Thursday 18 September 2014

Supermajority independence

Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.”  Winston Churchill.
Is it inevitable that, as we get older, we get more conservative, even if we don't all start voting Conservative? I hope not, but do think that certain things should be kept the same unless there is a very good reason for change. It would wreck international discourse in Science if the names of species were changed every year: that's part of the reason why we all agree to use a couple dead languages to do the naming. It would make a mess of economic planning and the fair distribution of resources if the parties in government change every year.  Post-war Italy is an example of deep uncertainty caused by the instability of their multi-multi-party system of democracy.  Then again, when Belgium had no government at all for 20 months in 2010-2011, things seemed to tick along okay.

In the USA, they cherish their Constitution and keep it more or less in a band-box surrounded by cotton-wool, not to be changed unless a lot of people agree that change is necessary. US Constitutional Amendments can only be put to the people if a 2/3 "Supermajority" of the Federal Legislature agrees on the wording.  The amendment does not come into force until 3/4 of the States have approved the change.  With these rules it is rather difficult to make woo-wah changes to such a fundamental instrument of democracy, although this has happened.

In the Home Education Network (HEN) we have a constitution, the template of which we lifted from the Home Birth Association in a bit of  a rush 15 years ago, when we needed to have such a thing to apply for tax-exempt status. It has been modified a few times along the way but we could carry along with the vast majority of our, primarily social, activities if there was no constitution at all. But it is ever thus, you only need a constitution to help you through the difficult times when Normal Business goes off the rails.  Most people aren't interested in such infrastructural essentials, any more than they are interested in contributing to the newsletter or organising the Annual Gathering or even turning up once a year to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) to help determine the democratic future of the organisation that provides so much from which they benefit. When changes in the constitution seem to be required, the public spirited 5%, who do 85% of the work in any organisation, roll up their sleeves and meet and draft and discuss and re-draft as a Constitutional Committee.  Eventually, after many&many person-hours of committee work, they have to present their new Draft Constitution to the full membership.  There is no better place to do this than at the AGM of the full membership.  I missed the AGM this year, I was in America. As usual and expected, the AGM was poorly attended by perhaps 10% of the full membership. But reports have come back that amendments were made to the Draft Constitution in an ad hoc fashion by people who had turned up to the AGM without having previously read the circulated draft. If this happened, it strikes me as A Bad Thing if only because any change made at that stage is by definition unconsidered and you/we should think long and hard before we/you change the fundamentals of the governance of your/our organisation. Apart from anything else, this dogged process took a full two and a half hours of back and forth which is likely to wear ordinary people out and ensure they won't come to any AGM of any organisation ever again. There I have spoken! You surely can't expect me to shut my gob just because I wasn't there.

What's this got to do with Scotland? Because it is Their Day today, when they get a chance to create a new nation after a 300 year long union with England. The Smart Money at the wire is that the Noes have it:  A majority will reject the option of sailing off into a blue-flagged yonder.  But the polls have been fluctuating very close to 50:50 for the last several weeks with an error of estimate of 2-3% and as much as 25% of those polled coming down as Undecided. This begs the question of what to do if it's a hanging-chad knife-edge election such as that between Gore and Bush in USA in 2000.  What if the referendum today comes down to
For Independence 1,819,450
For Status Quo 1,819,449
or anywhere close to that?  They haven't sorted all kinds of details about how things will tick in independent Scotland, and they wouldn't need to if Wee Gillis or McTintin had voted the other way. Surely the very country should be more stable than its constitution.  Yes I know they don't have a written constitution across the water, but my numerical and small-c-conservative point stands.

No comments:

Post a Comment