Political brinksmanship and petty bickering have been the order of the day over in the US these past few weeks as Democrats and Republicans have grappled with each other amidst unseemly budget wrangling, even as both parties toppled over the fiscal cliff into 2013.
Scotland, thankfully, will suffer no such fate over the next couple of months as John Swinney prepares his budget, given the Scottish Parliament has only one chamber with an SNP majority. At Westminster, similarly, a coalition Government boasting a majority of MPs and a powerless House of Lords ensures that the country’s finances will be steered through Parliament trouble-free each year up to the next general election.
However, the UK and Scotland should not be complacent, there is a risk that we are moving towards US-style politics and the inertia and inanity that that can bring.
The House of Lords is a relic of a bygone age and significant change is required, that much most people can agree. There are two countries in the world where clerics make laws – Iran and the UK. That is not something we should be proud of. However, the change that is most regularly mooted is a second chamber much like a Senate, with mostly (or even entirely) directly-elected representatives from the current crop of main parties.
The clear risk here is that we end up with a Labour House of Commons and a Tory Second Chamber, or vice versa, and political gridlock ensues. People argue that a revising chamber is necessary to improve laws but I don’t see what is wrong with getting things right first time and having one Parliament holding up and down votes on the important decisions of the day.
Similarly, closer to home, there are regular suggestions that an independent Scotland should have some sort of revising chamber to compliment the primary representative parliament. The current system works well and, with a nod to the ancient House of Lords system, if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it.
In Scotland, the ‘Bain Principle’ alone could risk political gridlock in this eventuality of two houses, whereby Labour (as fully acknowledged by Willie Bain MP) refuse to sign up to anything put forward by the SNP. It sounds eerily like the Tea Party whose members admit that their political ambitions extend to avowedly opposing anything put forward by the Democrats.
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that two political chambers, each yielding similar power but one controlled by the SNP and the other controlled by Labour, would be little short of disastrous for moving Scotland forwards.
There is one clean, simple solution, a solution that already works well in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. That is one parliamentary chamber, preferably with four year terms to allow the voters to hold their Governments to account more often. This would avoid political gridlock, encourage healthy coalitions and ensure that power sits with the public, rather than with the politicians.
Whether we vote Yes or No in the independence referendum, this risk of future fiscal cliffs is a real one and needs to be considered and, cruicially, avoided. Unicameralism (a fancy term for one parliamentary chamber) is the way to do it.