The ever-increasing membership of the House of Lords is but a symptom of what ails the UK. If a new constitution were to be drawn up from scratch for a bicameral parliament, its revising chamber is hardly likely to be one containing the senior clerics of one denomination or others whose only qualification is heredity. Assuming a basic principle of representative democracy is applied, then the rest of the lords, who are entirely political appointees, wouldn't be there either.
In a fully functioning democracy, the only justification a taxpayer-funded political institution can have is that it serves the electorate and is accountable to them. The structure of the UK's governance is in fundamental conflict with that. The apparent obsession of the current administration with 'absolute sovereignty' never seems to specify where that sovereignty is vested. It is purportedly 'the Crown in Parliament', but what does that mean? Who is 'taking back control'?
The present monarch is a very old lady, who, apparently by convention, will sign whatever her government asks her to. An Order in Council can, in effect, even be used to push through just about anything the Prime Minister wants without recourse to parliament, utilising the royal prerogative. If the requirement for the Queen's assent is purely procedural, then it is a mechanism designed to dupe her subjects into believing she is a legislative check when, in practice, she is not. This process cannot be described as a democratic one.
The Queen appears to fulfil a similar role to that of the House of Lords in supposedly having the capacity to exercise some constraint on the House of Commons, and the executive it produces. In practice, this barely exists with the Lords either, and is little more than a 'convenient fiction' to allow the executive to do as it chooses, compounded by an antiquated, divisive 'winner takes all' electoral system. This destabilises democracy and blocks essential internal debate, with, for example, the mass expulsion of Remain supporting MPs by the Tories, and all their candidates having to swear support for Brexit before the General Election last year.
Representative democracy cannot work effectively if these representatives are so tightly controlled that they cannot stand up for the interests of their constituents. A two-party system is also doomed to perform inadequately, if one (or both) of the contending parties has dysfunctional leadership and corrupt internal processes. Such is the careerism in modern day British politics, increasingly contained within its own media/PR bubble, that independently-minded backbenchers hardly exist any more. MPs almost all seem to want promotion at any cost, so do not seek to challenge the executive, lest this offends. Tony Blair's sofa-style administration continues.
It is time to acknowledge that the monarchy and House of Lords serve only to obscure that we live in a presidential elective dictatorship, albeit one dressed up in feudal garb. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government's citizen's assembly has identified the strong desire for communities and individuals to have more control over their lives, and thus the need to devolve and apply subsidiarity to allow decision making to be localised. Precisely the opposite has been happening in Scotland under the SNP's current leadership, where careerism and sofa governance also appears to prevail. Something has to change.
From what I hear, a lot of the debate in Edinburgh about Scotland's colonial history focuses on the role of Henry Dundas, the virtual viceroy of Scotland in the late 18th century. He is well known for his advocacy role in support of Joseph Knight, who claimed that it was illegal to be a slave in Scotland. The rest of his record in relation to slave ownership was less admirable. He is remembered for inserting the word 'gradual' into a parliamentary bill in 1792 to abolish the slave trade; his plan was to delay any abolition and to maintain slavery in Jamaica. In his role as Minister of War and the Colonies (1794-1801), he sent British troops to oppose any uprisings in the Caribbean by enslaved people. He was definitely the slave owners' friend.
His legacy in Edinburgh consists of a 150-foot high monument in the middle of St Andrews Square and Dundas Street, which runs all the way from Princes Street down to Canonmills. Rather than focusing on the problem of the monument, I feel it would be more significant to shift the debate towards the name of the street which, as the location of many businesses, art galleries and private homes, has an impact of the everyday lives of many citizens in the capital city.
I would propose re-naming the street after Julius Nyerere, who graduated from Edinburgh University in 1952, before returning to his home in East Africa and leading his country to independence. Tanzania, as it is now called, may have had some vicissitudes since then, but it has retained a democratic system of government and has avoided anything like civil war. It would be a fine tribute from an increasingly multiracial city to end the association with a friend of slavery and re-name this street after an Edinburgh graduate whose record is widely respected throughout Africa.
The practical steps would be fairly minimal, allowing time for the updating of street signs and headed notepaper. If there was a will to bring the city into a world that really does believe that Black Lives Matter, it could be done within months.
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