“Electoral Commission – independent, non-partisan body to oversee integrity of electoral process, and to ensure conformity with campaign finance legislation”
Today at the People’s Gathering, organised by the Electoral Reform Society, we were discussing how to get more people involved in politics – in voting turnout, but also in what goes on between elections.
This week I have been reading Greg Palast’s thoroughly unnerving book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The first chapter deals with how the Florida Presidential election was stolen: tens of thousands of voters banned from the electoral rolls, tens of thousands of votes not counted, the net result to give Jeb Bush’s older brother the Presidency even though Al Gore had actually won the election.
Now, of course, the US uses electronic voting machines, so everything’s all right then.
“Judicial review of constitutionality of laws”
I am not a lawyer, and not an American, but there are a couple of areas of US law that I have looked at with queer intensity over many years: and in particular, two areas of the US Constitution and the actions of its judicial regulator the Supreme Court.
Article Four, Section One of the US Constitution says
“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”
Marriage and divorce have always been defined as included among the “public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings”: if you are married in the state of New York, so the original Drafters considered, you should not be able to move to Virginia and thereby make yourself unmarried.
After the US Civil War, many states passed legislation banning marriages which they considered to be unethical and unsuitable: cousin marriage. Even today, 30 US States have laws that make it illegal to marry your first cousin, or allow it only with specific exceptions (if one or both of you is sterile). Predictably enough, people who grow up in states where cousin marriage is banned, tend to think of it as some kind of weird icky relationship, bad for the children. (Where have I heard that before?)
First cousins marrying is culturally approved in some countries, culturally disapproved in others: first cousins can’t get married according to Catholic canon law (which is based on Roman law). But the US is the only country which, in the 19th century, up and passed laws against first cousins marrying – which are still in force in 30 states.
So what happens if you are first cousins who marry in a state where that’s legal and move to a state where it’s not? Continue reading
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
“Guaranteed rights based on European Convention”
I love the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a religious person might love Scripture.
Drafted in 1948, sixty-four years old on 10th December this year, it is still a radical and inspirational document.
I find the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms less inspirational and less radical, even though it’s not even 5 years younger.
“I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
“Judicial independence: judges appointed by independent commission having legal and lay representatives; judges removable only for misconduct etc”
From the Judiciary of Scotland website:
In Scotland, the principle was emphasised as long ago as 1599 when the Lord President of the Court of Session declared that the judges were independent of the king, “sworn to do justice according to our conscience”.
“Independent accountability mechanisms: Ombudsman and Auditor-General”
The Auditor-General is an office established to examine the government’s accounts. The South African Constitution provides that the Auditor-General is to:
annually produces audit reports on all government departments, public entities, municipalities and public institutions. Over and above these entity-specific reports, the audit outcomes are analysed in general reports that cover both the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) cycles. In addition, reports on discretionary audits, performance audits, and other special audits are also produced. The Auditor-General tables reports to the legislature with a direct interest in the audit, namely Parliament, provincial legislatures or municipal councils. These reports are then used in accordance with their own rules and procedures for oversight.
The Ombudsman Association defines ombudsmmen as:
an independent and impartial means of resolving certain disputes outside the courts.
They cover various public and private bodies and look into matters after a complaint has been made to the relevant body.
“Public Service Commission to ensure civil service impartiality”
There is a story about Clare Short when she was a senior civil servant, working as Private Secretary to Mark Carlisle, who was then Education Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s first Cabinet, that after working hard all day on Tory education policies, she would relieve the frustrations of the day by telling the Minister exactly what she thought of the Tory policies – an end-of-work break that apparently they both enjoyed.
The story does credit to both – Margaret Thatcher noted in her diary that when she had to dismiss Carlisle in her September 1981 cabinet reshuffle, he left with “courteousness and good humour” – and highlights the British civil service tradition of total political neutrality in office.
“Provision for Scottish Defence Forces under control of Scottish government”
Today in the Scotland on Sunday, Euan McColm takes up his keyboard and goes to battle for the Scottish military
One of the ways in which die-hard SNP members kid themselves that their party is still in the slightest bit radical is through their approach to defence. The Nationalists’ broad “nukes out, troops home” mantra may, from time to time, chime with a wider public mood. But it’s a stance adopted in the days when the notion that an SNP politician might ever have to seriously consider the defence of an independent Scotland was laughable.
One of the big things that will change for Scotland if we become independent: The UK is about 22nd in the world for population size. But Scotland, which is between five and six million people, will be somewhere between 110th and 118th for population size. Our neighbours on this list won’t be France and Italy any more; they’ll be countries the size of Nicaragua or Denmark or Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan or Slovakia or Finland, Singapore or Turkmenistan or Norway.
Everyone knows this – the SNP keep pointing at Norway and Denmark, European democracies the size of Scotland, to prove that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
But one change which this sizing down makes inevitable, which I think any realistic person will have to accept:
Countries the size Scotland will be don’t go to war for fun. Continue reading