Enhancing Democracy

Enhancing Democracy

There are currently many issues on which elected representatives do not represent the spectrum of views in society. Referenda can enable the genuine voice of the people to be heard and prevent the political and media establishments from giving a false impression of public opinion. The reluctance of the government to hold referenda when challenged to could convey a message in itself. The SFP would call for a referendum if we believed that the government was acting against the will of the majority of the population in a matter of serious consequence.

Election campaigns in Scotland are routinely dominated by issues not relevant at that level of politics. We will endeavour to point this out when necessary and will encourage the media to focus on the relevant issues.

Local engagement in politics is important. In each election campaign, in every constituency and region, a hustings event should be filmed and made available online, along with a filmed message from each candidate. The cost of this could be offset by sending all of the electoral addresses (leaflets sent to all constituents at the government’s expense) in one mailing instead of separately.

Instead of a £500 deposit to stand in elections, evidence of 50 party members in a constituency should be an acceptable alternative.

The Holyrood election Regional Lists should be replaced by a National List. The proportional representation element in undermined by regionalisation. The current regional system unjustly rewards geographical concentration of support, while setting the bar unnecessarily high for viable yet small parties.

There four problems with Local Government. 1) Councils areas are too big, and so lose community engagement. They could be split or district councils reinstated. 2) Councils increasingly just have to implement central government policy in many areas. More decisions should be devolved. 3) Council spending is not linked closely enough with Council Tax level, so there is a lack of accountability. 4) Lack of public awareness. Again, single website of films of candidates, online hustings etc. could help.

We would re-establish regional Police, Fire and Ambulance services with power of appointment of chief constables in the hands of local authorities and not Holyrood.

Democracy in Scotland is seriously undermined by the government abusing its power by giving taxpayers’ money to organisations and ‘charities’ that are very influential in public debate. Such sock puppet charities present themselves as grassroots movements, while they actually are paid by the government to advance the government’s agenda. This injection of funds skews public debate as other views lack the organisational and staffing resources to compete. As well as promoting the government’s philosophies, these organisations often praise and give positive publicity to government officials. For political parties, the benefits of supporting sock-puppet organisations are long term. Once the party loses power, these groups continue to promote the same political ideology. The new government must, therefore, choose between withdrawing the funding (which will prompt outrage from the threatened groups) and keeping it in place (which will mean funding politically hostile organisations).

We propose that a large number of such organisations are defunded, regardless of the controversy. Organisations in receipt of state funding should be restricted in their campaigning. For example, Scottish Women’s Aid should not be free to argue for liberalisation of abortion law while receiving taxpayers’ money. All charities that engage in any campaigning or public communication should have to declare their direct and indirect government funding clearly and prominently, for example. We list some organisations whose funding we question in our Public Finance policies.

Democratic ideals must be defended. An increasing number seem unwilling to accept democratic decisions, feeling that the system is failing if it fails to yield the desired outcome. Others prefer a theocratic system where democracy is subservient to religious authority. We will encourage democratic engagement and promote the philosophy of democracy.

Educational institutions should offer the opportunity for students to hear a diverse range of viewpoints, especially as younger people now vote.

If politicians show themselves to be dishonest and dishonourable in their personal lives, for example, by having an affair, this is insight into their character is not irrelevant to their public role. Respect for politicians would be enhanced by higher expectations of integrity and faithfulness.