The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, May 06, 2007

As if you lived in the latter days of a smaller nation

It's been said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Things are very different in the Best Small Country in the World (TM). In Scotland history is a farce the first time around.

The Scottish Parliament has a system of proportional representation where the voters select one candidate from two lists. The constituency list is first-past-the post. The regional lists, covering wider areas, top up the representation according to some formula which needn't detain us. The system was used in two elections and worked fine. It wasn't broke. Someone decided to fix it.

Apart from replacing two lists on separate ballot papers with two lists on one paper, and presenting the voters with another ballot paper, using a new and different voting system, for a different election on the same day, and implementing a completely unnecessary and expensive electronic counting machinery which broke down repeatedly and spectacularly on the night, the geniuses who signed off the arrangements which resulted in a hundred thousand rejected votes ... never thought to user-test the new voting forms.

But enough squabbling amongst ourselves! Let's turn and face the real enemy, the Judean People's Front! Thanks to its divisions the far left has been wiped off the electoral map, going from six MSPs to nil. The Scottish Socialist Party was not only beaten handily by Solidarity - in five of the seven regions it won fewer votes than the Socialist Labour Party.

The what? Precisely. The Socialist Labour Party has next to no presence on the ground in Scotland (*). Socialist Labour got one election broadcast, fronted by the popular English actor Ricky Tomlinson, who emphasised that the party stood firmly against Scottish nationalism. Around a third of Scotland's far-left voters must have agreed.

* The Socialist Labour Party was founded by Arthur Scargill back in the 90s and was immediately joined by a plethora of far-left groups. Scargill cannily courted a succession of these groups, using each one that rose to the top of the stack to displace its precursor. After thus getting rid of the Trotskyist sects one by one he repeated the process with at least two sects of Stalinists, and then delivered the coup de grace to the last one standing. This single-minded application of salami tactics left him holding that twisty bit of cellophane at the end and not enough salami to cover a biscuit.

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You guys had proportional representation and they screwed it up? We've been pining for that for decades here; our socialist(ish) party, the NDP (New Democratic Party) is consistently short-changed by the first past the post system and it would do so much good here in Qu├ębec, where the entire province goes more or less unheard because the local nationalist party takes every riding.

I've only come across one system that combines a decent amount of proportionality and clarity, "cumulative voting". That involves multi-member constituencies and multi-vote electors who can each "spend" all their votes on a target candidate or spread them among a slate - the leading few candidates all get in. In the limiting case of one man one vote you get first past the post. I gather that 19th century voting "reform" eliminated it from the few constituencies that had something like it, in the interest of harmonisation. For some strange reason, no politicians have ever reformed towards cumulative voting for themselves, although it has occasionally been imposed on corporations or small municipalities by judges.

Ah, well, Scargill.

It's still very hard, in certain circles, to have a calm and reasoned discussion of the miner's strike. Still, there it is.

Scargill: Leadership mated to vision, knowwhamean?

Doug M.

Steve, the PR system worked fine in two previous elections. They screwed it up by changing the design of the ballot paper, and by introducing machine counting. (Machine counting of paper votes!)

P.M., the multi-member system was considered here but having a system of one-member constituencies, with proportionality introduced by regional top-up, was preferred in the end.

Nice thoughts.
Multi-member system is better I think.

"the multi-member system was considered here..." (my italics).

Was cumulative voting considered, or one of the other more cumbersome and less transparent multi-member systems like the New Zealand one? There are many multi-member systems.

It is unusual to the point of unknown for politicians to put things on the agenda on the first place if that makes things more connected to the electorate, i.e. with less need of representatives to mediate between the electorate and their masters.

New politician is old presbyter writ even larger.

In Scotland history is a farce the first time around.

Hey Ken!

A few thoughts, random-seeming I'll grant you, but there's a point hiding amongst the thicket (I think). First off, I greatly admire your version of nationalism (i.e., the Scottish variety), which is an unusual admission for me, as I'm a bit of a Goethean, a Weltburger stuck in America. (That'll normally either cure you of any sort of nationalist urge, or turn you into another goose-stepping worldkiller, depending on your disposition.)

Scotland's different, though. Its history is so thoroughly haunted by romantic figures and the depredations of the Sassenach that it's worth making an exception to my rule. Now, it could well be that you real Scots aren't burdened by the ghost-memes of Rob Roy, Robert Burns and the Reivers of the Marches, but that's difficult to imagine from my vantage point, addled as it it from reading all of Sir Walter Scott at a very early age and letting the mushrooms I used to eat find Mr. Burns in every lyric that Ian Anderson thought he was writing. There's more to it, but you get the picture and this isn't about me.

I can't help but think that you yourself are burdened by the image of Jon Wilde, the anarchist hero in The Stone Canal. Here's my question to both of you, then: If we could manage to decentralize power through the agency of economic autonomy, thereby giving Ireland back to the Irish and reconstructing an independent Scotland, Wales...(who knows--maybe even Cornwall!), then wouldn't we need a new definition of nationalism altogether? Some way to ditch the militant/militarist baggage?

Consider the case of Manx. According to the Wiki (not that it's exactly a revered font of wisdom to me) the last "native speaker' died in 1974...and then came the revival. Nowadays you can actually take a degree in Manx and there are only 80,000 inhabitants of the Isle of Man! Marvelous story, really. Or, more to the point, consider (and please don't laugh just yet) what some of my landsmen are getting up to: Ancient Order of Druids in America~~traditional Druid nature spirituality for today.

Before you come to the standard conclusion (and, yes, we are all quite insane) this lot has something in mind which is not only a little out of the ordinary but even a possible route to the economic autonomy to which I alluded earlier as the foundation of an independent Scotland & Wales. In order to understand how this works, you first have to abandon (or at least set aside for the moment) the shields of conventional political labels. Hang ups about the spiritual/material divide don't help much, either.

The idea which these "druids" have embraced (and by which I happened upon them) is that there's a Way, or a technological orientation for the committed materialist, that some of us are rediscovering after our long dislocation from Nature that can provide for a true autonomy, a truly decentralized State.

If you're interested, I promise it won't take long to get a feel for what I'm talking about; if you check out this blog post from my friend Big Gav in Australia and then the first comment afterward (a bit of standard rant that my friend was generous enough to run), you'll see the outlines of what I'm talking about. Gav also devoted considerable space to one of my main projects in Bright Green Buildings And Dark Green Buildings, which explains a bit more about these "magical" houses. Ignore the mystical trappings, don't dwell on the green political hues: just concentrate on the neo-Pythagorean framework for responsible abundance.

The one thing that you and the others in the vanguard of Singularity musings whom I admire (Charlie Stross, Vernor Vinge, Rudy Rucker, etc) sort of miss is the possibility of implementing economies of abundance before the advent of the techno-Singularity. With the possible exception of Iain M. Banks and Philip Jose Farmer, even our brightest imagineers can't seem to wrap their minds around the notion of life after money. It helps, of course, if you've studied the long history of the manipulation of scarcity, but it's not until you've seen houses which produce more energy & water than they consume, industrial processes which likewise produce more than they consume (and leave the environment cleaner to boot) and transport systems which run themselves that you can begin to understand how this is possible.

All these wonders I mention are achieved through design alone--no nanotech, no expensive materials, etc. It's simply a matter of recognising that our entire technological & social orientation is ass-backwards. Everything we do is based on the destructive force of fire & explosion, exploitation & domination. The force of water & implosion, using very, very simple technology, is more efficient by a factor of 9:1.

There's a movement afoot, of which I'm but a very small part. It's international in its make-up, bioregional in its focus. I know you're a busy guy, and I'm not exactly inviting you to "join"--I just wanted you to be aware of our existence and to applaud you for your work in rebuilding the Scottish homeland (and, not least, your wonderful books.) Thanks for your time!

Thanks for this, cuttlefish, and for the links, which I'll check out.

Scottish nationalism could hardly be less folkish. There isn't even a big deal made of Gaelic (or the Scots language, come to that). Even the cultural national consciousness that does exist is seldom related to politics. Whigs when sober, Jacobites when drunk, as someone said.


Yeah, I suppose that might be so--I had a feeling that those visions of Scotland were essentially foreign, the result of an outsider looking in. You have to grant me that it's powerful stuff, all the same, even if it's so close that you Scots don't really see it anymore. It's the same with us, the bloody world-stomping Yanks who are still being driven by their fookin' manifest destiny, even though they now spout all that nonsense about spreading freedom & democracy. You might have caught the recent fracas at the Republican Torture convention when Ron Paul, one of the very few libertarians to hold public office here, had the audacity to mention blowback as the real cause of 9/11. The outrage was palpable; the acceptable candidates cried, "Blasphemy!" with all the might of righteous indignation...

Well, I realize that my suggestion that there's another path might seem a bit odd to you, given that you view green politics as somewhat obstructionist, but I want to assure you that what I'm after is no green politics at all. You see, underneath our blandly genocidal history, there are other threads more intentionally "forgotten" than the spirit of Rob Roy MacGregor is among your landsmen.

Strangely enough, what I'm referring to also has a certain national flavor, but I think it's more happenstance than anything else. When Metternich's balance of terror reasserted itself on the Continent in 1849, there were an awful lot of (proto) socialists with nowhere to go, most of them German. A great many of them made their way to Wisconsin, the heart of the American Heartland, where they were able to do things they would never have been able to guide through the politics of control & compromise back in the old country. All these many years later, the world remembers Eugene V. Debs well enough (although his image has surely been twisted in that recollection), but no one recalls Victor Berger, the first socialist to take a seat in the US congress.

The fact that he was prevented from taking that seat initially under the pretext of "subversive & seditious activity" (President Wilson personally intervened and arranged to have him sent to the prison at Ft. Leavenworth on a 20-year sentence) only illustrates how the system works over here. Even then, in 1917, the two-party system had become the Punch & Judy show that it remains to this day. Berger's "crime," btw., was to call for child labor laws, old age pensions, worker protections (including disability), and most objectionable of all, a ban on war profiteering. The indignation of the robber barons was even greater than that of their descendants hurling their outrage at Mr. Paul in the alleged recent "debate."

That stuff that I sent you (and I'm not even sure those were the most appropriate links, either) point to a way around the politics of markets & scarcity. Part of it is informed by the lost socialist tradition of Wisconsin (we've had 3 socialist mayors in Milwaukee in the 20th century, the last actually during WWII--the late, great Frank Zeidler, who just died this year), and an even greater part of it is this very different technological orientation. If the energy racket--the largest scam on the planet--can be gotten around through design alone, which it can, then not only will the other Matroyshka monopolies not nestle together so conveniently anymore, but the bloody imperative toward hegemony will have been made obsolete.

This is the path toward autonomy that I was talking about--it's a way to make coalition partners of greens, socialists & libertarians because the old divisions of scarcity & greed will no longer apply. I'm working on a position paper/flash animation on The Oldest New Deal which will explain all this in greater detail--if you're interested, I'll drop you a link when everything's in place.

Thank for this

Flight path of the Breitling Bentley
References National Air & Space Museum page: Life inside Bentley Motors T
Orbiter 3 Retrieved. The Navitimer World
gondola was constructed. The Breitling Avenger
was a Rozier balloon.

Flight path of the Breitling Bentley
References National Air & Space Museum page: Life inside Bentley Motors T
Orbiter 3 Retrieved. The Navitimer World
gondola was constructed. The Breitling Avenger
was a Rozier balloon.

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