Instantaneous Democracy

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As a registered charity it is not our place to comment directly  on the results of the Holyrood election or the party politics involved.  However, as an organisation promoting democratic forms of enterprise, I think we can safely make some observations on the processes and structures of said democratic process.

I have to declare an interest relating to the first point.  My daughter, a 3rd year politics student, now finds herself out of paid employment.  She worked one day a week with our local constituency MSP and he lost the tightest first past the post (FPTP) seat on SEVEN votes.  On the one hand you might see that as good for democracy that any seat is so tightly contested.  If you are a supporter of proportional representation you might think it highlights the inherent unfairness of FPTP that if such tight results were replicated in every constituency then you could collect 40-50% of the popular vote but no seats.  An impossibility many would argue but then we were told, until the early hours of Friday, it was impossible for any one party to gain an outright majority at Holyrood .

It might also be noted that there was a tactical option of standing on both constituency and regional lists.  There seems to me a certain irony, possibly even hypocrisy, to resort to a form of PR to gain a seat in our parliament whilst arguing against PR in principle.  I can’t give any specifics but on the law of probabilities?

Similarly, proponents of PR would suggest that it can’t be fair for public policy for the next 5 years to be shaped by the views of only 25% of the population i.e. 50% share on a 50% turnout (very roughly).  However, the attempt to redress that imbalance with a move to AV (albeit in Westminster) was resoundingly defeated. 

On a similar vein, my brief viewing of results coming in on Friday morning failed to identify any FPTP winners whose votes exceeded the combined total of their opponents, which obviously goes to the core of the additional vote (AV) argument.

It has also been noted that the Westminster FPTP system is the one which needed a negotiated coalition whilst the Holyrood system, supposedly custom designed with its own form of PR to prevent an SNP majority, has produced just that form of strong majority government that only FPTP can produce, according to its adherents.

The main issue from our perspective, of arguing the case for democratic forms of enterprise, is about the quality and levels of participation.  There are lots of different ways of creating a democratic co-operative structure (IPS, guarantee company, CIC and many variations within each) and there are a variety of ways of deciding who runs the country (FPTP, PR, AV, STV and combinations thereof) but if people don’t get off their backsides and get involved then nothing much is likely to change.

The aforementioned politics student who squats on my premises has pointed out that there are other ways of engaging in politics other than voting in elections.  Volunteering, community action, co-ops and stand alone campaigns.  There was somebody in the Westminster elections who suggested we needed a new form of politics and there are signs of significant, seismic changes on the political landscape.  However none of them seem to address the fairly fundamental issue of how do you, and how can you claim, to represent people who don’t engage with whatever system you adopt.

Whether you agree with AV or not, it is quite depressing from an educational perspective to see the credence given to the argument that it was too complicated for the majority of the population to understand.  Maybe we should learn from the X Factor and all those reality shows that consistently achieve such impressive voting turnouts and move to a system of rolling referendums on any number of topics and people can vote from the comfort of their own homes, cars wherever and whenever – is that the new high tech future with Simon Cowell and Lord Sugar competing to be the Presiding Officers in our instantaneous democracy?

Employee Ownership News

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Interesting news this week in the employee-owned sector. Eaga, who deliver  heating and renewable energy services to businesses and communities, have been bought by Carillion, one of the UK’s largest providers of support services for the construction industry. Eaga’s shares were valued at 120p, with Carillion paying around £307m for the company. The largest shareholder in Eaga is the employee benefit trust, with 37.5% of the shares. The employees thought they were in line for a massive payout on their shares (between £28,000 – £30,000 per employee), however the trustees decided to accept shares in Carillion (valued at 390p at time of writing) instead of cash.

Understandably, this has angered some employees. The purpose of a trust is to act in the best interest of its beneficiaries and who could argue that £30,000 isn’t in someone’s best interest? What the trustees have done is protect the employees’ stake in the company, rather than making a fast buck. As Ken Temple, chairman of the employee trust, stated: “There are people who are very disappointed we haven’t simply given them the money,…One point to remember is in a trust the assets of the trust don’t belong to the beneficiaries.”

It would be interesting to hear if the majority of the employees agreed with the decision of the trustees. Eaga’s situation is another example of the need for high levels of employee engagement and employee financial paticipation in a company. These concepts are not mutually exclusive and are key to the success of  an employee owned company. Clearly, some of Eaga’s employees desired nothing more than to take the money and run, while others were satisfied to retain a large ownership and governance stake in the company. It will be interesting to see how the future round of redundancies tests the employee trust. Watch this space.