As over 1 million people took to the streets of central London demanding that Brexit is cancelled, the petition calling on the Westminster Parliament to revoke Article 50 has now surpassed 4.56 million signatures. It’s the biggest online petition ever seen on the official parliamentary petitions site, and it continues to attract new signatures.
According to the UK Office of National Statistics, there are 3,925,800 registered voters who are eligible to vote in UK elections in Scotland. The total eligible to vote in Scottish and local elections is somewhat higher, standing at 4.11 million according to the National Records for Scotland website. The difference is made up by EU citizens and 16 and 17 year olds who are eligible to vote in Scottish elections, but not UK elections. The UK parliamentary petitions website is only open to those registered to vote in UK elections. I added up the signatures from Scottish constituencies, and as of 7pm on Saturday afternoon the total stood at 416,815. That’s over 10.6% of the entire Scottish UK electorate. That number is likely to grow even more over the next couple of days.
If you haven’t signed yet, the link is here. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584
In the real world of course, it doesn’t matter how many people sign the petition or who take to the streets of London in protest, it will have no more influence on changing Theresa May’s course than removing a single grain of sand from the Sahara will prevent desertification. This is a Prime Minister who has no respect for a constitution but who is constitutionally incapable of listening. We’re still on course for the Brexit desert of May. Let’s be honest here, Uri Geller’s threat to use telepathy against Theresa May has a better chance of making her change her mind than this petition. It also has the merit of being considerably more realistic than some of the proposals presented by the European Research Group.
But the fact that the petition is not going to sway a notoriously unswayable politician is not the point. The reason for signing is because silence equals complicity. It’s only by making your voice heard that you can register the fact that Brexit is not being carried out in your name. On Wednesday evening, Theresa May stood before a lectern and presumed to speak for you and for me. She has sown division and now claims consensus. She has pursued a Brexit in the interests of the Conservative party and now claims she’s acting for everyone. Speaking up means telling Theresa May that she doesn’t speak for us. Silence means that Theresa May can continue to delude herself that she is on the side of the people. Silence means you agree. Silence means you don’t care. Silence means giving Theresa May permission.
Meanwhile we’ve still got a leader of the Opposition who is as committed to Brexit as the Conservatives. He just doesn’t want to take the blame for it. Even at this late stage Corbyn is still preaching his own unicorn fantasy of a jobs first Brexit, which is like calling for a patients first plague. Silence also means giving consent to Jeremy Corbyn’s deceptions, lethargy, and fantasising. Silence means allowing Jeremy Corbyn to say that he’s listening, when all he’s listening to is the sound of his own voice.
In an interview published at the end of December 2018, https://truthout.org/video/arundhati-roy-on-fiction-in-the-face-of-rising-fascism/ the Booker Prize winning Indian author Arundhati Roy remarked that majoritarianism borders on fascism. She was talking about the policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right wing Hindu nationalist government, but her remarks apply equally to Theresa May and the Brexit process. Brexit is likewise driven by populism, fueled by nationalism, and believes that the views of those who won a popular vote can ride roughshod over all other considerations. May has spoken in decidedly populist terms, most notably in her shameful speech last Wednesday when she blamed MPs for the paralysis her own approach to Brexit has created.
The reason that Brexit has become an all consuming binfire is because the British state and its political leaders don’t understand, or care for, the distinction between majoritarianism and democracy. The British state seeks majorities, not consensus. We suffer from a political system in which the winner takes all and the loser is left with nothing. The first past the post electoral system so beloved by Westminster means that a party which attains only a minority of the vote can end up with a crushing majority, and once it does there are few effective limits on the powers of whoever is prime minister. We are in this current mess because Theresa May insists on acting as though she still commanded a majority in the House.
When majoritarianism rules the day, then the majority can impose its will on the minority irrespective of how narrow that majority is. Those who are in the minority, especially those who are a permanent minority like Scotland within the UK, are doomed forever to be subject to the whims of a majority which they are powerless to influence.
The best that can be hoped for is for the permanent minority to swing the difference when the balance of opinion amongst the permanent majority is finely balanced. In other words, Scotland’s voice can only ever have any hope of being heard when there is no consensus within England. Westminster’s fixation on majoritarianism means that Scotland can never have its needs taken into account within the British state, that Scotland will always be dragged along in the wake of decisions made by the electorate in England. There is nothing within the constitutional structures of the UK which can protect Scotland from the malign effects of English nationalism, and that means we’re not a partner in a union.
True democracy means reaching consensus. It means ensuring that the views of as many as possible are taken into account. And above all it means finding means and methods of including those sections of the population which are permanent minorities. That can only be achieved with proportional representation, with a written constitution which strictly separates the powers of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, and which strives to attain consensus instead of crushing the minority under the heel of a parliamentary majority. In other words, it can’t be achieved within the British state.
The binfire of Brexit has highlighted the shortcomings, inadequacies, and failures of the British state. It has shown us that the UK is unfit for purpose, that it is only a partial democracy. If we want a political class which can be held to account, which seeks to build consensus, which looks after the interests of the entire nation and not just their own party, we can only do so in an independent Scotland with a written constitution and a proper separation of powers.
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