As the first stage in a yearlong process to imagine what a ‘Good Scottish Democracy’ might look like we asked for volunteers to take part in a discussion about the future of Scotland Democracy.
Hundreds volunteered and this was narrowed down to try and reflect a wide range of backgrounds. Over 80 people came to Edinburgh for a day long discussion in July on ‘what would make a good Scottish Democracy.
The day highlighted some real problems, offered a few possible solutions and aspirations for Scotland’s democratic future.
Many felt that local government was simply not local enough. Measures were raised to reengage people in community politics. The goal of gender balance in the Scottish parliament was agreed without dissent.
But perhaps the surprising thing to emerge from the first stage of this process is the depth of hostility people have towards political parties.
Parties are vital part of our political system. It is concerning that they are viewed as part of the problem with our democracy, and not part of the solution.
We’ve just emerged from conference season. And once again it’s illustrated that the parties’ roots into real life and real communities are severely stunted. Most of the people who attend party conferences are paid to be there. The people who rise through the ranks to become leaders and representatives more often or not are paid advisors or party workers.
These are the people who govern or seek to govern us. At one time they were tribes most of us could identify with. They were active in our communities. The Unions who were an integral part of the Labour party had pit bands and football teams. The Conservatives ran coffee morning and beetle drives.
But now they all seem a separate tribe all of their own.
They should articulate ideas and explain policy positions; develop and train representatives and encourage and organise citizens to vote. They seem to be failing in the very tasks we rely on them for.
If parties didn’t exist we would have to invent them. But now might be the time for them to start reinventing themselves.
We will be presenting all these findings to a group of leading thinkers, commentators, academics, activists and campaigners, and challenging these assumptions in a series of public meetings as we work towards creating a ‘Vision of a Good Scottish Democracy’.
There is clearly a real and growing antagonism towards party politics. But that distaste clearly does not mean people don’t care about politics itself.
This project was born of the simple belief that politics is just too important to be left to politicians. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who gave up their time to make this process possible.
Read Democracy Max: A Report from the People’s Gathering [PDF]