Democracy. A Greek word (demos + kratos) that means “people power”.
The idea of government by the people for the people has taken hold around the world because it sounds like a fair and peaceful way to organise our collective effort.
But so far we’ve made a pretty poor fist of turning the idea into a useful system of government.
In its current form – Democracy 1.xxx – decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of a few people who sit atop the pyramid of power.
The decisions that these people make are heavily influenced by another small group of people who control our corporations, media organisations, political parties, trade unions, and the like.
The rest of us, including the vast majority of our elected representatives, have little or no say over what is done in our name.
This diagram shows you where you sit in the pyramid. The higher you are and the thicker your coloured band the more power you have.
The senior government ministers at the top is a tiny group of people – maybe a dozen or so – who have almost absolute power to make decisions on our behalf.
The operators in the blue band – maybe a few thousand of them – use money to influence decisions in their favour.
The rest of us, everyone below the blue band, the millions of people who make up the demos, have little or no kratos over anything.
This concentration of power at the top means that elections are personality contests between party leaders, orchestrated by media and party operators, funded by rich people with particular interests.
The gifting of absolute power to those at the top via party majority means that parliament is a charade – a theatre in which a fake contest is played out between those in government (smirk, swagger, taunt) and those in opposition (posture, rant, fume).
Meanwhile the potholes remain unfilled, children go to bed hungry, and we crank the planet’s thermostat ever upward.
The utter uselessness of our pathetic excuse for democracy makes us yearn for something better.
Sadly most of the remedies that are on offer are as much use as a bucket of snake oil.
Here’s what the pyramid of power will look like if electoral reformers get their way and change our system of electing members of parliament from first-past-the-post to proportional representation:
Yep. Exactly the same as before. The government ministers at the top might come from more than one party but the power structure has not changed.
Neither will it change if we abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords.
Nor if we leave the EU.
An independent Scotland? Nope. No change except for the location of the pyramid.
None of these things that people claim are radical reforms will make a blind bit of difference to the two fundamental flaws in our democracy, which are:
- The concentration of power in the hands of a tiny, remote, ignorant elite at the very apex of government.
- The ability of those with money to influence the decisions that are made by the tiny, remote, ignorant elite at the very apex of government.
If we want to turn the idea of democracy into a system of collaboration for the common good then we have to redesign the workings of it so that decision-making power is distributed throughout our communities, and the people who exercise that power on our behalf are protected from the guys with the money who seek to buy unfair advantage.
This is what the pyramid of power will look like in a properly functioning democracy:
At the top we have a single tier of Elected Representatives, all of whom are in government. They sit on local committees to decide local stuff, regional committees to decide regional stuff, and they appoint executives to do the day-to-day work of regional and national government.
These unelected executives are empowered to deliver the policies that are decided by the committees of Elected Representatives and are answerable to them.
This means that government ministers have limited power to act independently, they cannot claim to have a mandate from a nominal majority (almost always a minority) of the electorate as is currently the case, and they can be removed from office if their performance falls short of what’s expected.
Voters are now directly below government in the pyramid and have multiple opportunities to influence decision-making.
We can vote for up to three Elected Representatives and any of them who passes the threshold for election (e.g. 5,000 votes) becomes a member of the government.
We can suggest policies – local, regional, or national – to our Elected Representatives and lobby to get such policies formally proposed for debate.
When a policy has been proposed we can contribute to the debate and record our final opinion which will be taken into account by ERs when they vote to amend, adopt, or reject a policy proposal.
If enough of us decide that an Elected Representative isn’t performing well enough we can instigate a vote of no confidence in them and remove them from office.
The ability of the operators in the blue band to influence decision-making is much reduced by the distribution of power to local and regional level – too many arms to twist and backs to scratch – and restrictions on the funding of political campaigns.
Their power to influence is further diminished by transparency laws that demand all communications with Elected Representatives and government executives are published daily.
All of this can be done with a fraction of the disruption and cost that it will take to leave the EU or for Scotland to leave the UK, and unlike these fake remedies, this new version of democratic government – Democracy 2.0 – will allow us to fill the potholes, get the local services we need, and find our way towards Universal Sustainable Prosperity.
If you want more detail on how Democracy 2.0 could work click here.