Monday, April 28, 2014
Thursday, September 26, 2013
I believe in representative government.
I believe people should be able to vote for the representative or party whose stated priorities and policies most closely reflect their own.
I believe a party that is elected on a manifesto should have a legal obligation to act in line with that manifesto.
I believe that if politicians lie to the public or Parliament, they should face criminal prosecution.
I don't believe any of those things are unreasonable.
They're also the main reasons I've been convinced to vote Yes in the Independence Referendum.
I was a big supporter of AV. I still am. And, other than Conservatives, who benefit the most from a First Past the Post system, I still cannot fathom why everyone else isn't. Why wouldn't you want a government that actually reflects the priorities of the county's population, unless you know that your priorities are so marginal that they'll never be heard?
The Labour Party's split approach to the concept befuddled me. Why would they want to perpetuate a system which allowed such an unrepresentative party as the Conservatives to periodically take control of the country? I could only see a few explanations: they prefer to swap outright power back and forth with the Conservatives and keep the Lib Dems and the Greens on the margins, rather than regularly sit in coalition with one or both of those parties; or they don't actually believe in the long-term viability of their own policies and believe the country needs an occasional Tory government to do ... something. Make a mess, perhaps, so they can always point and say "at least it's better than it was under them". I really don't know. Somebody should ask them.
The argument that AV would have allowed lunatic fringe parties like the BNP to gain power was always disingenuous. AV required any candidate to receive some form of approval (1st, 2nd or 3rd choice, etc.) from at least 50% of the electorate to win. To suggest that 50% of the electorate of ANY seat in Britain would support the BNP to any degree seems desperately unlikely to me.
In the 2010 General Election, their best performing candidate, based on actual votes and percentage of votes received, was party leader Nick Griffin. He polled 14.8% of the vote in Barking. Even if we make the ludicrously tenuous assumption than every UKIP voter would have given Nick Griffin their second preference, he'd only have managed 17.7% of the vote - leaving him just behind the Conservative candidate on 17.8%. And even in the hypothetical situation where somehow he'd ended up above the Conservative candidate and got every second preference from Conservative voters, the total percentage from Conservative, UKIP and BNP is just 36.5% of the vote.
That's right, in their best performing seat, the best result the BNP could have hoped for under AV was 36.5% of the vote, assuming all right-wing voters gave them a preference. But the No to AV campaign pretended that AV would have somehow increased their chances of being elected. In fact, it would have been much harder for a fringe party like the BNP to get elected, because they would have needed 50% approval from any electorate.
There was a very good reason the BNP were supportive of the NO to AV campaign. Because the argument that it would benefit them was not only a flawed argument, it was the exact opposite of the truth.
It was a lie.
So, how does that bring me to supporting Independence? Here are some more stats from that 2010 General election:
The percentages of the UK vote won by each of the UK national parties was as follows:
Lib Dem 23%
Now, if we split those votes along roughly Left / Right lines (without getting into the debate over exactly where New Labour sits on that scale these days, I'm taking Labour, Lib Dem and Green as 'left' and Conservative, UKIP and BNP as 'right'), that's 53% Left and 40.9% Right.
Yes, you read that correctly, the UK voted for a 'Left Wing' government in 2010.
So how did such a Left Wing country end up with a Right Wing government? Because our electoral system is fundamentally flawed and incapable of producing a representative government.
Now, let's do the maths within Scotland from that same election:
Lib Dem 18.9%
TUSC/Scottish Socialists 0.2%
Doing the same Left/Right maths (the SNP are substantially left of Labour these days), that's 81.7% Left and 17.8% Right.
Read that again. 4 out of 5 Scots voted for a 'Left Wing' party.
We are not the same as the rest of the UK. We have a different culture and different values, and those are strongly, passionately Left Wing in nature.
This is why we are not simply part of the UK family. While we may have close relationships with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we have a unique collective social identity which simply is not in line with the whole of the UK. Our government should represent us. Socialism is not a dirty word in Scotland, but it has become one in many parts of England. We would not privatise the NHS or the postal service - and yet that's exactly what Westminster are doing.
We have ONE Conservative MP. One. Yet we are living under the auspices of a Conservative government, for all intents and purposes.
This government does not represent us. It's that simple. I want one that does.
So what about that big lie? The one about the BNP and AV? How is that relevant?
Because there are lots of big lies being told in this campaign too. One of the best is that we'll be abandoning the rest of the UK to Conservative rule if we leave the Union. That's a lie.
Then there's the argument that there are too many unanswered questions about what life will be like in a future Scotland. Of course there are unanswered questions, because that will be decided by the governments we elect in future. But what that statement does is assume that the future in the UK is assured to stay the same. That is at best disingenuous and at worst a total deception. Who foresaw the privatisation of the post office at the beginning of this government? ATOS? The bedroom tax?
Here's a truth about an independent Scotland - none of those things would have happened here if we were independent.
This isn't about specifically deciding everything we do after independence in advance, it's about us having the right and the power to make those decisions for ourselves in the future and not being in thrall to a government elected by people with totally different priorities.
To be absolutely honest, if it had been on the table, I'd have voted for a Devo Max option. But it isn't. And that means I'd rather vote Yes than be forced to keep accepting Conservative governments every time the English electorate chooses one. I seriously fear that those who vote No in the hopes of some further devolution option being offered by Westminster will find that anything other than a close defeat for the Yes campaign will have this government claiming that there is clearly no appetite for Independence OR further devolution in Scotland and leaving their vague promises of jam tomorrow as nothing more than electoral rhetoric.
If we want Scotland run along the lines of our values and priorities, we have to vote Yes in the referendum - whether we win that vote or not, I believe we need a strong showing for Independence in order to hold the government to their dangled promises of more devolution if we do stay in the UK.
And those are the reasons I'll definitely be voting Yes.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Saturday, May 21, 2011
I recently had a debate with a family member about this very topic. Just after Bin Laden was killed, actually. His response was along the lines of: "That's easy for you to say - how would you feel if it was your family they had killed?" Well, that's my point, really: Who are "they?"
Well, "they" were Muslim Extremists. Not Muslims - Muslim Extremists. These are two utterly different things and one of the biggest obstacles to defeating Extremism is the failure by Western Judeo/Christian countries to be able to tell the difference between the two.
Hamas called the death of Bin Laden another casualty of the "War on Islam". In reality, there is no War on Islam. There has been a "War on Terror" (sic). (Let's not get into a debate about the folly of waging war on an emotion, that's another blog post.)
One of the biggest and, I believe, very valid criticisms of the invasions of Afghanistan and, much more so, Iraq, is that they are fueling the recruitment of more terrorists by giving extremists something to point to and say: "See? They hate Islam. They are at War with Islam." And they have.
This is what I'd like to ask: "What more effective way could there be for America to show that they are NOT at war with Islam than to build an Islamic holy building on the site of the worst terrorist atrocity on American soil?"
Seriously. Give me a more symbolic gesture to clearly say: "We do not hate Islam. We do not blame Islam."
Build a mosque at Ground Zero and the terrorist recruiters claiming the US is at war with Islam will have a much harder time. It would be a huge symbolic getsure and a huge victory over terrorist recruitment. It would be a huge step towards peace.
However, there are several problems which will prevent it from happening. First, too many people really do think Muslims are collectively responsible for 9/11. For example:
"Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington," former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich said. "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."
A major American political figure who can't distinguish between followers of a peacful religion and extremist terrorists. (This is a man considering running for President, by the way.) Sadly, his attitude is not atypical.
For the record, Newt, the Nazis DID kill millions of Jews and the Japanse army, under orders from their government, DID kill hundreds at Pearl Harbor. Muslim Extremists killed thousands at 9/11. Not Muslims.
Equating Muslim Extrmists with Muslims is the equivalent of equating the Ku Klux Klan with all Christians. Are you happy with that, Newt? I suspect not.
First, America needs to understand that Islam is not the enemy, just as much as Muslims need to know that America is not at war with Islam. And those two things can only happen if there is a clear lead taken on exactly that front.
Again, though, what better way than to build a mosque at Ground Zero and use the discussion it will inevitably inspire to clearly make those points?
Sadly, it won't happen - certainly not soon. Obama can't do it - not before re-election anway. There are already too many Americans who suspect him of being a Muslim and, sadly, who consider that a problem with him being their President. If he hinted at doing this, he'd drop like a stone in the polls.
The real "War on Terror" should be a matter of waging peace wherever possible.
If we really want to conquer "Terror", first we have to conquer ignorance.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
If that first sentence almost put you off reading any more, let me just quickly plead with you to give me a minute to be more interesting.
What do you believe in? What's important to you? What do you want to be important to your government?
These are the questions you should be asked at every election. It should be a simple process: Which party most closely represents the values you hold dear? Then you vote for them.
But currently, there's a good chance you don't. Maybe you vote for one of the two parties you believe, or have been told, can win in your constituency, because you would rather have them than the other lot. Or maybe you don't vote at all, because voting seems to make no difference. And maybe you're tired of all the negative, mud-slinging campaigning and utterly disillusioned with politics.
If any of these things is true for you, or even if you do vote for the party you actually believe in but feel it's a futile effort, then you are exactly the kind of person who should be beating a path to vote for AV next month. Because AV gives you a real voice. It means you don't have to waver about who you SHOULD vote for, you can vote for the party you really, truly support, and then use your alternative vote rankings to show who you would support if you can't have your first choice.
It's a very simple system that the No campaign want to make sound very complicated. You just rank the candidates in order of preference, until you no longer have one. 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, even. Anybody can do that. Anybody can understand that. It's really, really that simple.
Don't be put off by the complicated explanations you'll see of how the votes are counted. As Vince Cable pointed out, it's the same system they use on the X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and all these other reality shows. The act (candidate) with the lowest votes is eliminated, and then everybody gets to vote again. Except instead of holding another vote, they simply refer to your ballot and see who you prefer out of who is left. So you only have to vote once, but your vote will be counted for every round, as long as you have ranked one of the remaining candidates. This continues until there is one winner. In America, they call the system "Instant Runoff".
It's that simple.
Don't be put off by the lies you'll hear, either. The No campaign want you to believe that minority party votes will have more power. It's a lie. In each round, every vote counts once. Every vote.
What would this system mean, practically? How will it affect you?
Your vote will never be wasted again and you never have to vote out of fear for who might win.
Because the ranking system allows you to express preferences out of all of the candidates, you can vote for your first choice first, even if you don't believe they can win. After that, if there's a candidate you don't want to win, you can rank as many other candidates as you like, showing your preference for those. As a cartoon I saw recently said, it's like asking for something from the shops, but letting your friend know what else you'd like, just in case they don't have what you really wanted. We do it all the time in life. Everybody does. It's so easy.
You never have to change your vote out of fear again.
And the other beauty of the system is this: The bigger parties in any constituency are going to have to reach out to voters from smaller parties if they want their second or third preference votes. Do you care passionately about Green issues? Vote Green first - then see who else's Green agenda is the best and rank them second. Want to see the UK out of the EU? Vote UKIP first, then rank the other parties on their EU policy. Always wanted to vote Lib Dem, but vote Labour to prevent a Tory victory? Never again. Vote Lib Dem and rank Labour second - or third!
Not only that, but the rise in first preference votes for smaller parties, which should follow in a change to AV, will give the bigger parties a more true picture of the amount of support there really is for smaller parties across the country, meaning they'll know just how important certain issues are to people like you.
The Alternative Vote system is about empowering EVERY voter to have a say in who their local MP is and, by extension, who runs the country. The winner of each election will be the candidate with the most broad support in their constituency.
You may not care about AV right now, but you should. Because whatever you DO care about, AV is going to make it easier to support it. It's going to give you a much more powerful voice in politics and in government.
It will NOT, as has been said, be more likely to install far right parties, like the BNP, in government. Quite the opposite. For that to happen, over 50% of voters in any constituency would have to rank them. They know themselves that's never going to happen. That's why the BNP are in the NO camp.
AV is about making your vote yours. It's about letting YOU vote for what YOU are passionate about.
Please go out and vote for the Alternative Vote system next month.
Let's demand that our politicians ask us, "What do you believe in?" not "What are you afraid of?"
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Look what we accomplished:
A small group of lesbian activists from the poverty-stricken townships of Cape Town walked into South African parliament on Monday and convinced their government to finally start fighting the country’s decades-old scourge of "corrective rape" -- where men rape lesbian women to "turn" them straight. You made that moment possible.
Late last year, these activists called on the world to help them pressure their leaders to take action on corrective rape. We answered their call, and more than 170,000 Change.org members from 163 countries joined with them, making this the largest campaign of all time on Change.org.
Three and a half months later, they succeeded. Teaming up with 23 major South African organizations, they got some of the most powerful officials in the country to agree to bring together various government arms and civil society groups to develop and implement a national action plan to combat corrective rape.
The ministry officials asked for details of specific cases in need of immediate attention, committed to a series of meetings beginning in six weeks, and promised to present concrete proposals to prevent corrective rape by the next meeting.
It’s an astounding victory, far beyond what we ever could have imagined when we set out late last year. Now these activists need your help holding the government accountable for its commitments.
If there was any question about the effect you had, the chief of staff himself confirmed it: At one point in the session he explicitly said, in a pleading voice, "Please don't petition us again."
But that’s exactly what we need to do. The government is making a series of urgent decisions on sexual violence legislation in the next few weeks, and South African activists need your help in pressuring them to follow up their words with tangible action:
Your work led to overwhelming international press coverage of the campaign, taking corrective rape from an unspoken epidemic to a prominent international issue. In the last two weeks alone, the campaign against corrective rape has been covered by Time Magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Seattle Times, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, MSNBC, Dan Rather, Forbes, Yahoo! News, Salon, and dozens of global outlets from Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Spain, and even a Finnish tabloid.
An elated Luleki Sizwe Founder Ndumie Funda (pictured to the right, alongside the chief of staff from the Ministry of Justice) called it "an incredible achievement…I humble myself to the 170,000 people from all over the world who made this possible. It was about time this happened."
There is still much to be done, but every Change.org member should be proud about what has been accomplished here. In just 100 days, a tiny group of township activists have managed to mobilize more than 170,000 people from 163 countries and engaged the highest levels of government to address their demands. That’s incredible.
Thanks for lending your voice.
- Weldon and the Change.org team"
I may have been one of 170,000 people, but because 169,999 other people all did the same as me, we helped make a genuine change and improve the lives of people we've never met.
I love the internet.