obscure channels outside prime time, or if you read long articles in journals written in small print, or read the best political memoirs, you soon learn of politicians of great ability and considerable knowledge who are able to have sensible discussions about ways of tackling our problems. But in headlines, and on prime time you see would-be celebrities showing off their skill with words, romping in the bear-garden of party-political competition and indulging in point-scoring. (This leaves out serious scandals which erupt from time to time.) The better sort of politician (the majority) need to work harder at showing they are the people we want to do the job. Journalists could help them – whilst still subjecting them to rigorous scrutiny.
Incidentally, there is a supplementary point that involves Scotland – and any other devolved part of the UK. A journalist at a party once told me after a few drinks (you see I am not claiming this as proof) that at the Holyrood Parliament, where he worked, the SNP members were much the most interesting, because the best young members of Lib, Lab and Con all had ambitions to be successful in UK politics. For devolution to work as it should be need some “big hitters” to stay working in devolved politics, or return to them after a spell in London.
The second mighty issue that needs to be tackled with redoubled energy is the issue of equality and poverty. Anyone who professes an easy solution is probably a charlatan. But again and again during the referendum campaign I saw this issue raised. Please do not stop raising it. At the moment the poorest in our community have a very raw deal This is unjustifiable. Do something about it, with energy.
The third mighty issue is the one I am personally involved in, in a little way, which is the whole question of sustainability, climate change and mass extinction. There are some UN summits on climate change about to happen. There are People's Climate Change Marches designed to show the democratic politicians that there is support (votes) to be won by pursuing sensible policies. Devote to them the energy and enterprise and unselfish desire for the common good that illuminated the referendum debates.
There are many other important issues in politics. I have selected three, acutely aware that I have omitted many – notably international issues of diplomacy, peace and war. Nevertheless, the main point of this post is the stress that all the energy and enthusiasm generated by the referendum will have been a waste of time if our democracy does not take the opportunity to build on it and to move on.