Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Submission to the Calman Commission

In a work capacity, I made a submission to the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution, and was subsequently invited, with my Director Colin Lee, to give oral evidence to the Commission. The transcript of the evidence is now online at CEMVO Submission. It's a pdf file, and our submission starts in the second half of the document following the Law Society.

Of course to clarify this blog is not connected to the Council of Ethnic Minority of Voluntary Organisations and none of the views expressed here are to be taken as representative of CEMVO's opinions, but are purely personal.

However, I think that our submission made some important points about the disconnection between many people, particularly those I work with in the Ethnic Minority communities in Scotland. The whole constitutional debate in Scotland is taking place, in my opinion, far too soon. The Parliament in still in its infancy, and the lack of understanding and participation amongst many people leaves them unable to assess the performance of the Parliament to date, let alone questions of fiscal autonomy and further devolution.

Unfortunately it is the situation we are presented with and so we must make the best of it we can. My work organisation is also involved in the National Conversation process - we do not have an organisational stance on what the best way forward is but rather strive to emphasise that everyone must be included in the discussions.

More about my work organisation can be found at CEMVO Scotland - my project is the Inclusive Democracy Project (IDP).

6 comments:

Drew said...

Hi Jamie, interesting stuff. Their questioning on charity regulation seemed a bit of a hangover of the previous session and slightly perpindicular to why you were really there.. I've attached the STUC submission if you're interested in what established 'Civic Scotland' is saying and the link to the secretariat's oral evidence session is here too.

One point I am not sure that I agree with you is that the fiscal responsability issue equates to a democratic defecit. It's certainly not something I have ever heard expressed to me in an election. To my mind the most important issue around new taxation is how we move away from an unusable flat rate power to a form of progressive taxation which would ensure that greater fiscal responsability - if, and its a big if, that's what we really want - can be utilised for redistribution of wealth.

In the mean time I'm not that oppossed to letting Barnet do the work for us. There are areas I would support change in mentioned in our submission and in the evidence session.

http://www.commissiononscottishdevolution.org.uk/uploads/2008-09-12-scottish-trade-union-congress.pdf

http://www.commissiononscottishdevolution.org.uk/uploads/transcript-10-October.pdf

A lot of the points you make would be true of people not defined as a minority and I take your point about whether its too early, but I am not against changing the little things that can be changed. I doubt Calman is going to be the last word on the Scotland Act for long.

Not a Village in Westminster said...

Hi Drew

The Constitutional issue is definitely an ongoing one and rightly so - as soon as it becomes a completely static process with no reflection involved then it will probably be dead. I think that the small scale changes are to be welcomed - it is more the fundamental examination of status quo vs. further devolution vs. independence which I believe is too early. However, this was always going to happen with the election of the SNP.

In regards to the fiscal responsibility issue, I agree that it doesn't necessarily come up on the doorstep. However, there is a democratic deficit present anytime that an elected body is disconnected from the processes of the raising the money that it spends.

This doesn't by default lead to fiscal autonomy or even any changes - after all most democratic institutions suffer from some form of deficit and therefore it can be one that is considered acceptable or workable in the grand scheme of things. However, it does leave the functioning of the Scottish Government reliant upon the good graces of the Westminster administration, and subject to game playing by the Holyrood administration.

For example, the Scottish Government could choose to cut tax rates for Scottish citizens whilst relying upon increased spending in England to cover their shortfall. Whilst obviously a popular move in Scotland, this would not be a reflection of 'proper' governance, whereby governments have to balance their spending and income raising activities. Likewise, an obstinate or hostile administration in Westminster could impact severely upon the financial capabilities of the Scottish Government, which would contravene the intention of the introduction of devolution.

It's a difficult issue to solve, particularly for someone like me who is not an economist, but I think that an effective Scottish Government should possess the means to impact upon revenue generation and the responsibility to govern efficiently and appropriately in regards to balancing populist measures with fiscal responsibility.

Will check out the STUC submission and let you know thoughts. It is certainly really positive to see the levels of engagement with the constitutional debates by all segments of civic society - it reflects the benefits of organisations engaging with the appropriate structures and debates and also that there could be real benefits from civic society working closer together.

Finally, I completely agree that the issues cover more than just minority communities - disconnection and lack of understanding are barriers for all communities in Scotland, and need tackled as matters of some urgency.

john said...

Jamie,
There is an inevitable confusion when you use the term (ID project) which we have been using since 1995 to define a very different kind of democracy than your own.Could use a more appropriate term (e.g., participatory democracy) given that our definition of the term has already become dominant in the literature, as you could easily find out by doing a simple google about inclusive democracy?

Regards,
john sargis (for the Editorial Committee of Inclusive Democracy)

john said...

Jaime,
Here is the link to the inclusive democracy site. john
www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal

Not a Village in Westminster said...

John

Thanks for the links to your site and the information about the Inclusive Democracy school of thought, which I must admit to being ignorant of.

The IDP which I work on was conceived in conjunction with the Electoral Commission and obviously the people planning the project were unaware of exisiting literature. I must admit that I came in once the IDP was already underway so was not part of that process.

I think that the work we are carrying out is at a different level from that which you undertake so I would hope that the confusion would be limited - certainly I have not been aware of any to date, and we are now in the final phases of the project.

john said...

Jaime,
The classical definition of democracy has nothing to do with representative democracy--which is in fact an abuse of the term democracy. If your group insists in going on with the same name for your project, we would have no other option but to make public what we consider to be an abuse of the term inclusive democracy. We had recently a similar problem with a Peter Emerson who had a similar idea of democracy as you have and he wanted to give the title to his book "Inclusive Democracy" , but when we contacted him and explained the case he changed the title to "All-Inclusive Democracy". Can you do something similar to avoid the creation of problems to both of us and particularly to your group, since our conception of ID is already dominant in the literature?

Here is an extract from “Towards An Inclusive Democracy” about democracy:

Few words, apart perhaps from socialism, have been so widely abused during the twentieth century as the word ‘democracy’. The usual way in which the meaning of democracy has been distorted, mostly by liberal academics and politicians but also by libertarian theoreticians, is by confusing the presently dominant oligarchic system of liberal ‘democracy’ with democracy itself. The modern concept of democracy has hardly any relation to the classical Greek conception, which was dominant until the 17th century or so. Furthermore, the current practice of adding several qualifying adjectives to the term democracy has further confused the meaning of it and created the impression that several forms of democracy exist. Thus, liberals refer to ‘modern’, ‘liberal’, ‘representative’, or ‘parliamentary’ democracy, social democrats talk about ‘social’, ‘economic’ or ‘industrial’ democracy, and, finally, Leninists used to speak about ‘soviet’ democracy, and, later, ‘people’s’ democracies to describe the countries of ‘actually existing socialism’. But, there is only one form of democracy at the political level, that is, the direct exercise of sovereignty by the people themselves, a form of societal institution which rejects any form of ‘ruling’ and institutionalises the equal sharing of political power among all citizens. The hypothesis we make that there is only one form of political democracy has two important implications. The first implication is that all other forms of so-called democracy (‘representative’, ‘parliamentary’ etc.) are merely various forms of ‘oligarchy’, that is, rule by the few. This implies that the only adjectives that are permissible to precede democracy are those which are used to extend its scope to take into account democracy at the economic, or broader social domains. The use of such adjectives is justified by the fact that economic democracy, or democracy in the workplace and so on was indeed unknown to Athenians for whom only political activity belonged to the public realm. The second implication of our hypothesis is that the real meaning of the arguments advanced by the ‘civil societarian’ “Left” in favour of “deepening” democracy is to make the present regimes in the West less oligarchic.