Scottish elections

I finally found a great site about the upcoming Scottish elections: Scotland Votes. It can predict seats based on number of votes, it has candidate profiles, information about the constituencies and much more!

It’s not the best site about the city council elections that will take place on the same day, and which for the first time will use the Single Transferable Vote (STV). For that I recommend Vote Scotland or the Electoral Reform Society.

Types of democracy

The Economist Intelligence Unit has produced a really interesting survey of democracy in the world (in PDF format).

It confirms my worry that political participation is horribly low in the UK, much lower than in any similar country. I suspect Denmark’s score is dragged down by the lack of separation of church and state.

The survey splits democracy into five separate categories:

  1. Electoral process and pluralism
  2. Functioning of government
  3. Political participation
  4. Political culture
  5. Civil liberties

I extracted the data and did some analysis of my own. The strongest correlation seems to be between (1) and (5) – that is, electoral process and pluralism are closely tied to civil liberties. A somewhat less strong correlation is found between (2), (3) and (4) – that is, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture are all linked together.

On the other hand, the weakest correlation is between (1) and (4) – that is, electoral process and pluralism are fairly independent of political culture.

This means that one can very roughly split the world’s governments into four groups, based on two axes, (1)+(5) vs. (2)+(3)+(4):

  1. Countries like Angola, Central Africa, Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan which score low in all regards.
  2. Countries like Bosnia and Hercegovina, Dom Rep, Ecuador, Georgia, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger and Russia which technically are democracies and have some civil liberties, but where there are big problems with the functioning of government and with political participation and culture.
  3. Countries like Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique which are very far from being pluralistic democracies and are low on civil liberties, but which nevertheless have functioning governments and a certain degree of political participation and culture.
  4. Countries like Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland which do well in all respects.

Djøficracy

The title of this posting is somewhat weird, but I couldn’t think of a better word, because the word bureaucracy already exists in English with a different meaning, and I was looking for a word for a society run by bureaucrats. In Danish, I would have coined a new word, djøfikrati, for it (based on DJØF, the Danish Union of Lawyers and Economists), but I know of no English word that similarly covers the bureaucrat professions (law, economics and political science), so I allowed myself to make an impromptu borrowing from Danish.

But enough about the title! What really concerns me is how democracy is being abused and slowly eroded by professional politicians with a bureaucrat background and mindset. A generation or two ago, politicians would to a much larger extent come from all swathes of life, but these days, my impression is that most have studied a DJØF subject at university and have then spent time before parliament working for their party or somewhere in the administration.

The problem is that they are very good at what they do, and that makes it difficult for other people to be successful in politics. For instance, I yesterday read an article in a Danish newspaper complaining about the fact that the Danish state budget is now so complex that a university degree in economics is almost needed to understand it – just ten years ago, most members of parliament could still make sense of it, but since then it has been extended with more and more detail.

Also, as the old saying goes, “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Michael Portillo had an interesting article in The Times today, where he points out that “[i]n place of ‘ethos’ it brought plans and targets geared to bonuses, performance depending not on consumer satisfaction or local accountability but on obeying instructions. […] The idea that a dentist or a social worker or a civil servant might be motivated by duty was to them unimaginable”. In other words, bureaucrats tend to assume that all others think as bureaucrats too, and they swamp us all in oceans of red tape.

Finally, the modern obsession with opinion polls is also a consequence of the djøficracy. In old days, most politicians had strong opinions, a moral compass and extensive connexions with their voters, which meant that they could and would intuitively take decisions in line with what was expected of them. But many modern bureaucrats seem to have picked their party more or less at random, and they want power for power’s sake, so they let their policies be determined by the latest opinion poll, with the result that more and more voters cannot see the difference between the parties and become apathic.

What can be done? I think the answer is to get more non-bureaucrats into politics. It requires recruiting more people from diverse backgrounds into political parties, but it also requires voters to stop voting for bureaucrats when they have a choice. If that doesn’t work, perhaps short-lists, like the ones used to increase the number of female and non-white politicians, could even be used.

Tighter

I’m currently following the Swedish parliamentary election. At the moment, it seems to be much tighter than the opinion polls had predicted. We seem to be seeing a lot of very close elections these days (Denmark 1998, USA 2000, Germany 2002, Italy 2006 and many more).

I’m wondering what’s going on… Are people changing their minds after reading the opinion polls? (That is, “Oh, so Moderaterna are winning? I’ll vote for somebody else then!”) Or are all the spin-doctors in all parties just so good at influencing the public that it becomes a stale-mate?

I tend to favour the former explanation, since the latter should mean that all parties in a multi-party system should be of equal size, which is clearly not true. It’s probably caused also by the media’s tendency to report all elections as if they were presidential ones with two clear alternatives, and a group of voters then try to pick the losing party.

I might be very wrong about the causes, but something is definitely going on!