Saturday, November 19, 2005

How others see us

From the Scotsman:
"THE Dalai Lama praised the Scottish Parliament and devolution yesterday as he arrived in Scotland for a conference aimed at helping Tibet gain greater control over its future.

He said the devolved powers of Holyrood provided a model which could be used to help give autonomy to Tibet.

The exiled Buddhist leader is to speak at the fourth World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet during a two-day visit to Edinburgh.

Tibet has been occupied by the Chinese since 1950 and the Dalai Lama has been forced to live in neighbouring India.

This is the 70-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner's second visit to Scotland in 18 months.

Speaking as he arrived in Edinburgh yesterday he said: "I think the Chinese government's main priority is stability, unity and prosperity. We feel that our approach, meaningful autonomy I think provides more satisfaction to Tibetan people. As a result, stability and unity and prosperity then become more meaningful."
Interesting, and not the first time I've heard this idea with regards to devolution. The contrast with how it is seen at home and how it is perceived by those from parts of the world couldn't be more stark. It would probably surprise most Scots to learn the extent to which Scottish devolution is seen as an example of successful conflict resolution in parts of the world where states are divided on the lines of nationality because here it is often derided as a 'pretendy parliament' full of 'numpties' who couldn't even keep the cost of the building under control.

What people up here fail to realise I think is that the two are related to each other. In the short run, devolution has - no matter how much the nationalists like to claim otherwise - killed off the nationalist question. And it has done so partly because it's full of incompetent numpties: seeing it's performance so far, the number of people who are convinced that the answer to all Scotland's problems lies in more autonomy from England has understandably declined. In this sense devolution appears to have done precisely what its unionist supporters claimed it would.

The long-term future is less certain though. We still haven't seen what would happen when Westminster is governed by a different party from Holyrood. While it may be a source of satisfaction to many here that Westminster will certainly return a Tory administration before Holyrood ever does (if indeed they ever do) - personally I think this leaves us up here with a couple of serious questions that need addressing. Is the Scottish parliament actually capable of delivering a change of government? A fairly basic requirement of any democratic legislature one would have thought. And what is it with such a large proportion of the Scottish electorate that they appear willing to vote for a chimpanzee, provided the chimp in question is wearing a red rosette?

I wish I knew because in west of Scotland local councils in particular we need a change in administration badly. Those bloggers in England who get all misty-eyed about the Labour party and who preposterously cried 'shame' because some of us couldn't stomach voting for Blair's constitutional vandalism (apart from anything else) should really come up here. Political scientists like to stress the importance of the 'selectorate' in a democracy because while the voters may determine who is in power, those who are responsible for the range of candidates available are obviously hugely influential.

So how much more so when effectively the selectorate is the electorate? Those who select the candidates for election in this part of the world essentially function as a small number of voters operating in a system where there is no de facto secret ballot. Sound familiar? If not, get hold of a British history that covers the 19th century and check in the index for the words "borough" and "rotten".

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