Sunday, 24 February 2008

Fantasy Politics

Having already blogged on the Speaker's problems, noting Raul Castro's taking over the Cuban Presidency and Ralph Nader's entry into the American Presidential election (which will no doubt aid John McCain's cause), I thought I'd blog on something... almost completely different to any of the above.

Giving my Canadian friend an overview of the Scottish Parliament's system, I had a thought about the system of government we have here. Arend Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy identifies a number of elements of government which constitute democracy, including a proportional electoral system and an open party system - two elements which are present in Scotland. One that we do not possess, however, is a bi-cameral (two-chamber) Parliament, which Lijphart reckons provides a further check on the democratic system.

The reason, I believe, that the Scottish Parliament has only a single chamber is that the committee system is designed to provide scrutiny of the legislative process, thereby reducing the need for a second chamber. And it works well - as far as I can see.

But the UK Parliament has both a committee system and a second (albeit unelected) chamber - and I know that the committees at Westminster serve a different purpose, but I want to indulge in spot of fantasy politics that may serve to change the face of the Scottish Parliament and the roles of MSPs.

One thought occurred to me. If we were to create a second chamber in Scotland - within the current electoral framework - it may make for an interesting political dynamic, even more so than it is now.

What if the 73 MSPs were elected from constituencies - as they are currently - but the 56 MSPs elected from the regions formed a second chamber, a regional one? That way that chamber would be split both along party AND regional lines, giving, say, a Highland Labour and a Glasgow Labour MSP reason to differ upon an issue which affects one's region in a positive way and another's in a negative way.

If we work on the logic that the largest party should form the Government (from across the 2 chambers) it would make governing more difficult - or ensure that more consensus is required in order to pass legislation. Based on the 2007 election, what we'd have is a first chamber with:

Lab - 37, SNP - 21, Lib Dem - 11, Con - 4

And a regional chamber make up of:

SNP - 26, Con - 13, Lab - 9, Lib Dem - 5, Green - 2, Independent - 1

It would also solve the problem of treating constituency & regional members the same - as they'd have different roles. Legislation would need to have local, regional and national dimensions just to pass through both chambers, with majorities required in BOTH to pass bills (as it would be easy, for example, for Labour to pass bills through the constituency chamber - where they have a majority of one - but not the regional chamber, where they have only 9).

Anyway, I just though that was an interesting, alternative look at electoral politics in Scotland - mainly as I'm bored of looking at maps in the wake of the Boundary Commission's map re-drawing!

I can't believe I've reached 50 posts already... in under two months. Too much free time? Or too much to say? Maybe a bit of both.


Sam 27 February 2008 at 21:18  

I can't comment specifically about the Scottish system as i'm just not familiar enough with it. But I would say that a second chamber, especially one elected & possessing strong powers & a mandate to use them, seems like an almost essential part of any parliamentary democracy. Look how much Westminster could do with a forceful second chamber that could effectively check the executive.

The problem with committee's is that they can easily end up like the Westminster model, with not enough power to effectively scrutinise the legislature, or like the US Congressional committees which too often serve as grandstanding platforms or through appointment-by-seniority become impenetrable dens of special interests & nepotism.

Malcolm Harvey 28 February 2008 at 17:52  

I'll preface this comment by stating the blog post in question is very much a tongue in cheek plea to the Electoral Commission to forget the constituency boundaries and instead change the whole Parliamentary format!

I'll agree with you that a strong, democratically elected second chamber is an "essential part of parliamentary democracy". However, I'll make the point that the committee system in Scotland serves that function well - despite being the same personnel involved, they do - fairly frequently - abandon partisan lines and take their scrutiny of bills seriously.

I don't know that Scotland could have a second chamber outwith the way in which I've described without adding to what has been described as a "gravy train". Committees are made up using d'hondt formula in proportion to party MSPs thus the American model doesn't really apply.

Cheers for the post though!

Sam 1 March 2008 at 00:04  

Well I told you I don't know much about the Scottish system!

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