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: (electoral reform)

Two pieces of analysis on the Coming Lib Dem collapse crossed my desk this morning. The first is an analysis of the potential electoral outcomes for the Lib Dem, Conservative and Labour parties if the current polling position for the Lib Dems of about 10% translates into vote share at the 2015 General Election.

The first is from Robert Ford, of the University of Nottingham School of Politics and International Relations, the second is from Hopi Sen, Labour blogger and co-author of In The Black Labour.http://hopisen.com/2012/the-coming-libdem-collapse-and-labour/#comment-13293

Ford trials two scenarios for the shifting of Lib Dem voters and looks at the results.  The first is a universal national swing. Lib Dems lose seats to the Tories, the Tories lose seats to Labour in Con-Lab marginal with high 2010 Lib Dem votes. The end result is that the Labour party ends up 6 seats short of a majority in the House of Commons with the Lib Dems on 11 seats. 

Which allows the Labour Party to form a majority coalition with the Lib Dems, or for the Conservative Party to form a (rather unlikely) coalition with the Lib Dems and the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland.

The second scenario looks at the votes cast if the current split of 2010 Lib Dems votes hold true for defected to Labour, the Tories, to Don’t Know (further re-allocated) and stayed Lib Dem.

This scenario sees the Lib Dems reduced to zero seats in the House of Commons and the Labour party sweeping to a Hung Parliament, 14 seats short of an absolute majority.

The SNP finish on about 7 seats.  I’ll let those with a calculator do that sum.

Hopi Sen broadly agrees with the analysis but questions some of the detail about how Don’t Knows split between Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative. He also asks some questions about UKIP. Things will be messier than just one axis of change.

In real life lots of stuff will happen that goes against the general rub of the green and actual results might vary and in such a close election might prove significant.

On this analysis the results look far from being a Labour landslide.  It doesn't take much to shift for both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party to end up on functionally the same number of seats and for the Lib Dems to end up more influential than they were in 2010.  If this strikes you as a perverse result, well that's First Past the Post for you.

And raises the question touched on in an earlier post of mine, who do you vote for if you want constitutional change and electoral reform?

It seems clear to me that if you want Devo-Max and you concede that the Yes to Independence campaign won’t win the 2014 election then I think the party to vote in any seat where the SNP came second to the Labour Party is the SNP. 

Which doesn’t help me much. I live in a three way marginal, and the SNP are 4th.

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: (machievelli)

I’ve just read this article by J Boone Bartholomees in Parameters, the US Army War College Quarterly on the Theory of Victory. It’s a short article that explores some questions about how we define Victory and therefore how we might achieve a victory.

He first looks at the dimensions in which Victory might be achieved; tactical, operational and strategic and goes on to suggest that Victory in the strategic sphere is essentially political. In Vietnam, the US won all the battles but lost the war. Victory and Defeat are opposites but not necessarily binary. It is possible for one side to win and for the other side not to be defeated. Even for both sides to achieve Victory. A lot depends on how you define Victory for yourself.

He suggests some scales developed by Colin S Gray in his paper for Parameters in 2002.

Victory is a measure of Success on a scale that runs

Defeat  Loss       Not Win               Tie          Not Lose              Win        Victory

This in turn is a composite of two other measures Decisiveness and Achievement

Decisiveness looks at how fully the underlying political issues have been settled by the conflict. Has the end of your conflict answered your political desires?

The scale runs thus.

Exacerbated       Significant Deterioration               Potential Deterioration Status Quo          Potential Solution            Partial Solution               Resolution

Achievement measures how well the strategy was executed.  Were the material aims of the campaign realised.

The scale runs

None     Negligible            Slight     Limited Measureable     Significant           Total     

Simplistically, a campaign that totally achieves its material aims and which through that affects a total resolution of the political questions is a Victory. However, it’s not as simple as that.

Bartholomees then looks at the characteristics of Victory.

It must have some temporal element.  Victory must create a persistent state of being, a new status quo.

Victory can be non-binary. It is possible for all protagonists in a conflict to have different aims and for more than one side or more than one actor to achieve their aims.

Cost is an important consideration. A Victory that costs too much is not a Victory. A political settlement that is significantly cheaper to achieve than the wholly desired outcome might be defined as Victory.

Who Decides Who Has Achieved Victory?

Victory being political is in the minds of the beholders. It is a matter of opinion, but whose opinion matters? Both sides opinion is important and in some respect the conflict will continue until both sides recognise that a new status quo has been reached. Symbols, here, can be important. Formal indicators of changes in status show can show that both sides accept and share the same interpretation of the result.  One might argue that the US Civil War wasn’t settled until well into the 20th Century.

Clausewitz gets a mention with two models.  First a tripartite model of Lose. Total Victory comprises a greater loss by the enemy of material, of morale and, ultimately the giving up by the enemy of their intentions for the conflict.

In order to achieve Victory one must target the enemy’s resistance which is a function of their Means and Their Will. R = M*W. By driving R towards 0 Victory can be achieved.

Typically in military conflicts the main target is the enemy’s Means, either in a direct attempt to reduce it to zero and therefore to impose one side’s Will on the Other or to erode the enemy’s will by making the destruction of their Means painful and full of the promise of future pain and impotence. 

Two notes I wrote down whilst reading this article

One must not only be Victorious but be seen to be Victorious.

Destroying the Enemy’s Means but not their  Will still leaves a hostile Enemy with Political Intention.

In order to achieve Victory one must understand what your own political objectives are and who one might use the conflict to achieve them. You also need to understand what the enemy wants. What does Victory look like for both sides. That’s the objective, you then pick the means most suitable.

I’m trying to fit this theoretical discussion into my thinking about strategy at both work and my Reform campaigning.  More to come on this I think.

danieldwilliam: (economics)

So, whilst pondering whether the leave Africans to die in their own cesspools or to bravely and selflessly take on the mantel of running their continent question for them I stumbled on the idea of Charter Cities proposed by Paul Romer.

The idea is that a developing country sings a treaty with one or more developed countries to create a city in (more or less) unoccupied land.  The developing nation gives the land for the city and the developed nation gives the rules, the enforcement of the rules and the guarantee that the rules won’t be changed after individuals and corporations have made difficult to back out of investments in the city.

The idea is based on the observation that rules matter. That one of the greatest barriers to developing countries developing is that they have bad and / or indifferently enforced rules that are subject to arbitrary change (1).

To give the city administration a long term stake in improving the lot of its citizens they own all the land and lease it to, well to whomever want to lease it. If they want to increase rents they have to increase the ability of people to pay rent by making them better educated, more productive, healthier, free-er. No gouging because anyone can leave at any time to either return home or move to one of the other Charter Cities.

People, either only from the host country or from all over the world can move in. They accept the rules of the charter city and get on with earning a living.  If the Charter City offers them a better life than they currently have, they will move there. If it doesn’t they won’t. This would be a third option alongside immigration, possibly illegal, to a place that doesn’t necessarily want me or stay in country that has a low standard of living and isn’t improving quickly enough for me.  A hoped for side effect is that with local competition for citizens local despots and kleptarchs, or local trying really hard but struggling to build consensus would pull their fingers out.

The benefits to the host country are that they end up with a well-run, prosperous city nearby which wants to buy its products and services and in turn wants to sell goods and services. The benefits to the administrative country are altruistic and a hoped for reduction in aid costs and security costs. The people who live in the city, well they benefit because they live prosperous lives in a well-run city. If they find they’re not living in a prosperous city, then they leave.

So, I’m wondering what could go wrong? That’s a serious question.(2)

(1) often as a result of the country being a kleptarchy but not necessarily.

(2) and I'd be obliged if your responses did not use the words Libertarianism or Colonialism.  I want to know what's wrong with Mr Romer's idea, not a straw man.

Some Links for those with a more than passing interest.


Article by Paul Romer in Prospect


The Web Page for Romer's foundation.


A Critical - but in my view not very good article in the Guardian. The comments are more useful.


 Romer discussing systems.  (If [livejournal.com profile] widgetfox is reading this he may also mention hair and shoes)


 A bit of a Q&A by Freakonomics


Part of a debate between a sceptic of the idea and Romer - the rest are findable.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Whilst being mildy irritated that The Patriarchy meant that I’m not manly for liking beer with a taste I came across this article on the Recolonsation of Africa. 

The article is bad enough. The comments appalled me. (1)

I’m not sure which offends me most; the fact-free rhetoric that Africa is getting worse and is ultimately doomed or the explicit statement that this is because black Africans are genetically inferior to white men.

The debate in the comments seemed to be about whether colonising Africa for the good of the Africans or just leaving them to die was the greater kindness.

 Nah, what actually offended me was the lack of dissenting voice. No one suggested that actually black African IQ’s didn’t average out at 85 or that some African countries have GDP growth rates that Barack Obama would give his left bollock for. Or that maybe invading a whole country to help its people might be an ethically complex issue.

Africa surely has a lot of problems but I think the idea that it is a hopeless and irredeemably broken place just doesn’t fit with the evidence of places like Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Namibia. Or with the general trend on infant mortality. Or the progress made on democratising politics.


(1) My favourite comment was one that boldly asserted that if the whole continent was properly run it could, maybe, support a billion people easily. Current population of Africa is 1.1 billion people.

Or perhaps my favourite was “that an important part of altruism is the what’s-in-it-for-me element.”

danieldwilliam: (politics)

Whilst considering the political landscape of Scotland post-Independence I have been assuming that there was only room for one Social Democratic party in Scotland. Consequently, either the Scottish Nationalist Party or the Labour Party would cease to exist, either as a recognisably social democratic party or utterly. A helpful comment in a pub recently suggests that there might well be room for two social democratic parties in Scotland, one in government and one in opposition. What will they disagree about?

Scotland appears to have a settled political consensus around Social Democracy with a goodly amount of Democratic Socialism. By this I mean that it is broadly agreed that the state should be an economic actor, providing goods and services to its citizens, that there should be high levels of taxation and that the provision of public services by the state should be broad and of good quality.  Some areas of the economy are to be reserved for state action. In many more areas a commitment to state provided, tax funded universality of service is made. Some suggestions are made that the collective should directly own whole industries.  The state is seen as vehicle for effecting a meritocracy where the practical equality of opportunity brought about by universal public services allows people to rise and fall on their own efforts rather than the lot they were born into.

These are essentially arguments about the utility of state action in the economy as an agent of the community and individuals.

What then are the dimensions of opposition? Even within the confines of a debate between two social democratic parties the differences of opinion go further and deeper than differences over the correct technical policy or questions of whether specific fringe activities should fall wholly, partly or not at all within the parameters of the state.  Three that spring to mind as examples of how Government and Opposition in an Independent Scotland might be defined in the early 21st Century are Centralisation, Authoritarianism and Diversity.

It is possible for two people to agree that the state should involve itself in the life of the community, yet disagree about the size and shape of the state and where the part of the state that interacts with an individual citizen is located.   Is the state to be highly centralised?  Are tax revenues to flow into the coffers of the central government and then be disbursed, with conditions and performance targets attached, to local administrators? Should those local bodies have responsibility for local policy and should they be directly accountable to the citizenry in their area? Are local bodies to be geographical or comprised of overlapping areas of endeavour.

Some examples.  Should all important decisions about policing and health care be made in Holyrood and Victoria Quay with local bodies merely the executives who deliver central government policy?  If policing and health and other policies are devolved to local bodies should there be one elected body with policy and strategic oversight, a local council and corporation or should the powers and responsibilities for policing be devolved to an elected police board and those for health to an elected health board? Where are the taxes to pay for nurses and polices to be raised and decided upon?

One question that captures the essence of the centralisation question for me “Is the Holyrood general election going to be the only election worth voting in?”

It is possible for two people to agree that the state should involve itself in the life of the community but for one to think that the state should not interfere overly much in the life of the citizen.

Is the state to be able and willing to intervene in the private lives of the citizenry?  These considerations are not restricted to issues of morality and the boundaries between the public purse and private health which are touched on in questions such as: How far should the state be able to go in regulating the sexual mores of the public or its eating and drinking habits? Is it the business of the state to encourage us to take exercise or to compel us?  

There are issues of civil liberties and public security that range from our response to terrorism to crowd control at football matches to thought crimes. Should we be subject to invasive screening and intrusive surveillance to protect us from malevolence?  Should disapproval of sexual behaviour or religion be a criminal offence?

It is possible for two people to agree that the state should involve itself in the life of the community, yet disagree about how that community should develop and what role the state should play in that development.  Is post-Independence Scotland to be mono-cultural or many cultured?  Is that the for the state to influence?  There are issues here of strict secularism in schooling.  Issues of state support for families howsoever defined (and distinct from financial support for those raising children). Do we promote various and varying sexual orientations as a positive choice people can make and a welcome addition to the gaiety of the nation or are non-straight, non-cis monogamists to be seen as the state sponsored norm with Others a tolerated by abnormal fringe?  When considering our immigration policy do we welcome people from social democratic Tanzania as more or less like us than people from Libertarian Texas and does it matter? 

For me the nub of these of Centralisation, Authortarianism and Diversity is how much control do we place in the hands of how few individuals?  If we are agreed in Scotland that we are all in this together and that the group has wide ranging obligations to its members and vice versa these questions seem all the more important.

I can see a Scotland emerging where the primary question of how much of a role the state has in the lives of our community is a settled one. The answer: a lot. What remains are discussions about how centralised that state is to be, where the boundary between public and private activity lies and when the state can step over that boundary and what role the state has in promoting or restricting diversity.

These remain ideological issues and they turn on whether you believe other people can trusted with their own happiness and a share in our communal happiness.

Taken to extremes on the one hand we could have a social democratic party that sees the state as a diverse and devolved facilitator of the betterment of the community and the individual and on the other hand a party that sees the State and by extension the Party as the sole arbiter in disputes and the sole solution to an individual’s problems.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

This is a bit of thinking out loud and I might change my mind entirely on this.

I think I can see a role for an elected House of Lords that is similar to the role of the US and Australian Senate. Their role, in part, is to represent the whole of a geographic (and Federal political) area.

One could argue that MP’s in the Commons already represent a geographical area.  I’m not so sure they do.  Whilst my local MP in theory represents the electors of Edinburgh South I think it could be argued that he actually represents the liberal, urban middle classes who happen to live in Edinburgh.  To some extent people physically segregate themselves according to income and social attitudes. This in effect groups them into voting groups that are class based rather than geographic. Edinburgh South has as much or more in common with Bristol West,( which includes Clifton) as it does with Edinburgh East.

Spin this another way, who represents working-class Tories in Edinburgh? Middle-class Tories might just get a representative in Edinburgh South on a good day, with a following wind and a great candidate.  Agricultural socialists in the Cotswolds are similarly out of luck and have to borrow the influence of urban socialists.

In this, ostensibly geographic constituencies are more like the Romans voting by Centuries than the Romans voting by Tribes. It’s class rather than anything else that determines which constituency you live in.

Even taking Commons constituencies on face value as geographic entities, Edinburgh South isn’t a meaningful area. It is socially and economically embedded in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Scotland. I think most issues that affect Edinburgh South affect the whole of Edinburgh. I rarely talk about living in South Edinburgh except when talking about politics or giving directions. How many people live in one constituency but work in another? How many organisations are in one constituency but depend on an organisation in another?  If you are ill in Edinburgh you travel to Edinburgh East, unless you are child, in which case you go to Edinburgh South.

This de facto class-based constituency is re-enforced by an electoral system that has the effect of polarising rather harmonising political debate. Politics in the UK is orientated around class division rather than geographical co-operation.

Who is looking out for Edinburgh as a whole. Who, other than Alex Salmond and the pandas, is looking out for Scotland as a whole?  This is a serious question.  Between them are Michael Moore and Margaret Curran really representing the whole of Scotland?

So what role for an elected Lords?  Under the current proposals Peers will be elected using STV based on large “Electoral Districts” roughly equivalent to an European Parliament constituency. So there will be Peers from Scotland, Peers from the South West, Peers from London.

Some of these areas have some form of devolved or regional assembly. Others do not.

It may be that a Peer elected from a large district that functions as social and economic community is able to (or required to) pull off representing both a meaningful geographic community and an ideology. There is a bit on One Nationism here. The idea that regardless of class the citizens of various parts of the UK have common interests that they don’t share with citizens from other parts of the UK.  Tin mining is an issue in Cornwall. Oil is an issue in Scotland.  The role of elected Peers is to advocate things that are in the regional interest rather than just a class interest.  This wider geographic role operates both within and without parties. Scottish elected Peers would have a role engaging at a national level with, for example, whomever is off to talk fisheries policies at the EU in order to support the whole of Scotland’s fishing industry. But they also have a role in making each party less focused on its core, geographically concentrated support. Again, what effective voice do left-wing agricultural workers have in the Labour Party? Or Tories in Scotland?

So, despite the fact that the UK doesn’t have a Federal structure I think there is a case to be made for elected representatives who serve a wider geographical community rather than MP’s who serve the interests of a particular class gathered together in the part of a city or county where people of that sort live.

danieldwilliam: (electoral reform)

I was asked what I thought of this anniversary of the 5th May blogpost by Milena Popova.

I don’t disagree with the analysis of the last 18 months. The Yes campaign was badly run. Most of the post referendum analysis started with “It wasnae me.” Unhelpful when you want to re-group and what you need is some discussion on how to keep a mass reform campaign going.  The sort-of-promised support for local groups doesn’t appear to have materilised (1)

So I share the frustration with where the pro-electoral reform campaign is now and how we got here. Does that mean that I agree that we should say the Viaticum over the body of Electoral Reform? I’m not nearly so pessimistic about the longer term outcome, or even the medium term outcome.  As Warren Buffet might say “Look at the fundamentals.”

Current and Future Usage of Electoral System.

The citizens of the UK are increasingly exposed to electoral systems other than First Past the Post(2).  Scotland uses the Additional Member System of PR for Holyrood, the Single Transferable Vote for local elections (and the Alternative Vote for local council by-elections.) Wales uses a form of PR for Assembly Elections. Northern Ireland uses STV for Assembly elections. London has the same electoral system as Scotland for its Assembly elections and uses the Suplementary Vote for Mayoral elections. A few more cities in England will also be using that system for their own mayoral elections over the next few years. Perhaps 1 in 5 voters are already regularly using PR for devolved chamber elections.

For European elections most of the UK uses the D’hondt form of PR to elect MEP’s(3)

So the British electorate is already exposed to a variety of electoral systems.  Directly elected police commissioners and an elected House of Lords increases the breadth of alternative voting methods in use. In fact, so many different electoral systems do we have in use in the UK that barely a year goes by without somebody somewhere using a non-FPTP electoral system and a different one each time. (4) (6)

The British electorate is increasingly able to use different electoral systems. They get to see how different electoral systems affect how their votes turn into representation. They see what different systems do to the choice they are offered and what they do to politicians’ behavior. Politicians too are growing up using and being elected through different electoral systems. They are more used to the compromises required by different electoral systems.

I think the direction of travel is towards more widespread use of different electoral methods. Lords Reform and local councils in England and Wales are both potential next steps.

Using different electoral systems is important for campainging reasons. It removes a number of the stronger arguments of the status quo camp. We’ve always used FPTP, it’s the British way – increasingly we don’t and increasing it isn’t. Other electoral systems are too complex and you can’t predict the results. Millions of Britons now use them annually and do so effectively. You can’t be sure what sort of madmen you will get and the coalitions will be a shambles. I think many Britons can see how their votes translate in the representation they are getting. They can see that in Scotland PR has lead to stable, even dull, government without a swivel-eyed lunatic fringe appearing. (10) They have more experience of the way coalitions work, or don’t work. They can see the differences for good and bad of the different electoral systems.

Electoral reform, to some extent, is already happening.

Lords Reform

There are a number of ways Lords Reform is important for electoral reform more broadly.

Firstly, it gives an electoral foothold for a variety of political parties other than Labour or the Conservatives. UKIP, the Greens, the SNP and the Lib Dems could all expect to pick up seats in an elected House of Lords using STV. This is important for two reasons. It gives those parties credibility (7), it gives them paid positions supported by the State in the form of salaried members and staff and Short Money, it gives them a platform. Secondly, each of these parties is in favour of electoral reform in principle.

Secondly, at some point a  UK government is going to be dependent on UKIP, Lib Dem, SNP or Green votes in the House of Lords for something. At some point the quid pro quo for not sparking a vote of no confidence will be movement on electoral reform. 

Thirdly, an elected House of Lords using STV would mean the whole British electorate was using STV for one half of a general election. (8) 

Fourthly, an elected House of Lords using STV already is electoral reform.  That’s STV in use in the UK at a Westminsiter general election. I know some genuine electoral reform activists who would consider that not only good progress but the perfect outcome. Let’s just sit with that for a moment. STV used at a UK general election in my life time.

Broad Electoral Trends.

The electoral trend since the war has been steadily lower turn outs and a steady increase in the vote share of the Not-The-Labour-or-Conservative-Parties-Party.  There seems no reason for this trend to reverse.  I’m sure the Liberal Democrats are going to suffer a drop in vote share at the next General Election.  I expect they will lose many seats (9).  I also expect this to reverse somewhat after the 2015 election. I also expect UKIP to continue to poll well.

At some point we are going to end up with another coalition. Probably not in 2015 but perhaps in 2020. Probably involving the Lib Dems but it might be a centre-right coalition of UKIP and the Conservative party.  If you are negotiating a coalition with one of the main two parties and you have an interest in electoral reform what is the big take away from 2010? Don’t faff about with referenda for your third choice electoral system. Insist on legislating for STV.

The more elections we have where smaller parties poll millions of votes and get a handfull of seats the stronger our case for reform.

Campaigning Network.

A network of pro-electoral reformers and reform organisations was created. It still exists. It needs some careful nurturing.  My experience in Edinburgh was that a fair few people who had never taken part in a political campaign got involved.  I’m still in touch with quite a few of them.  Many of them are still pro-reform campaigners – for a given value of campaigning.

We’re all a bit more experienced. We know better how to organise. We know better what happens if we don’t trust our instincts when we are badly lead. We have a long, long list of things we’d do differently if we had the chance. Next time round we won’t be campaigning for our third choice option.

I don’t want to appear Poly-Annaish about the strength of the existing reform network. It’s in dire need of some attention from the ERS and UD. It could easily evaporate into an effective nothingness, especially if there is nothing for it to do or to celebrate in the next twelve months. However, it still exists. It still breaths.  The evening before the anniversary of the 5th of May I was at a meeting of the Edinburgh group. I know there are internal reformers actively engaged in making the two reform organisations better at organising reform.

I think the fundamentals are good for electoral reform in the UK. We already have a variety of elections using different electoral systems and we are adding more. We have a big chance and a big success in House of Lords reform. We may have STV introduced next year for elections in 2015. The electoral trends favour our arguments and give us opportunities and we have the remnants of an organisation that is trying to promote reform.

So, is Electoral Reform dead? I’d echo Mark Twain, rumours of its death are greatly exagerated.

(1) and I write this as one of the convenors of one of the more successful local campaigns who has both an Electoral Reform regional office and the former Chair of the ERS in my city. Unlock Democracy have also not picked up the phone to check in.  (Saying that, I’ve not phoned them.)

 (2) or to give it its Sunday name, Single Member Plurality voting.

 (3) NI uses STV – FTW.

 (4) Since 2010 I have used FPTP (SMP)(5), the Additional Member System and STV.

 (5) I’m sorry I just can’t help using the proper name for FPTP – because it says right on the title page how poor a system it is.

 (6) This excludes the large number of people who use different election methods for civic organisations such as University student bodies and Unions.

 (7) if they earn it – BNP local councillors I’m looking at you.

 (8) I know the elections are going to be stagered but still 50% of our chambers will be elected using STV.

 (9) and they may, ironically, end up with as many elected Senators as they do Representatives. I refer interested readers to the history of the Democrat Party in Australia and the dictum of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Maharal of Prague, “Sometimes influence is more powerful than power.” 

(10) Unless you count Baron Watson of Invergowrie, the notorius fire raiser of that most radical of parties; the Labour Party.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Cut for length - it's the socially responsible thing to do. )
danieldwilliam: (machievelli)

I’m not paying too much attention to the US Republican party’s War on Women at the moment.

It’s not that I think that restricting access to contraception or the mandating of unnecessary, deliberately humiliating and invasive “medical” procedures to influence, or to punish, the decision of women seeking an abortion is okay.

I don’t.

It’s not that I don’t think that what happens in the US couldn’t happen here or that US culture doesn’t influence our own.

I don’t.

But what am I going to do about Rick Santorum?

I do think that British voters getting incensed about Rick Santorum or the Virginia legislature is to miss the similar attempts that are being made by some of our own legislators and pressure groups to bring that sort of evil to our country.

So, I’m saving my energy and my outrage for home and for legislators I elect and to defend the universality of medical services that I and my family use.  If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

But here’s what I hope happens in the US.

I hope the Republican Party gets it arse handed to in the US general election. I’m all for consensus politics and reasoned dialogic discussion – but not with these guys.  I hope they get a big fat kick in the nuts.

And I hope that it is the votes of women who deliver that kick. I hope the surge in support for Obama amongst women under 50 translate into a big win for him, and for the Democrats in the House and the Senate. I hope it’s obvious, blindingly obvious, to the both the Republican and Democrat Parties that it was the votes of women who made the difference and that these voters were motivated to vote by the rhetoric and legislation of the religious right-wing.

I hope the Republican War on Women turns USian women into the largest special interest pressure group in the US.

I hope the Republican Party has to sit and watch impotently whilst Democrats win seat after seat, legislature after legislature and then ram through their “left wing” agenda.

I hope this sucks for them. 

I hope they realise that their assault on the fundamental physical integrity of women was the root cause of all their election and legislative woes. I hope moderate Republicans are furious that their party has been frozen out of the political process in order to pander to the prejudices of some of the utter nutjobs they share an election platform with.

I hope they are left for a few years in the political void watching bill after bill pass thinking… 

“If only we hadn’t decided that poking ourselves into the wombs and souls of women was the most important thing we had to do we’d be in government and able to stop this.”

danieldwilliam: (seven legged spider)

I’ve been looking at voting intentions by class recently and thinking about class generally a bit recently.

I’ve also been thinking about the Living Wage and the work of Rowntree on the Poverty Line

Class is a strange thing in Britain. In Australia where I have lived class is different.  I don’t think it’s correct to say there is no class distinction in Australia but it’s more closely tied to economics than social position.

For me class in Britain seems to be some synthesis of current and future economic position, education, social position, the type of job you do and some kind of nebulous cultural affinity.  Is Alan Sugar working class or an aristocrat?

I’ve been trying to winnow out the economic element. My classification below is work in progress. I’d welcome any constructive criticism. I’m trying to focus on the impact economic positions have on choice, security and expectation.

When looking at income I’m not currently drawing a distinction between income from earnings, from social transfers or from free at point of use access to socialised services such as health care or education.

I do draw a distinction between income that is earned and income that is derived from owning capital. The key distinctions being choice about working or nor and choice about when you consume you’re lifetime wealth.

The key caveat when considering my classification is that is isn’t just your current position that matters to my mind but what you expect your lifetime position to be. I think there is a considerable difference between being a poor student at Oxford trying to live on £12k a year until your job offer to work for a bank comes in, someone who has just bought a house and so is spending most of their income on mortgage payments and has £12k a year after paying for housing and being a cleaner in your 50’s with no savings trying to live on £12k a year.

Classes of Labour

 On the Poverty Line / On the Living Wage – or just below.

 Too little income to participate in society fully and with dignity. Significant risk of long term health issues do to persistent material shortage. Significant risk of serious discomfort due to short term financial shocks. 

 (I’m struck by how similar the Poverty Line and the Living Wage are in conception.)

 Much lower than this and I think you are in danger of imminent death.

 Subsistence Labouring

 Sufficient income to meet current needs but no capacity to build up meaningful reserves.  An income from labour that allows some “luxuries”. A significant one off financial shock would result in Poverty Living for some time (e.g. a car crash resulting in absence from work and the need to buy a new car). Every penny is counted and accounted for. One is living from paycheck to paycheck.

 Comfortable Labouring

 Sufficient income to meet current needs and to save against certain one off shocks but still not able to accumulate significant amounts of capital.  Will never have the deposit for a house so will never own their home so will be paying rent forever. Essentially working until death or retiring into Poverty.

(Not really happy with the name for this group – I’m trying for something that suggests that life is pretty okay at the moment but only so long as you keep working.)

 Prosperous Labouring

 As Comfortable Labouring but with the ability to save significant amounts of capital for the long term future. By significant I mean sufficient to live on. So enjoying the material well-being of Comfortable Living whilst also saving for a mortgage, saving for a pension or putting aside cash. Someone who was in the Prosperous Labouring group might expect to retire into the Comfortable Labouring Class type material well-being.

 For me this is a key break point. This is the place where someone working can look forward to not working, or having choices about the amount or type of work they do. They can also face the future without fear of a significant material drop in their current living standard.

 Affluent Labouring

 As Prosperous Labouring but with sufficient saving ability that they would retire into Prosperity i.e. even after reaching the point where they can give up paid labour they are still able to put surplus cash aside and this gives them the ability to significantly assist children or grandchildren.

 (I am wondering if the one of the most profound social, economic and political  phenomenon we see in the early part of the 21st Century might be the division of the UK into those whose grandparents left them a house in their will and those whose grandparents didn’t – this might be seen as the completion of Thatcher’s revolution or not.)

 Affluent living just keeps going. I don’t see any significant difference in outcome for people who work – it’s just how quickly you decide to trade working for not working and how much you decide to assist your offspring from current earned income.

 Classes of Capital Holding

 People may hold sufficient capital that they don’t have to work. This may be as a result of inheritance or by working for a while in the Affluent Labouring class.

 I’m going to skip cases where a modest pension and home has been bought and go straight to where there is a difference in outlook.


 Sufficient capital accumulated to have a secure and materially comfortable life without working.  Wealthy enough that you are not significantly affected by economic cycles.  You are free from economic fear. You are not able to significantly influence social, cultural or political aspects of your community unless you put in labour work.


 As Insulated but with sufficient income that one can support several dependents into Insulated status.  Neither you, nor your children (or perhaps even your grandchildren) will ever have to work.

 Perpetually Rich.

 As Rich but with sufficient capital that you and your decedents can live well off the income and never touch the capital.

 The change in outlook here is that one of legacy.

 Locally Influential.

 Rich enough that you could significantly alter social, cultural or political aspects of your local community.  E.g. your financial contribution would be enough to endow a local theatre group, arts centre or sports club or church or university professorship or to assist the electoral chances at a local election of your favoured party. Things get done because you will them. Or not done because you disapprove.

 (There is a bit of a grey area between owning the capital and managing capital on behalf of other people. The leadership of RBS can decide to sponsor local Edinburgh activities with other people’s money.)

 Nationally Influential

 As Locally Influential but at a national level. You probably have your own security service.

 (Clearly there are trade-offs of scope of influence for time of influence.  If I have £10m I can financially back my favoured candidate in my constituency indefinitely or I can spend most of my “spare” fortune on supporting them in a wider sphere once.

 Internationally Influential

 As Nationally Influential but on an International scale. Your wealth is equivalent to the GDP of a small country. Or you are the Hereditary Head of State of a small country.

 Globally Influential

 As Internationally Influential but on a Global scale.  The income from your wealth is equivalent to the GDP of a small country. As a point of reference we are talking Bill Gates here. By careful targeting of your resources you have the ability to significantly alter the prospects for humanity or at least large chunks of it.

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)
I recently read excellent two posts about a Jewish person’s reaction to the term Judaeo-Christian. Both posts touched on the use of the Old Testament by Christianity and Christian theologians. This doesn’t do either of the interesting posts justice but they could be crudely summarised as “These are *our* stories” and “These are our stories and we’ve been thinking about them in a different way from you for a long time.”

At least, that’s partly what I took from them.

They didn’t feel like *my* stories.

And this got me thinking about whether I think I am part of the Judaeo-Christian culture. I’m not so sure I really am. I might have identified myself as part of that culture until recently but these two posts got me thinking about where my cultural roots really lie.

I’ve never read the Bible entire or the Torah in part. I’ve been to church perhaps a dozen times in my life – including weddings. I’ve never been to synagogue and I’ve been to one Jewish wedding (sort of). I don’t take a particular interest in Jewish history compared to the history of other peoples (except where they bump up against Rome or my mum). I don’t take a particular interest in the history of Christianity. In fact my interest in Roman history is pretty much bounded by the adoption of Christianity as a the state religion by Constantine.

I have spent years reading Roman law, Roman jurisprudence, Greek philosophy and jurisprudence and political philosophy grounded in Greek and Roman foundations. I’ve read more Greek and Roman theology than I have Christian. More Homer and Euripides, Cicero and Juvenal than Mathew, Mark, Luke or John.

I’m sure my meme pool is really awash with Jewish and Christian ideas but they don’t come alive for me the way Greek or Roman one’s do when I become aware of them.

These things are obviously really complicated and multi-layered and it’s very likely to be impossible to pick out the cultural influences in real time.

But if I had to chose to label myself at Judaeo-Christian or Greco-Roman I would pick Greco-Roman.
danieldwilliam: (Default)

A few women who are suing Wal-mart over long running sex discrimination are seeking to broaden their suit into a class action involving every woman who has worked for Wal-Mart since the 80's.

I have no special insight to offer on the correctness of their individual assertions or the correctness of widening the case to a class action. I'm glad they are suing.

If successful I wonder if an interesting side effect will be the creation of large, unquantified and hidden potential liabilities in large corporations and spread at random through the population. Tricky one to price into your share price evaluation or credit rating for municipal bonds.



danieldwilliam: (Default)

September 2017

34567 89
1011 1213141516


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 22nd, 2017 04:25 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios