danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
I am quite excited about the latest referendum in New Zealand. They are considering changing their flag from the Australian Flag the current design adopted in 1902 to another design, which it is hoped would better represent the New Zealand of the 21st and 22nd Centuries.

They have canvassed designs in an open competition, reduced the 10,000 suggestions to a long list, and further reduced that to a short list.

New Zealanders will vote on the top candidate from the 4 entries on the short list using the Alternative Vote and then the winner of that referendum will go (mast) head to (mast) head, pole to pole, flago i flago against the Australian Flag the current New Zealand Flag.

Which seems to me to be a reasonable and democratic way of deciding on whether to replace a current incumbent and with what. It's the system I advocate for deciding on electoral reform, or house of lords reform.

More details below.



I wonder what designs we would be offered in Scotland if we ran the same process
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
I am standing for election to the Council of the Electoral Reform Society. My election statement is below. Two other Unlock Democracy Council members are also standing, James Grindrod and Stephan Carter. We hope that having some cross over of membership of the two Councils will help the two organisations work well together.

You can still join the ERS and vote in the election. In order to vote you'll need to be register by the 24th July.


The last Council election had about 650 voters so your vote could well be influential. Also you can experience voting using STV.

Danny Zinkus Statement ERS Council Election Statement

Read more... )
danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)
I am proofreading a chapter of [livejournal.com profile] widgetfox‘s PhD thesis. The chapter is on the grounded theory of her research into how people experience and build well-being in their lives. It’s well worth a read if you can get hold of copy.

One of the things I’m struck by is the different way different people experience well-being. There appear to be generic categories of action and generic processes but the actual things that people find build their well-being or detract from it and the narratives by which they define a good life seem to vary significantly between individuals. They vary to the point that an action that one invidual might take to improve their well-being is considered actively harmful by another.

I was struck by how different people are to me. How I would see a certain political decision as solving a problem that someone else might see as making the problem worse whilst a third person might not see a problem there at all. As an example, I find gardening an activity that improves my well-being and I find the process of gardening in a group really valuable.  Other people, don't. They do something else that helps them say to themselves - I am improving the environment and working with others creatively. Or they might not value improving the physical environment much.  Put me in charge of spatial planning and communities with no interaction with other people and you are likely to end up with more allotments than you can shake a garden cane at but probably too few evening classes in pottery or schemes for retired people to work as mentors for vulnerable young people.

And I found myself wondering if there is a similarity between politicians in how they view their well-beings. Is there a mono-culture in our elected representatives?

More importantly I think the fact that there are differences in the things and activities that different people find build well-being supports using participative and deliberative democracy over representative democracy.  Engaging lots of different people and engaging them in a reflective way ought to tease out more of the things that individuals find improve their well-being. Which I think is the point of politics; to find out what people want and then find a deal that gets the best outcome from the available inputs.

Representative democracy picks one individual and sends them away from their community and the individuals in it. I think they are swamped by the inputs about what other people value and have strong filters in place that prevent some voices being heard.  Participative democracy aims to tap the experience of the whole population. At least as representative a sample of it as can be engaged in the process. Participative democracy feels to me to be a process that it is more likely to lead to a high quality outcome as defined by the users of the system.

Which was an unexpected insight for a lunch time’s reading.
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)
This isn't that long really )
danieldwilliam: (Default)

I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.

I’m trying to set up a programme of speakers for the 2013 Edinburgh Democracy User Group In the Pub meetings. One of our decisions at the planning meeting for this was to invite all the major political parties to send a speaker to talk to us about their parties core values and how they make decisions internally.

My working definition of “major” is any British party that holds a seat at the European, Westminster or Holyrood Parliaments. I’ve excluding Welsh and Northern Irish parties on the grounds of logistics, although if anyone can find a Plaid Cymru member in Edinburgh I’d be delighted to buy them a pint of Brains.

So, I’ve invited Conservative, Labour, SNP, Lib Dem, Green, Respect and UKIP speakers.

It’s not that I’m not happy to have speakers from other parties. I’d be delighted but my first objective is to invite the major parties and I wanted a rule of thumb to apply when I said I was going to spend time trying to get a speaker from X party but not as much time trying to get a speaker from Y party.

The problem is, my definition of major includes the BNP. They currently hold two seats at the European Parliament.

I’m genuinely in two minds about inviting them to speak. On the grounds that they have a democratic mandate should we engage with them. Should we deny them a platform because they are anti-democratic (and are they anti-democratic?)  Are we wiser if we know our enemy or is a fool’s errand to give them a platform?

Suggestions from the floor welcome.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I’ve just had the most amazing conversation.  Angus Reid Scottish artist is a work in play about a Call for a Constitution.  He’s written a poem, based on a statement of shared values discussed at a series of workshops he ran. The poem is currently on display at 12 locations


Each poem has a large, large piece of white paper next to it and people are invited to put their hand on the paper and draw round their hand and sign it.  I’ve just seen the First Minister’s hand on it, near the Lib Dem MSP for Orkney and various others.

He’ll be talking about his work and the process of engaging people in democracy at the Scottish Parliament on 25th September and at each of the other 11 venues around the country.

The experience more than makes up for a conversation I had on twitter about political economics and entrepreneurship in a post-Independence Scotland (at least that’s what I thought it was about.) Which confirmed once again that twitter is a poor medium for nuanced conversations of any sort, but certainly for politics and economics and science or those areas where they overlap.

Here is the poem. I hope it cheers and enthuses you as much as it did me.

If I as a writer of poetry

Were called up to give a form of words

To model the nation’s behaviour

It would be this

Ownership obliges

Everyone to respect and to care for

The sacred

To respect and to care for

Freedom of conscience

 And to recognise

The gift of every indvidual

To respect it

Care for it, nourish it

To care for and protect communities


To care for the land

And whereever

The land has been abused to restore it

So that it can support all forms fo life

Five principles, five fingers on the hand.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I like to think about strategy and I like to think I’m a hard headed pragmatist. Maybe I am but I’m also sentimental and I’m a story-teller. In recent months I’ve been inspired by two statues, outside two houses, of two men. Really I’ve been inspired by the organisations they built. I’m inspired by how they built their organisations and about the story that tells me about how the Reform Movement can prosper in the UK.

The first is a a statue of John Wesley in Bristol. It stands in the courtyard of the New Rooms, the  chapel and meeting rooms and hostel built by the Methodist community in Bristol. Being a Methodist in Bristol was hard work in the 18th Century. If you were against slavery Bristol was not the place to go for an easy life. The New Rooms are designed with no low windows, so that it was harder for mobs of irate Bristolians to break them. The pulpit is only reachable by going up into the gallery and then down into the pulpit, to make it harder for irate Bristolians to drag the preacher out of the pulpit and beat him.

The New Rooms are very elegant, simple and beautifully light, they are a lovely place to contemplate God, or in my case Reform. Above the chapel is a hostel and office space. Here the Wesley’s stayed when the were in Bristol. Any one of the hundreds of Methodist preachers could stay there as they criss-crossed Britain bringing their message of faith and social justice to the peoples of Britain. Every Methodist preacher in Britain passed through the New Rooms and ate a meal at the table in the refrectory.

Then the preachers would continue with their circuits, gathering their congregations. They would gather their congregations whereever they could find them and talk to them outside, in the sunshine or the rain. They would talk with whomever would listen.

The New Rooms were a nexus for the Methodist movement. It is where the conversations happened.  All the little conversations about who is doing what, and all the big conversations about how their community worked, and lived. They broke bread together and shared their lives, both in word and deed. Then they went out to talk with people who wanted to talk, and to talk with people who didn’t want to talk.

The second statue is of John Cartwright, the Father of Reform. His statue stands in the garden of a square where he made his final home in Bloomsbury.  Cartwright created the London Corresponding Scociety, The Hampden Clubs and others like them, which brought working men and women together, physically and through correspondence to talk about Reform, about Universal Suffrage and how they might achieve it. The clubs and societies he founded were often persecuted and eventually outlawed. He was due to speak at a large public meeting of the Manchester Patriotic Union in 1819. This became the Peterloo Massacre. Cartwright died in 1824, eight years before the Great Reform Act of 1832 widened the franchise and for the first time Britain approached democracy.

What links these men and what I find inspirational about them and useful for the Reform Movement is that they both set out to create spaces for conversation.  Spaces for people to talk who didn’t already have a voice. They each put time and effort into walking the land talking to people, encouraging and facilitating a wide, diverse and deep conversation. They encouraged other people to go out and facilitate their own conversations. Out of that conversation, out of the structures they put in place for conversation grew organisations that lead to profound social and political change in our country.

In the 21st Century we don’t necessarily need to gather congregations or found clubs. I don’t see myself tramping from town to town for the next ten years.  The method of the 18th and 19th centuries are not necessarily the methods for the 21st.  The lesson I take from John Wesley and John Cartwright is this.  The Reform Movement needs to talk.  The Reform Movement needs to talk amongst itself.  We need to talk about our goals and our aims and our methods. We need to talk about our values and aspirations.  Then, we need to go and talk to people who are not in the Reform Movement. We need to ask them about their values and aspirations.  We need to talk with them about our common goals. We need to have thousands and thousands of conversations.  Conversations between two people. Conversations amongst hundreds of us gathered togethered. Quiet pints in dark pubs, Skype calls after hurried dinners,  rowdy curries after conferences, emails, blogs, pamphlets, facebook status. Conversations with friends, with colleagues, with allies, conversations with those undecided or uniterested or focused on something else, conversations with enemies.

What I take from Wesley and Cartright for myself is this.  My role in this is to be one of the people who helps the conversation to happen.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

The ERS are conducting a members’ survey.

One of the questions is

Can you tell us the 3 democratic values or principles that are most important to you?

The space for the answer implies that a concise response is required.

I struggled with the question. Here are the notes of my struggle.

For me, there are in a democratic society two tensions that need to be paid attention to. 

I think you get better decisions if you involve more people in the decision making process and if the decisions are made as close to those who are going to affected by them as possible. On the other hand, some endeavours are best undertaken at a scale larger than can be effectively managed by getting all the people affected in a room and talking the issue through. There are specialist skills and knowledge required in many decisions. There is a tension between taking decisions as closely as possible to the people and our society organising itself in the most efficient and effective way. A solution for this is that we collectively delegate responsibility for managing our common endeavours to individuals or small groups.

The second tension is between the will of the majority and the individual. These are the questions about where the rights of the community to influence the lives of individuals start and finish and the rights of individuals to conduct their lives in ways that cause distress to the community. Some of these rights are the right not be interfered with. Others are the right to actively do something. Freedoms from and freedoms to. Often it is expedient to ignore these rights

There is a third issue, I don’t think it’s a tension, because for me the principle is obvious and non-negotiable. People should have an equal share in the management of their communities. The practicalities are harder.

The structures and institutions that we put in place affect how much of share people get in practise.  Representative democracy focused on a large chamber where people stand up and talk which is mediated by short television interviews suits a certain type of person. Governing ourselves using internet forums would suit a certain type of person. Whatever systems and institutions we create we are going to advantage some people and disadvantage other.  We should seek to minimise this effect when we design them and we should seek to find other ways for those disadvantaged to participate in our collective decision making to ensure that they are given fair and equal practical access.

There are some pretty big questions floating around here.

What is clear to me is that these tensions are not resolvable in all cases for all times into a single set of rules.  We should not be afraid of the cost or effort required to govern ourselves or to reflect on the quality of thought and conversation that we all bring to our collective government. The tensions implicit in common government require constant dialogue and reflection.

But I was asked for three values – so here are mine, as pithily as I could put them. They are the starting point for my conversation with democracy and come with an implicit reminder to myself that unless these values are taken out and tested and examined in real life every day they are just platitudes.

When making community decisions we should ensure that all individuals have an equal share of power, both in theory and in practise.

That we should make decisions as closely as possible to those people affected by those decisions and where delegation of decisions, management or administration  of our common endeavours is required we should ensure that those whose take on those delegations are accountable to those whose power they have borrowed, in theory and in practise.

That both individuals and communities have rights that ought not to be violated and duties that ought to be fulfilled no matter how expedient it would be otherwise, we should agree on these foundational rights and duties in advance and express them as clearly as can, so that everyone can understand their rights and obligations, in theory and practise, and where a dispute exists about these rights and duties these should be resolved by disinterested individuals in as open a way as possible.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Following some clarification of the electoral rules by the returning officer I can now say on social media that I am standing for election for the council of Unlock Democracy.

Those of you who are members and live in the North Constituency will have already received your ballot papers and seen me on them.

You can ask candidates questions here


Polls close on the 21st June.

danieldwilliam: (Default)
Last night I had the good fortune to attend a briefing at Holyrood by Professor John Curtice** of work commissioned by the Electoral Reform System and hosted by Neil Bibby, former Scottish Regional Co-ordinator for Yes to Fairer Votes and now an MSP. I also got to meet Katie Ghose and Willie Sulivan from the ERS who I worked with a little on the AV Referendum.

Prof Curtice was talking to this report on the way the Scottish electoral system has operated and been used by electors. It’s not a report on why the SNP won the election.


The interesting points from the report from me are

The D’Hondt system used in Scotland is much, much proportional than the Single Member Plurality system. *** No great surprise there, using proportional representation gives you a more proportional result. What was interesting was that the this result was no more or less proportional than other results in Scotland using the same system in previous elections.

The D’Hondt system using regional lists tends to favour larger parties. What makes the result look less proportional is that the previous government Party was in fact two parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. With the disproportionality concentrated more in one party’s favour than in two it looks starker. Also, the disproportionality has favoured the SNP when it wasn’t supposed to.

Curtice appeared to take some glee in pointing out to the Labour Party that they have reaped what they have sown when they set up the system thinking that they would always be the largest party. I think there is a word of caution there for the Tories with their support for Single Member Plurality. When you pick an electoral system because it favours you in the current structure then you shouldn’t be surprised when you suffer badly if the structure changes. I for one look forward with great joy to UKIP winning some seats at the next UK General Election. If I were a Labour supporter in a safe Tory seat I’d vote UKIP.

Due to the combination of the D’Hondt method and the use of regions there appears to be a de facto threshold of 5% of the vote in order to win any seats. Not quite but nearly. Running the result on the same votes using a national rather than a regional top up would give the Liberal Democrats 7 members rather than 5 with the Greens on nil rather than 2. Using a 4% threshold the Greens would be allocated 6 seats.

Curtice has usefully run the same votes through a different but similar method of seat allocation the Sainte Lague method. This gives a more proportional result and corrects some of the bias towards larger parties. Using Sainte Lague the Greens would have been allocated 7 seats. The same votes, in the same places counted slightly differently triple the representation of the Green Party George Galloway would have won a seat. Make of this what you will.

What you can’t see from running the votes cast through different system is how people would have voted using that different system. Would more people have voted Green if it looked likely that they would win 7 seats rather 2? Who knows?

Electors seem to be quite savvy about the system. Green voters are slightly more likely to cast a blank ballot in the constituency vote where Green candidates don’t stand. Voters generally seem happy to split their vote between the constituency and list ballots; often favouring incumbent constituency candidates.

The Labour Party’s refusal to allow candidates to stand in both the constituency and list ballots has resulted in a large turnover of Labour MSP’s. Proportionately they are very inexperienced. I fear that they could be overwhelmed as the largest non-government party and carry a record of ineffectiveness into the next election. Coupled with the advantage that incumbents have in the constituency vote I think Labour may struggle for a few terms with the effect of their “winning loser” policy.

The big take aways for me were; Labour have shot themselves in both feet and if you support a smaller party, or just favour greater proportionality, a small change in the voting system could make a big difference.

** http://www.crest.ox.ac.uk/curtice.htm

*** AKA First Past the Post
danieldwilliam: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] star_tourmalineover at her other blog was musing on the leaked report on suggestions that unfair dismissal should be made legal.

It prompted this response in me.

One of the many things I deplore most about politics Modern (and probably Ancient) is that it appears to be the business of telling people they were right all along and not explaining to people where they are wrong or asking them what they actually want and what a sensible way of achieving that goal might be if we start with the assumption that most people are people, a bit like you.

People appear to favour simple and simplistic responses to problems. They appear to reason badly from their own experience. They appear to have a nasty streak*.

This leads I think to a series of initiatives that have the word “tough” in them. Tough on crime, tough on bankers, tough on people on benefits, tough on Terror, tough on single mothers and so on and so forth. Tough on people who don’t want to be unfairly dismissed. The world is tough place and we must be tougher to prosper. A good thrashing never did me any harm…

There’s a certain self-satisfaction about a response that is heavy on toughness.

I am reminded of my brother who was a martial artist in his youth. I once watched with him a film about a young martial artist who wanted to train with a great teacher. Some of the training involved having coconuts thrown at his midriff until he was tough enough to withstand a coconut falling from the top of a palm tree. Vital once you remember that more Australians are killed by falling coconuts than by sharks. Not especially useful for anything that didn’t involve having cannonballs fired at him.

Few problems are solved by toughness alone. The ability to toughen up is probably useful if you are living through a siege but unless the Germans finally run out of patience and decide that the only way to sort out Europe is if everyone does what they are told we’re unlikely to be living in a country that is being constantly bombed and starved of food in the near future. If we’re not constantly at war, why the need for the Spartan agony?

Much as there is to admire about the Spartans do we really want to live our whole lives being tougher? Yet, toughness is often offered up as a panacea for all our ills. As it is here with unfair dismissal. I think the initiative on unfair dismissal is one of those being tough initiatives.

The other word that gets thrown around a lot in these circumstances is freedom. We need to free the hand of the entrepreneur, teacher, doctor, patient, parent, social worker, policeman, judge.

Currently not on the list for the miracle cure of freedom enhancement are bankers and accountants who have both been very naughty and instead more toughness is indicated. Anyone who doesn’t think Sarbannes – Oxley compliance isn’t tough is going to be repeatedly kicked in the nuts whilst being made to fill in forms about the which forms they have just filled in whilst working in an environment where my brother hurls coconuts and abuse at you. If that doesn’t sort out Enron and Bear Stearns nothing will.

Everyone else needs more freedom. Freedom to do what? Apparently to do whatever it seems politicians think we think they should be doing more of. Including being tough.

Now, I’m all in favour of freedom but it’s what you do with it that counts. Freedom doesn’t magically make a decision a right or wrong. It makes it more local. It makes it more devolved. It makes it more personal. It might mean it is taken with more care and better information but it might also make it capricious and arbitrary. What freedom does is shift the responsibility for the way things turn out from someone else to you. This may be a good thing, if you are the right person to be making that decision and if other people are happy with you making decisions on their behalf now that you have the freedom to do so.

This being the key thing about freedom, that your freedom very quickly rubs against my freedom, or my security, or my property, or my right or my duty. That your increased freedom to unfairly dismiss me from employment conflicts with my right not to be arbitrarily sacked from a job that pays my mortgage.

We have a problem with economic growth. We need entrepreneurs to create wealth and they need the freedom to do so, including the freedom to be tough with under-performing workers. So goes the rhetoric. Freedom and toughness. But it’s not toughness that is needed here but wisdom.

People see Alan Sugar in his boardroom and see him being “tough” with contestants in the Apprentice. What they don’t see is the man’s genius for working out what people are prepared to pay for and then selling it to them. If he sees that more clearly than others and has difficulty explaining how to have that vision I’m sure he finds that frustrating. I’m sure he becomes gruff. It’s not the gruffness that made him rich. That vision, and the ability to get other people to see it too, is what made him a multi-millionaire, not shouting at people and sacking them.

So much harder to explain to people that running a business or creating an entrepreneurial organisation is difficult and fraught with risks. That most entrepreneurial organisations are founded and lead by teams who must work together and have respectful conversations with each other over a long time.

In reality what this measure does is shift the risk for making a mediocre hire from the owner or manager of the business to the employee and give managers the freedom to be mediocre.

I’d be more impressed with a slogan that ran “Clever on crime, cleverer about the causes of crime”.

(I remembered as I was writing this that I am formally a specialist in Entrepreneurship and the creation of value.)

*Nasty if they are right wing. Self-righteous if they are left wing.
danieldwilliam: (Default)
I hope I’m not alone in finding the death of Gadaffi distasteful.

I hope I’m not alone in finding the death of Gadaffi another precident in an unwholesome change in our views on the rule of law.

I think due process of law and the presumption of innocence taken together are two of the most important political innovations in Western society and two of the most important rights we have. Combined, they mean that if the state can not persuade a disinterested person that you have done a bad thing the state (or its officials) can not deprive you of your life, or your liberty or wound you in your body. From this stable platform of being able to go about your business free from arbitrary vexation by the state or persecution flow all our civil liberties and all the material and political benefits that come from living in a free society.

If the Rule of Law does not apply to everyone than it applies to no one. If one person can be outlawed, then anyone can be outlawed.

When sanctioning the death of outlaws or approving of the killing of outlaws by others I hope our leaders would remember John Rawls’ veil of uncertainty and the maxim that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. If it is okay for our leadership to kill without trial or approve of the killing without trial of their leadship how are we to distinguish terrorism from police action? What makes the IRA attack on Downing Street morally different from the killing of Osama Bin Laden?

I’m concerned that it seems to be okay for extra judicial killings to happen to Arab men who dislike the West. I fear that it will encourage Arab men who dislike the West to continue to think that it is okay to kill Westerners. I fear that the class of people whom it is acceptable to kill without due process may be widened to include African men who dislike the West, Western men who dislike the West, women and children who just happen to be standing near men who fall into the category of outlaw, Western women who have breached planning conditions on their own property and then atheists, Jews, Non-Conformists, Dissenters and supporters of Manchester United.

I think when the Americans insisted that we have proper trials for alleged Nazi war criminals and that we didn’t just string them up from the nearest lamppost that was the right thing to do. I don’t think justice tempered by angry vengance is an appropriate model for us to endorse.

Not just because the rule of law is a good thing but because important practical liberties and material benefits flow from the rule of law. You can not have the benefits of a free and democratic society if you remove one of the foundations of that society.

I don’t want it to be okay to kill without trial Gadaffi or Bin Laden because I don’t want it to be okay for someone to do that to Obama or Cameron, or me. I don’t want to live in a world where just killing people is okay for either side.


danieldwilliam: (Default)

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