Wednesday, 13 April 2016
Too Much Democracy?
I’ve said so many times that I don’t intend this blog to be a political one that it’s very soon going to become a question of the lady protesting too much. However, occurrences are a-happening out in the world, and occurrences which need thinking about carefully. The main one on everybody’s minds at the moment (and for the next two soul-shattering, brain-numbing months) is the EU Referendum.
Now, we’ve heard lots of economists and experts and expats talking about exports and imports and immigrants and emigrants, and each side accuse the other side of scare-mongering and racism and fascism and treachery and treason, and almost every person has their own idea of whether leaving the EU will be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, but as well as the economic and migrationary arguments, people bring up the question of sovereignty. Shouldn’t the British be allowed to rule the British, we are asked?
And that has led me to ponder a question. How much democracy is too much democracy?
After all, if you think about it, is does seem a little bizarre that people in France or Germany or Holland could vote on a thing, and it affect us here in the UK. I mean, if our MEPs all vote one way, and everyone else votes the other, we’re stuck with a law that we don’t want, and surely that isn’t fair is it?
Except that if all the people in Yorkshire vote one way, and everyone else in the UK votes the other, Yorkshire is stuck with the consensus, and that could mean accepting laws approved of in Lancashire! If Huddersfield votes one way, but the rest of Yorkshire votes another, is that fair on the inhabitants of Huddersfield? What about Lynton Avenue? What about Number 47? (An address, incidentally, chosen completely at random. I have no idea who lives there, nor are they affiliated with this blog, so please don't bother them, or ask their opinions on the nascent Huddersfield Independence Movement).
And so on, ad absurdum. At what scale, at what level, is the right amount of democracy to be found? Scotland recently agitated for independence, using most of the same arguments as those in favour of the UK leaving the EU, talking about sovereignty and democracy and not being ruled by those who don’t have their interests at heart. There are those in Cornwall and Wales who’d like to see them as independent countries. The national consensus is that this level of democracy and self-government is not a Good Thing. Nations as entities need to be a certain size to get anything important done, and minorities having to put up with majority rule as part of a democracy is the price individuals pay for having those important things done on their behalf.
Where is that threshold though, roughly? At what point do we say, “No, this entity is too big, this is far too much democracy thank you kindly. The minority opinion is too big to be ignored, even if the majority opinion is correspondingly enormous.” Presumably if nine people vote for option A, and 1 for option B, it is fair and just to expect Person 10 to go along with it. However, if 900 million vote for A, and 100 million for B, it is not fair and just to expect that minority, numerically huge as it is, to accept the decision?
Obviously the EU is culturally diverse, and it can be argued that it is not fair that people from a culture very different to that of others should be able to make decisions that impinge on the lives of those culturally-different others. They don’t understand how that minority does things, how they think, what they believe, and shouldn’t be allowed to push them around, no matter how democratically.
But is the culture in London sufficiently similar that their votes should affect rural Cheshire, for example? Is the culture of Birmingham enough like that of Cornwall, Kent’s of Cumbria? At what point does the cultural and sovereign cost of democracy become higher than the benefits reaped by joint action?
I’ve no idea, and I suspect that everybody has their own opinion, which is of course why we’re having this referendum. However, certain people in Scotland have suggested that if Scotland votes ‘In’, and the rest of the UK votes ‘Out’, they should be allowed another referendum to see if they should be allowed to become independent and stay in the EU as a separate entity. They will have suffered a surfeit of democracy. The idea has been met with disdain by many, but surely that assertion of national sovereignty is exactly what so many people in the UK are in favour of? Unless their democracy threshold is larger than Scotland but smaller than the EU, of course.
As I say, I have no answers, but I thought that the question is worth asking, because we hear a lot of rhetoric about democracy, as though it is some wonderful panacea that can turn the most wretched war-torn wasteland into a charming utopia overnight. It is worth remembering that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. It’s just up to each person to decide how much is too much, and vote accordingly. Those in the minority will then have to accept that majority’s decision as the price of being a part of a greater whole. It just remains to be seen how great that whole is afterwards.