Friday, January 04, 2008

Margo MacDonald : Leadership fawning not a good point for a democracy

and she would be correct of course ... in every way.

Just look at the way Douglas Mill's leadership cult has ruined the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish legal profession in general ... what better example than that !

Margo MacDonald writes in the Edinburgh News :

Leadership cults do no good for democracy

Leadership cults do no good for democracy


THE death of Benazir Bhutto has put democracy under the microscope. Her shocking demise may have made her homeland of Pakistan impossible to govern in what we would recognise as a "democratic" fashion.

The people who wrote and spoke millions of words about Benazir's death possibly being a fatal blow to the reinstatement of democracy in Pakistan must surely blush with embarrassment now that her last will and testament are in the public domain. It's hardly the action of a convinced democrat to hand over leadership, let alone ownership, of a political party to an individual of their choice.

Yet that's what she did: Benazir left unambiguous instructions that might disappoint even her most fervent supporters in the PPP and other political parties across the globe. She gifted the PPP to her son and, until he is old enough, to her husband's care. Leaving aside whether a person who has served eight years for corruption, and whose nicknames vary from Mr ten per cent to Mr 30 per cent, is judged suitable to run Pakistan by anyone other than his wife, such action is dynastic, not democratic.

No more or no less dynastic than passing the SNP leadership back and forth between Alex Salmond and John Swinney, or Nelson Mandela's role in Thabo Mbeki's succeeding him as leader of the ANC and South Africa, or Tony Blair and Gordon Brown deciding the leadership of Labour, could well be one response from Pakistan.

Supporters of Benazir would say that, wouldn't they? But would they have a point? Not really. Although the SNP membership was treated as a mere backdrop against which the Salmond/Swinney show was performed, and party participation amounted to cheers and hand-clapping, the SNP rules gave everyone a chance of standing for election . . . in theory, at least. The ANC change of leadership was very much in the same mould.

The failure to score in one of the most basic tests for democracy, namely, that party members and the voters are the people to decide which leader they'd prefer, opens up an obvious difference between Pakistan, the UK and other democracies. The two attempts at dynastic family occupation of the White House, by the Kennedy and the Bush clans, have both ended in failure, and it looks as though it's not going to be third time lucky for the Clintons, either.

But we daren't be complacent that our own democracy is immune to being subverted, by accident or design. Instead of identifying with, and supporting or opposing democratic political parties or ideologies, we have been conditioned by marketing techniques and mass media communication to become the groupies in political leadership cults. Democracy has to be worked at, even when politicians are reviled. It isn't a natural phenomenon like rain. Without the effort and support of the community that it's meant to support, inspire, protect and make fairer, a democratic system can fall into disrepair and be replaced, ultimately, by an oligarchy, or a "Father of the nation" figure.

So, although the chaos of election night in Scotland last May seems a long, long way from the death of Benazir Bhutto, rioting in Nairobi or the abyss that might be opening up in front of South African voters, they all encompass attempts to determine the outcome of an election by an elite or an all-powerful individual rather than by the people.

Some of my colleagues will be surprised, and some angered, by my linking Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa to Scotland (some will be even more upset by my references to America, but that is another story). But, it's simplistic to claim democracy is served if every elector can vote freely. The institutions of state must be efficient, accountable to electors and absolutely above suspicion.

Institutions, meant to serve the public good, have been used for party political or personal gain in this country as in others I have mentioned. Remember "cash for honours"? Lots of people tut-tutted but backed off from allowing the law to run its course against people accused of breaking it. Why? Because the public thinks the House of Lords less important in policymaking terms than the House of Commons. But this is a misguided attitude. Their Lordships are privileged in our society and if we are prepared to allow them to abuse their privilege and power, however limited, we subvert one of the supporting pillars of democracy.

Last year's Scottish elections were a disgrace. Perhaps because of the embarrassment of having our inadequacies exposed to the world in this way, in Holyrood and in influential quarters outside, there appears to be an agreement to move on as quickly as possible . . . unsurprising, as the big parties, the only kind left in Holyrood, all tried to tweak the ballot papers to their advantage.

"Alex Salmond for First Minister" proved to be a very successful ploy, and to be fair he's been a pretty good one to date, but that shouldn't blind us to the damage done by this device to our democratic processes in Scotland.

The SNP leader's popularity is now more of a determining factor than the raison d'etre of the SNP itself. Who decided this? Not the party, not the people, but the leader and his praetorian guard. In the long term, the dangers of the cult of personality in Scotland are no less than they are now in Pakistan or Kenya.

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