The Age of Repression – Scotsman Article – 9 December 2021


A dark cloud hangs over our democracy and it’s not restricted to actions abroad and taken by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Internal repression, as well as brutality, has been a hallmark of China and Russia. It’s grim and worrying, we know all that.

But western democracy was supposed to be not just an alternative but a beacon of hope for those trapped within such regimes. It was about rising above their actions and showing there was a better and fairer way of running your society and acting towards others. For sure not everything was perfect, but it was still a better way and one that people strived not only to uphold but improve.

It’s not been easy, and mistakes have been made and actions tolerated or ignored that shouldn’t have been. But still the flame that was western democracy burnt bright and the better and fairer world that a world war was fought for was sustained.

Now though its being undermined from within, as much as challenged from without. It’s also not restricted to a handful of Brexiteer zealots in the UK or a few odious but democratically elected regimes likes Orbans in the EU. It’s now becoming far more widespread and what’s worse becoming normalised. The lights aren’t going to go out overnight or an iron curtain suddenly descend across the channel or even the EU borders. But it’s a dimming of the candle all the same and its dark and insidious.

Westminster’s now awash with repressive legislation or proposals that are frankly undemocratic. Those by Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, to restrict the powers of Judges to challenge Government actions strike at the heart of the separation of powers. It’s an abuse that ranks along with Trumps packing of the US Supreme Court with compliant lightweights. It undermines an independent Judiciary and that’s required in any democracy. Judicial Review’s a fundamental right that’s even more essential in the absence of a written constitution. Of course, it’s hard for governments but being in power in a democracy is meant to be challenging not unchallenged.

Priti Patel has usually been the outlier in invoking restrictions on core beliefs. Sections in the Policing Bill on powers over demonstrations are out of the play book from those we’ve always sought to disdain in the western world. Scapegoating of minorities such as the traveller community are against values to which we’ve sought to adhere for generations. Compounding that are the actions against immigrants and asylum seekers. A better way this is not, even if steps do need taken. There are ways to protect borders but still mitigate hardship for the desperate.

But before it’s all blamed on Brexit zealots, let’s remember that the EU’s also failing. The Orbans have been tolerated and the border regime’s as odious as Patel’s. Thank goodness for Pope Francis. But more need to speak out both in the UK and the EU before it’s too late. This is about defending the values that are supposed to define us.