Democracy is Drowning – 14 December 2023


It never rains but it pours and so it seems for Humza Yousaf. Last week seeing dreadful PISA scores juxtaposed between two crushing court defeats. He’s floundering with little sign of keeping his head above water. But it’s not just him but western democracy that’s drowning.

It’s hard to see any salvation for him on the horizon. There’s no good news coming down the line and the budget will see cuts causing not just angst and hardship but outrage. Much of that’s beyond his control given Westminster austerity and a fixed budget.

But he’s done little to position himself let alone develop a strategy. Moreover, his judgement calls have been wrong. Defending Michael Matheson has simply lengthened and widened the story but still won’t save his colleague, as internal criticism grows.

Michael Russell’s appointment to the Land Commission Chair smacks of cronyism for the inner circle. There’s a former elected member who’s surely a stick out in the field. But it’s not Russell but Andy Wightman, the former Scottish Green MSP. Whether he applied I don’t know but presumably he’d have been red lined by his erstwhile colleagues. Yet again the SNP and the country paying the price for the folly of the Bute House deal. 

But what’s the alternative. In Holyrood the Scottish Tories chorused “God Bless Boris”, only to change to “Down with Boris”. Then it “God Bless Liz” followed by “Down with Liz”. Now “God Bless Rishi” though that’s become muted and who knows what’ll follow. They’re simply waiting to follow a lead from London. Enthusiasm for Kwarteng’s insane budget and Boris and “let it rip”, they think no one noticed.  

Labour parrot “Ceasefire now” and “Down with the 2-child cap” but when it comes to voting in London, they do the opposite. Even in Holyrood signing up to GRR. This isn’t Scottish Labour bravely striking out in its own direction as Henry McLeish did when First Minister with free personal care. It’s craven opportunism with neither courage nor convictions.

Westminster’s similarly afflicted. The Tories are melting down but what’ll change. The economic situation’s grim for any administration but Starmer’s boxed himself in from radical change. On areas where he could roll back such as the NHS, he’s continuing not ending privatisation. Foreign policy’s again an echo chamber. A Labour administration’s going to have no honeymoon period and soon be failing to deliver anything better. Contempt for politics and politicians will only grow with turnouts further decreasing.

Mainstream parties are failing. As faith’s lost the danger is that populism increases. It’s the same across the western world. AFD significantly outpolling SDP in Germany. Similar populist if not neo-fascist parties now in Government in Italy, with influence in Sweden and looming on the horizon in France. These were lands where social democracy and even socialism were once powerful.

Across the Atlantic Trump now leads in the polls. The risk of Biden stumbling and showing his age must be great. Even if Trump’s stopped from standing, Haley could win and be worse.

A better and fairer society not neo-liberalism what’s required with radical policies challenging the orthodoxy not just a change in parties espousing it.  If not, then a political lunatic elected in Argentina, might well not be the last. It’s Democracy that’s drowning, not just governments.