Saturday, 10 March 2012

SNP Government's overwhelming democratic mandate or abuse of power?

At Thursday's FMQs Alex Salmond largely concurred with what I said in Wednesday's post (no doubt because he'd avidly read it!), namely that Joan McAlpine's comparison of the UK's 'abuse of power' in relation to Scotland with a domineering husband and oppressed wife didn't quite extend to what might more appropriately be called domestic abuse.

But let's ignore the minutiae of what the word 'abuse' means in the domestic context, and instead focus on the appropriateness of the metaphor for Scotland's constitutional position. The unsuitability of the comparison is perhaps best illustrated by the similar metaphor employed by SNP minister Angela Constance in her party's election from last year:
When you get paid at the end of the month you don’t give that money to your next door neighbours and let them decide what you can spend.
Nonsense. Perhaps more like living in a shared block of flats and contributing to its collective upkeep. You and others in a minority might not like what the committee spends the money on, but unfortunately that's how democracy works. Of course, it's perfectly feasible for one group to break off and make its own arrangements, but if those disgruntled by the status quo can't get a plausible breakaway group together then tough. Again, that's how democracy works.

Thus Angela Constance makes it sound like Scotland is giving money to England which then does as it pleases with it. But that's not what happens. Scotland gives money - as does England - to a shared endeavour called the UK, in which Scotland is represented, and in relation to which Scots have never demonstrated any majority inclination to leave. Of course, it's self-evident that many don't like this relationship, but again that's democracy. By the same token, if a majority of Scots want to end the relationship then fine, but in that regard we're currently waiting on Alex Salmond giving us the chance to have our say.

Similarly, it's self-evident that when Alex Salmond, Joan McAlpine et al refer to an abuse of power they essentially mean anything democratically decided that they don't agree with, thus it's the usual litany of UK defence policy, budgetary considerations etc. Of course, this blog will be the last to claim that UK democracy is anything like perfect, but surely there should be a bit more nuance than merely shouting 'abuse of power' at any decision we disagree with?

Thus take this idea to its logical conclusion and 'abuse of power' could be applied to any entity in a democracy subject to anything they don't particularly like.

So an independent Scotland at the 'heart of Europe' and the EU does something the SNP doesn't like. Abuse of power.

The SNP Government browbeating local authorities into accepting a council tax freeze and implementing the Curriculum for Excellence. Abuse of power.

The SNP Government telling smokers that they can't have a puff while on private property or that drinkers can't have a swally unless they pay a certain minimum price decreed by politicians. Abuse of power.

The Scottish Government foisting its policies - and even perhaps an illegal referendum - onto the three quarters of eligible Scottish voters who didn't vote for the SNP in last year's election. Abuse of power.

Dundee City Council changing the timing of my wheelie bin collection. Abuse of power. Actually, it's a bit better for me, so no abuse of power. But I'm sure it's inconvenient for others, thus an abuse of power.

Of course governments at all levels can abuse their powers in many different ways, but when politicians bandy such words about in relation to whatever they simply find unpalatable then their critique quickly loses its effectiveness and begins to look ridiculous. Indeed, just like overblown interpretations of what's meant by 'abuse' in the context of domestic relationships between couples.

But take Salmond's and McAlpine's arguments to their logical conclusion and in some ways the stronger a government is the more it is abusing its power. Thus the SNP now effectively enjoys unprecedented untrammelled power in the Holyrood context, and indeed even as regards the slightly less than a quarter of the 'people of Scotland' who positively endorsed the party it must be doing some things that they don't like, and that's without even considering the majority who didn't endorse the Nationalists!

So in effect Alex Salmond and Joan McAlpine are arguing that what's often called the likes of an 'overwhelming democratic mandate' at Holyrood is in fact symptomatic of an ongoing and systemic abuse of power.


Barbarian of the North said...

Best argument I have seen. And I especially like the bit about Europe.

But get a large umbrella, since you may incur the wrath of the Fundamentalist Wing of the Alex Salmond Society.

Stuart Winton said...

Er, thanks Barbarian!!

But thankfully the FWASS don't appear to read my blog too often, or maybe they just lost track of it during my hiatus.

Or perhaps they've been preoccupied with other things today ;0)