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The Crown v. democracy
Most of the discussions today we have been having today have been about bringing democracy into our own campaigns and developing an opposition to the ongoing British ruling class offensive.
However, as one contributor to the debate has already said, ‘democracy’ is one of the most promiscuous terms to be found in politics. Indeed, the British ruling class likes to claim that “Westminster is the mother of parliaments”, with the implication that it represents a deeply rooted democratic tradition. So it is worth taking a closer look at this Westminster, based on the political notion of the ‘Crown in parliament’.
When it comes to the term ‘Crown’, most people understand that to be the same as the monarchy. When socialists are asked why they oppose the British monarchy, they usually concentrate their criticism on the antiquated class structure this upholds; and the high cost of maintaining such a parasitic institution, especially now the rest of us face austerity.
However, the UK is a constitutional monarchy . This means the queen exerts little power in her own right. Yes, the royal family enjoys obscene privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class.
Far more important than the monarchy, or the royal family, is the political system it fronts. Despite the existence of a formal parliamentary democracy, centred on Westminster, with its devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, we still face very real political constraints. These lie in the state’s profoundly anti-democratic Crown Powers.
These powers shield a whole host of unsavoury institutions and practices from any public accountability or even scrutiny. They are needed to guarantee continued British ruling class control. This class is made up from the leaders of finance, commerce, industry, the armed forces, judiciary, senior civil servants and key politicians.
In 2004, the New Labour government deigned to publicise some of these powers. However, they still kept others secret – so we don’t even know the full extent of what we are up against! New Labour regularly resorted to these powers, most notoriously in the war in Iraq. Tory and Labour governments have used these powers to mobilise troops to break firefighters’ strikes in 1997 and 2002. These powers also cloak the activities of the City of London in secrecy.
We can also look at other measures sanctioned under the Crown Powers. Last month, Guardian journalist, Ian Cobain, published Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture. This shows how the UK state has been able to cover up its continuous use of inhuman treatment, and falsely claim it is not engaged in such practices.
Under the Crown Powers, even democratically elected governments can be toppled. Back in 1975, Gough Whitlam fronted a mildly reforming Labour government, which wanted to keep US nuclear warships out of Australian ports. He felt the long arm of the Crown Powers when the British Governor-General removed him from his elected office. The incumbent British Labour government did nothing to help, highlighting Labour’s almost total acceptance of the UK’s undemocratic state.
In 1999, under New Labour, the Crown Powers were used to deny the right of the Diego Garcia islanders to return to their Indian Ocean home, when they won their case in the British High Court. Unfortunately for them, Diego Garcia is now the site of a major US military base.
However, these powers go even further. They even allow for the suspension of Parliament in ‘extreme situations’, with resort instead to direct rule by the Privy Council. This very select band of former and existing senior government ministers is chosen for its reliability in upholding ruling class interests. Its members all enjoy close contact with the world of business, whilst some have had direct dealings with military officers, MI5 and MI6.
Whenever national democratic challenges are made, the British ruling class quickly resorts to the Crown Powers. In 1969, the UK state refused to make any serious attempt to dismantle its sectarian ‘apartheid’ statelet in Northern Ireland, when challenged by the Civil Rights Movement. After forcing this movement off the streets by gunning down 13 unarmed demonstrators in Derry in 1972, the full force of her majesty’s regiments was brought to bear on Irish republicans and nationalists. This included the SAS, the UDR (with its royal patronage) the RUC, and the Loyalist death squads, all backed up by juryless Diplock Courts, manned by Unionist judges, and by detention as required in ‘her majesty’s’ special prisons.
Those sections of the state, which provide the ruling class with legal sanction to pursue its own ends, are prefixed ‘her majesty’s’ or ‘royal’. Self-styled Loyalists include those who are prepared to undertake certain illegal tasks when called upon by the security services.
But surely, we can take some comfort from the fact that the British ruling class did not resort to such violent measures when the issue of Scottish self-determination was raised in the late 1970’s? However, before the mid 1990’s, when the majority of the British ruling class concluded that ‘Devolution-all-round’ (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) was the best strategy to defend its interests in these islands and the wider world, many were bitterly opposed even to very mild constitutional reform.
Therefore, in the lead-up to the 1979 Devolution Referendum, the ‘non-political’ Queen was wheeled out to make a Christmas broadcast attacking Scottish nationalism. Senior civil servants were told to ‘bury’ any documents, which could help the Scottish nationalists. Military training exercises were conducted, targeting putative armed Scottish guerrilla forces. The security forces became involved on the nationalist fringe, encouraging anti-English diatribes and actions, to discredit any notion of real Scottish self-determination. But, it was not necessary to resort to more of the Crown Powers, because the Labour government was divided, and the SNP’s challenge was so mild and constitutionalist, the ruling class did not have to go any further.
Today, the British ruling class is even more united in its opposition to the SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals. There is no room, under today’s conditions of economic and political crisis, for the SNP’s wannabe Scottish ruling class junior managerial buyout of the local branch of UK plc. This despite their acceptance of the monarchy and hence the continued ability of the UK state to intervene in Scotland; of NATO and hence a continued Scottish commitment to US and British imperial wars; and of the City of London and hence continued imposed austerity.
So, how did the British ruling class use those Crown Powers in the recent referendum campaign? They achieved their first objective, under the Edinburgh Agreement signed between the Westminster and Holyrood government. Alex Salmond, himself a Privy Councillor, agreed to the referendum being conducted under Westminster rules. This meant that the official’ Yes’ campaign had to be conducted under much greater official restrictions than the ‘No campaign’, which was able to draw upon those Crown Powers hidden from public scrutiny.
It will take thirty years before we know what methods were resorted to, beyond the obviously partisan use of senior civil servants and the BBC. However, the Guardian exposed moves by the Ministry of Defence to have Faslane Trident base declared sovereign UK territory in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote (2).
If there had been a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th, the SNP government did not recognise this as transferring sovereignty to the people of Scotland. They accept the principle that their sovereignty comes from those powers devolved from Westminster to Holyrood. Hence, they had already decided that their negotiating team with Westminster would include MSPs from the Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem parties, and possibly even some of their Scottish MPs. The already low level of Scottish self-determination, already accepted under the SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals, would have been further whittled away under Westminster sovereignty.
In contrast, the Radical Independence Campaign, at its May 17th, 2014 National Forum, drew up a very different set of proposals in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote (3). These involved making a direct appeal to all those autonomous ‘Yes’ campaigning groups to join a popular campaign to draw up a new Scottish constitution to be put before a Scottish constituent assembly. A ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th, would have been seen as an exercise in the republican principle of sovereignty of the Scottish people. This is the democratic answer to a UK state, based on the anti-democratic principle of the Crown-in-parliament.
The Anti-Poll Tax campaign in Scotland successfully invoked Scottish popular sovereignty against Westminster sovereignty, when Thatcher’s Tories tried to impose this tax upon Scotland first. Current campaigns, such as that against Trident, can also draw strength by invoking the republican democratic principle of the sovereignty of the people.
 For a socialist republican history of the UK’s development see:-
(3) See addendum to http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/05/01/a-republican-perspective-is-important-for-scotlands-future/
Allan Armstrong is a member of the Republican Communist Network and is a contributor to Emancipation & Liberation. Allan has been involved in the Radical Independence Campaign. He was the Chair of the Lothians Anti-Poll Tax Federation.
Allan has written From Davitt to Connolly, and the Ghost of James Connolly (about Connolly’s years in Edinburgh). He is also a contributor to the pamphlet, Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy and to Unstated – Scottish Writers and Independence.
Putting journalism at the heart of democracy
- Putting journalism at the heart of democracyWe all agree journalism/media is important for democracy. In order for people to participate effectively they need good information. Acquiring and analysing information is time consuming, so journalism is necessary as a way of sharing the workload.
We also agree that our current media isn’t doing a very good job of this, for various reasons, particularly relating to its commercial nature.
There are lots of ideas for resolving this problem, I want to talk specifically about the importance of democracy in journalism. Genuine democratic control of and participation in media is the best way to ensure that media serves
- Putting democracy at the heart of journalism
- Some examples and ideas of democratic and/or participatory journalism
- Radical media of the early 19th Publications such as the Twopenny Trash, and the Poor Man’s Guardian were widely read and influential for example in promoting the Chartist Movement before commercial pressures pushed them out of business. Crucially they typically featured reports provided by readers/activists.
- Indymedia was for a time a global network of global justice activists.
- Wikipedia, though not ‘news’, is an interesting example of how over 100,000 people worldwide have been able to cooperate effectively using consensus decision making to produce content.
- At the Post Collective we hold monthly open meetings (‘general assembleys’) where our future activities are decided collectively by our members. Membership is open to anyone who has contributed three or more times.
3. Obstacles for a democratic media to overcome.
- There are lots of examples of democratic media groups already, but there are clear limits to how effective they can be.
- Democratic media projects require that participants have the time to participate, which not everyone has.
- Similarly projects require money to be effective. Most democratic media projects are underfunded, which limits their reach.
- This is particularly acute when we consider that most people get their news from broadcast media.
4. The need for a democratic media movement
- The obstacles above indicate arguably suggest that the goal of a democratic media is not going to materialise without wider changes in society.
- For this reason the UK needs to make media reform part of its larger democratic reform movement.
- On this point we can perhaps look for ideas in the USA where there is an active media reform movement, stemming perhaps from a longstanding tradition of recognising the importance of media for democracy.
Some further reading:
- Putting democracy at the heart of journalism – an essay I wrote for Post Magazine covering some of the same ground (http://postmag.org/putting-journalism-at-the-heart-of-democracy/)
- Power Without Responsibility – James Curran and Jean Seaton
- Manufacturing Consent – Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky
- Toward a democratic media – Edward Herman from ‘Triumph of the Market (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/DemocraticMedia_Herman.html)
- Making media democratic – Robert McChesney (http://new.bostonreview.net/BR23.3/mcchesney.html)
Presentation: Maria Montinaro
Maria Montinaro, Concerned Communities of Falkirk
There is a burning need for a better democracy where the Scottish nation is run for and by the people, not by multi-national corporate big business where profit alone is legitimately the raison d’etre.
1. Unconventional gas plans for Scotland
Our Scottish Government’s (SG) claim, to have listened to the concerns of Scottish communities by introducing buffer zones in new Scottish Planning Policy (SPP), is misleading. In October 2013 Concerned Communities of Falkirk (CCoF)put on a stall at the SNP Conference in Perth, to raise awareness and inform delegates of concerns re unconventional gas exploration & extraction, and to launch the Falkirk Community Charter at a Fringe event CCoF hosted.
CCoF’s was calling for a 2km buffer zone around Scottish Communities similar to that introduced in NSW, Australia which had caused Dart Energy, an Australian company, to pull out of their native land to “concentrate on their flagship European operation” at Airth in Scotland.
We were hopeful following MSP Paul Wheelhouse’s announcement that the SG were listening to communities’ and were “minded” to introduce buffer zones.
The new SPP introduced the possibility of buffer zones, but it will be up to the applicant (industry) to determine (1) if a buffer zone is necessary, and (2) the distance operations need to be from settlements/communities.
Councils can challenge applicants if they believe these distances to be inadequate, however our beleaguered councils do not have the resources or funding necessary to provide basic services these days, many considering redundancies as a means of balancing their budget deficits.
CCoF had to raise, and has spent, £80k trying to protect local communities from a single planning application, the majority of which spent on legal fees. 1300 wells are estimated will be needed to extract the gas from PEDL 133 [licence area] covering 330km2 – 700 shale & 600 coalbed methane wells.
We live on a small densely populated island. The distance between Falkirk and Glasgow only 39km, Edinburgh just 41km and Stirling 22km – hardly a land mass to provide us with energy security or cheaper fuel bills, especially given British Geographical Survey(BGS) description of reserves as “modest”.
The constraints of population density, history of extensive coal undermining and seismicity due to fault lines.
The carrot being dangled by INEOS [Grangemouth-based petro-chemical giant now owner of most of Scotland’s UCG licences] of Community Benefit defines the community as being within 60km of a development. Based on this, the entire Central Belt of Scotland becomes “the Community” – not perhaps the bonanza INEOS are trying to make out to communities.
The map shown here shows that had our Scottish Government introduced the 2km buffer zone called for by Scottish communities, the unconventional gas industry in Scotland would now be “dead in the water”. They have had the powers all along to provide at least a minimum level of protection but have failed to do so.
It is up to us, Scottish citizens, working together for the common good of our nation to make sure our Scottish Government put the interests of the Scottish Nation before questionable economic benefits and the interests of large multi-national corporate business whose legitimate driving force is profit.
In this instance the price is far too high and will be at the severe detriment of Scotland – the land and its people who depend on it.
The Falkirk Community Charter
The Community Charter’s role in shaping a better democratic governance for us all:
The Community Charter is a rights-based document that sets out all the things in our local area which residents have agreed are fundamental to the present and future health and wellbeing of our communities. These “assets” include a clean environment, our children, our homes, our community stability, a rich eco-system, food security, a healthy economy and trustworthy elected representatives.
We say these form our “cultural heritage”, which must be assessed under environmental regulations for all developments which potentially threaten our “assets” including unconventional gas (UG).
The Charter also sets out our rights and responsibilities to participate in planning processes that could affect our assets, and to have our views made a material consideration in all related decisions.
We believe if accepted as a material consideration in a planning application it will offer a means of protection against not only UG but any other potential threat to communities. I have presented at 8 meetings across Scotland’s Central Belt in the past couple of months and have been promoting the Community Charter as a vehicle communities can hopefully use to protect themselves.
Polly Higgins, who some may know as a leader on the law of Ecocide and voted one of the top 10 visionary thinkers by the Ecologist, has endorsed Community Charters stating: “Community Charters embed Earth rights and duties, which fundamentally reframes and challenges the underpinnings of our current legal system – that the natural environment is property. By shifting the narrative from property to stewardship we reframe our world. This is a key step in community empowerment and self-determination.”
For those communities involved in its creation here in Falkirk it has been a very empowering experience. Although as yet untested in law the more groups across Scotland, the UK and Europe adopting their own Community Charter can only be a good thing I believe.
In the words of Cllr David Alexander, Falkirk Council Leader 2001-2007; “I and many other Councillors have applauded the Community Charter for giving shape to values which underlie our civic pride. It will in my opinion, become a template for the community groups across the length and breadth of Scotland. It is the very outcome the Scottish Government sought with the formulation of the Community Empowerment Bill.”
Read the Falkirk Community Charter here:
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