Saturday, 5 April 2014

The European elections and a worrying democratic deficit

The nation awaits, agape and expectant, searching frantically for information on the various prospectuses. The feeling of anticipation is tangible, the excitement almost spine-tingling as the democratic process of a nation reaches its greatest conclusion. 

Yes, in little over a month, the polling station doors will open at 7am to relieve the pressure of a seething mass of voters desperate to make their mark on the European Parliament elections (Scotland constituency). We will have our choice to make. Shall we re-elect the sitting Labour MEPs? Or the sitting Nationalist MEPs? Quite how spectacularly will poor old George Lyon, the Scottish Liberal Democrat (at the time of writing, I mean the Scottish Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament, although at their present rate of collapse, it is quite conceivable that when you read this, he will be the only Scottish Liberal Democrat member overall) lose his seat? Will we vote for a Tory? (No). Will UKIP, the gutter-dwelling filthy remnants of the British far-right pip the Scottish Green Party to the post? (No).


Something's missing, though. 


Since Scotland became a unified constituency in the European Parliament in 1999, the one thing that has marked it out has been its plurality in terms of choice. 


In that first nationwide election, electors could choose between not only the three main parties and the Liberal Democrats, but also the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party (declaration of interest: I'm a member of the SSP and have stood for election for them), the Pro-Euro Conservatives (hi, Ken!), UKIP, Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (their name is the Socialist Labour Party, but they're never seen without the "Arthur Scargill's" prefix, much in the same way as one always sees "Love Rat Darren Day", "Gaffe-prone Prince Philip", and "Lee McCulloch (pen)"), Johann Lamont's chums in the British National Party (not to be confused with UKIP, who are completely different. UKIP wear purple, the BNP blue), the Natural Law Party, and a one-candidate party, Accountant For Lower Scottish Taxes (I'm not sure what his manifesto is). 


Aside from the BNP, Natural Law, and the Accountant for &c, every single party in 1999 gained at least one per cent of the vote.


In the next, 2004, election, the Acc &c had sadly left the scene. Arthur Scargill had retired to spend more time with his houses, and thus the 9.385 Scots who voted for his party had to find a new (ironically) home. The electorate of Scotland were also deprived of the mercies of the Natural Law Party. 


However, this motley crew were replaced, in part, by Operation Christian Vote (if they didn't have an advertising campaign based around putting your cross (geddit?) in the box, they're missing a trick), Scottish Wind Watch (me neither) and an Independent, one Fergus Tait.


In 2009, Socialist Labour was back, and they were joined by the Jury Team (no, sorry), and the NO2EU party, which second-last finish may have been caused by the dishonourable activities of its lead candidate's member. Fergus Tait had withdrawn, a wiser and doubtless poorer man, and was replaced as Independent candidate by Duncan Robertson (who tripled, incidentally, the Independent vote). 


The point? 


In 1999, the electorate was able to choose between eleven different policy platforms. In 2004, ten, and in 2009, a frankly erection-inducing thirteen parties. 


This year, Scots will go to the polls able to choose between only six parties. Most of which are, fundamentally, identical. 


Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats are part of a formal extraparliamentary coalition, BetterTogether, and each share a similar manifesto in terms of middle-of-the-road capitalist, austerity economics. The SNP share a similar platform, with the sole exception being that they prefer to manage capitalism from Edinburgh rather than Westminster. 


UKIP, of course, is different. A proto-fascist party similar in tone and rhetoric to Oswald Mosely (whom Labour chose to make a government minister) in its extreme-right, anti-worker polices and xenophobia, they have only twice kept their deposit in Scotland, and have neither councillors, MPs, MSPs or MEPs, this dismal political failure even despite a concerted effort by both BBC Scotland and STV to promote UKIP as an actual thing in Scotland. Their "Scottish lead candidate" is the chairman of the London Branch of the anti-foreigner party. 


The Greens are the only party which are outside the moat, and, if you vote, I would urge that you give your first preference to the Greens. I, personally, won't be voting (well, I will, but I shall be casting a blank ballot. I refuse to vote for BetterTogether, refuse to vote for the Nazis of UKIP, and I shan't be voting for the SNP for fear that it may allow Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, their third candidate and a political butterfly who has been in more parties than Paris Hilton, into the Parliament). 


But where does this leave socialists? The Greens are well-meaning, and the best of the above, but they're not a socialist party (they voted, for instance, against our Bills for free prescriptions in the Second Parliament and continue to oppose our plans to nationalise the means of production, transport and exchange). 


In previous elections, we had a smorgasbord of parties to choose from: we had the SSP, we've had NO2EU and Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour. 


Now? If you're a socialist, the best choice is the Greens. 


If you're a Nazi, you're even worse off. There's no BNP. There's UKIP, but I rather imagine that despite UKIP's proto-fascism, the proper Nazis like the security guard in the Edinburgh Co-operative with the Union Jack tattoo on his head, are sitting muttering into their jackboots about UKIP being "race traitors" or whatever. 


And if you're a Natural Law type, you're totally fucked. 


In this election, we can choose from less than half the average number of political parties that our predecessors have been able to choose from. 


This is not healthy for democracy. 


The reason, of course, is the deposit. It is free to stand in Local Authority elections. To stand in Holyrood, a party needs find £500. It's the same sum to stand in Westminster. Why, therefore, should it be ten times higher to stand in the European Parliament elections?


If a £500 deposit is deemed high enough to put off oddballs for Holyrood and Westminster, why not in Stra├čburg and Brussel? It seems that the system is designed to ward off smaller parties. 


People want the Scottish Socialist Party to stand in this election (we've been asked often enough). And they have a right to be able to choose us. But with a referendum to fight, small parties (and particularly ours, given our prominent position in the Yes campaign) simply can't afford to thrown £5000 at a deposit we may not get back. £5000 is a lot of money when you don't take donations from corporate donors. Perhaps that's why the threshold is £5000...


Instead of a financial deposit, which ring-fences politics for the rich, why can't we have a system where your argument entitles you to a place on the ballot paper?


Why can't, for instance, a party which receives, say, 100 signatures in each region of Scotland be entitled to a place on the paper? That would show that there is a genuine demand for that organisation to be on the ballot paper, far more than some fat wank in a suit writing a cheque for five grand does. 


It is a disgrace to the Scottish democracy that we have such a limited choice for the most important elections in our political calendar. 



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